Xylitol containing products such as gum and breath mint can be found in almost every store. However, most people don’t have a clear understanding of how and why it is beneficial. Some even go further and categorize xylitol as a cancer inducing artificial sweetener like aspartame. In reality, xylitol is a natural food additive derived from fruits and vegetables. It is considered safe to consume by the FDA.
For over a hundred years, xylitol has been used as an alternative sweetener for diabetic patients. It has a low glycemic index of 7, (as oppose 100 for glucose), and does not elevate blood sugar after consumption. Unlike other sweeteners such as sugar that increase the risk of dental cavity, xylitol actually promotes dental health. Cavity causing bacteria feed on carbohydrate that is left in your mouth. After bacteria convert carbohydrate into energy, they excrete acid as a by product, and that slowly eats away your teeth. Although xylitol tastes sweet, it is not a sugar, thus cannot be converted into energy by bacteria. As a result, the bacteria are starved to death. The sweet sensation produced by xylitol also induces salivation, which neutralizes the acidity in your mouth. Besides anti-bacterial property, xylitol can interact with calcium ions (the mineral that makes up your teeth) once they have been absorbed. This interaction allows calcium to be recycled back into your saliva, and re-deposited onto the damaged teeth.
The best way to consume xylitol is take it in its pure form. When mixed with sugar or other sugar alcohols (menitol, sorbitol), the efficacy goes down. It is also important to keep xylitol in your mouth for a few minute. The longer your teeth are bathed in xylitol, the more benefit you can gain from it. The second best way to consume xylitol is using xylitol containing products such as mouth wash, toothpaste, and gum. They are more convenient and easier to obtain.
Xylitol is not free of calories, but it contains 33% less calories than sugar. With that said, xylitol consumption should not exceed 4 grams a day. While xylitol is not toxic, it has a mild laxative effect. Too much consumption can result in loose stool or diarrhea.