Xylitol as a sweetener
Xylitol is a sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables and is even produced by the human body during normal carbohydrate metabolism. Xylitol is manufactured from birch trees or other natural xylan-rich sources such as corn cobs. Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar.
Xylitol has been used as a sweetener in foods since the 1960’s. Xylitol is slowly absorbed and partially utilized; therefore a reduced calorie claim is allowed: 2.4 calories per gram or 40% less calories than sugar. The body does not require insulin to metabolize xylitol, which has made it a widely used sweetener for the diabetic diet. This attribute has made xylitol also popularly used in weight control programs. It has a very pleasant cooling sensation when it dissolves in the mouth making Xylitol a great partner in applications with mint and citrus flavors.
Because it dissolves, mixes, and behaves like sugar, xylitol is interchangeable with sugar for many uses. Xylitol products are readily available for use in cooking and baking. Xylitol won’t break down with heat like some other sweeteners, so it’s the perfect choice for just about any recipe that calls for sugar. Converting your recipes couldn’t be easier –since xylitol has the same sweetness as sugar, simply use the same amount (1:1). Xylitol does not crystallize, so it cannot be used to make hard candy. Yeast cannot metabolize it, so xylitol cannot be used to bake breads or other foods made with yeast.
Xylitol is widely recognized as a cavity fighter. Over 25 years of testing in widely different conditions confirm that xylitol use reduces tooth decay rates both in high-risk groups (high caries prevalence, poor nutrition, and poor oral hygiene) and in low-risk groups (low caries incidence using all current prevention recommendations). Over 1500 clinical studies has been published around the world concerning the use of xylitol. Chewing gums and candies made with xylitol as the principal sweetener have already been recommended by six national dental associations.
Tooth decay happens when bacteria in your mouth consume the sugars we eat. When you eat food containing ordinary sugar (sucrose), it gives bacteria on your teeth energy, allowing them to multiply and start making acids that can eat away the enamel on the teeth. This “acid attack” causes tooth decay and cavities to begin to form.
Xylitol does not break down like sugar and can help keep a neutral pH level in the mouth. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth. This is how it protects the teeth from tooth decay. With Xylitol, the acid attack that would otherwise last for over half an hour is stopped.
Because the bacteria in the mouth that are causing cavities are unable to digest xylitol, their growth is greatly reduced. The number of acid-producing bacteria may fall as much as 90%. No acid is formed because the pH of saliva and plaque does not fall. After taking xylitol, the bacteria do not stick well on the surface of the teeth and as a result, the amount of plaque decreases.
Research has shown that the use of xylitol also helps repair damage to the enamel. Saliva in itself protects the mouth and teeth. Stimulated saliva in particular contains all the components needed to repair early cavities. If sugar is only taken a couple of times a day, the saliva can do the job alone. But most people take sugar so often that the mouth’s own defensive tools are not enough.
Saliva that has xylitol is more alkaline than saliva stimulated by other sugar products. After taking xylitol products, the concentration of basic amino acids and ammonia in saliva and plaque may rise, and plaque pH rises as well. When pH is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to move into those parts of enamel that are weak. Therefore, soft, calcium-deficient enamel sites begin to harden again.