Xylitol is categorized as a sugar alcohol.
Chemically, sugar alcohols combine traits of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Their structure allows them to stimulate the taste receptors for sweetness on your tongue.
Xylitol is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables and is therefore considered natural. Humans even produce small quantities of it via normal metabolism.
It is a common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, candies, mints, diabetes-friendly foods and oral-care products.
Xylitol has a similar sweetness as regular sugar but contains 40% fewer calories:
- Table sugar: 4 calories per gram
- Xylitol: 2.4 calories per gram
Store-bought xylitol appears as a white, crystalline powder.
Since xylitol is a refined sweetener, it doesn’t contain any vitamins, minerals or protein. In that sense, it provides only empty calories.
Xylitol can be processed from trees like birch or from a plant fiber called xylan (1Trusted Source).
Even though sugar alcohols are technically carbohydrates, most of them do not raise blood sugar levels and thereby don’t count as net carbs, making them popular sweeteners in low-carb products (2Trusted Source).
Though the word “alcohol” is part of its name, it’s not the same alcohol that makes you drunk. Sugar alcohols are safe for people with alcohol addictions.
One of the negative effects of added sugar — and high-fructose corn syrup — is that it can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
Therefore, none of the harmful effects of sugar apply to xylitol.
Xylitol’s glycemic index (GI) — a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar — is only 7, whereas regular sugar’s is 60–70 (6).
It can also be considered a weight-loss-friendly sweetener since it contains 40% fewer calories than sugar.
For people with diabetes, prediabetes, obesity or other metabolic problems, xylitol is an excellent alternative to sugar.
While corresponding human studies are currently unavailable, rat studies show that xylitol can improve symptoms of diabetes, reduce belly fat and even prevent weight gain on a fattening diet (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).