Ever done an online search and had a hard time finding the information you needed? A couple of months ago I started wondering if erythritol would be a safe sugar alcohol to use in a gut-healthy diet, and I've had a hard time finding relevant research. My interest in this sweetener started when I realized it was the preferred sweetener used by people on ketogenic diets. After plugging away at it for a while I'm starting to find what I was looking for.
Erythritol is a sweetener that is used in many low carbohydrate and low calorie products, and it's considered to be diabetes friendly. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, which puts it in the same category as other sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These can all be found in our food supply as sugar replacements in sugar-free foods such as sugar-free gum, chocolates, flavoured drinks, candies, jams, protein bars and packaged goods. Swerve is one of the common brands you'll find on store shelves, and is the brand recommended by many ketogenic diet cookbooks. Swerve has the benefit of being non-GMO (genetically modified organisms), which makes it a better choice than many erythritol sources that are GMO.
At first glance it looks like a great product: low calorie, doesn't affect blood sugar levels, doesn't contribute to tooth decay, and very little makes its way to the large intestine, so it can't feed organisms like Candida.
THE GUT PERSPECTIVE: Is Erythritol Gut-Healthy?
Many people experience digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea when consuming sugar alcohols, but erythritol is often used specifically because it causes less digestive upset than other sugar alcohols, and is often well tolerated.
One study found that "consumption of 20 and 35 g erythritol by healthy volunteers, in a liquid, is tolerated well, without any symptoms. At the highest level of erythritol intake (50 g), only a significant increase in borborygmi and nausea was observed..."
I think the key words in that quote are "healthy volunteers". If you are already experiencing digestive symptoms, then adding erythritol into the mix can make things worse. Erythritol and other sugar alcohols are also known as polyols. Polyols are usually associated with FODMAPs (Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are known to be problematic for people who suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). So if you suffer from IBS, SIBO or are having a lot of unexplained digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, then erythritol should NOT be a part of your diet.
Gut-healthy sweeteners include honey, and dried fruit, and if you are trying to stay really low-carb then see how you tolerate monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo). All of these should be used in moderation, and if they contribute to your digestive issues then they should be avoided. Sweeteners can be really problematic if you have IBS, SIBO or digestive symptoms so use caution, and figure out what works best for you.
Try mixing up 1 cup of softened butter or coconut oil with 1/2 cup of honey. Place dollops of this mixture on a lined baking sheet and put it into the freezer. I call these treats Freezer Candy, and it is an indulgence to let one melt on your tongue.
What has your experience with erythritol been?
Happy, Healthy Eating!