You step on the scale, look down in fear, and confirm the unthinkable: Somehow, 5, 10, 15, 20 pounds managed to squirm themselves into your hips, thighs, and belly. Those of us who have seen this happen tend to switch to a keto lifestyle because we know that fat loss results will likely be quicker this way.
However, when we first embark on our keto journeys, the question of the hour always pops up: How will we manage to resist hundreds of different treats, candies, and desserts ... for life?!
The thought of quitting sugar, even for just one day, may feel like a daunting challenge. Luckily, modern food science and innovative culinary technology have made it possible for food scientists to mimic the most decadent and delicious sweet delicacies by simply swapping processed sugars for alternative sweeteners.
Most of these sweeteners are delicious and safe to consume. They are also quite versatile to cook with. One of these sweet miracles of modern science is called Xylitol. Here is its story.
So, what exactly is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a natural substance that is listed under the category of “sugar alcohols.” Sugar alcohol is a sweet carbohydrate that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It is also produced in small amounts in our bodies when we metabolize food, burn energy, or produce extra adrenaline.
The reason why Xylitol is considered an “alcohol” is that the natural composition of this compound consists of a combination of sugar and alcohol molecules bound together.
Also, as it happens with regular alcohol, the sugar alcohol is metabolized by our body during the energy consumption process. However, do not confuse the terms “blood sugar alcohol” with “blood alcohol content (BAC)”. The first refers to a result of our metabolism. The second is a result of too many margaritas. They are not the same thing.
What’s with the name?
Xylitol gets its name from the plant that it is extracted from, called xylan. It can also be derived from birch trees and trees of the same category.
Sugar alcohols: Are they as bad as they sound?
Even though sugar alcohol is categorized as an “alcohol,” it should not be confused with regular drinking alcohol like the one you consume at the bar.
The main difference between sugar alcohol and regular alcohol is that sugar alcohol does not contain ethanol. Ethanol is the “booze factor” in adult beverages that makes you feel inebriated or, in other words, “drunk”. Hence, rather than making you drunk, this chemical combination works to stimulate another part of your body: your taste buds!
Therefore, sugar alcohols basically activate your taste buds and their nerve receptors so that they can taste sweetness better.
Related: Net carbs
Xylitol and sugar: A comparison
So far, we have learned that Xylitol is a naturally-occurring substance categorized as sugar alcohol. Its job is to activate our taste buds so their receptors can identify (and enjoy) sweetness. Therefore, your brain will welcome the sweetness of Xylitol with the same love and anticipation as it welcomes the flavor of regular sugar. Talk about a way to fool yourself into eating healthier.
Here are some other interesting points of comparison between Xylitol and regular sugar:
- Calorie content - Like sugar, Xylitol contains calories. However, Xylitol contains fewer calories than sugar.
- Look and feel - Processed and refined Xylitol has the same appearance of sugar: it is white, sandy, and crystalline.
- Nutrients - Similarly to sugar, Xylitol is a source of empty calories. This means that its mass does not contain any nutrients such as vitamins or minerals. It also does not contain the two macronutrients that are always observed to ensure keto weight loss: fat and proteins.
- Taste - When added to popular treats such as chocolate candy bars, cakes, cookies, and puddings, Xylitol can achieve the same primary and secondary “after” taste as sugar. To some people, Xylitol and many other alternative sweeteners may taste twice as sweet as sugar. It is all a matter of how your palate gets used to this particular flavor.
- Texture - Xylitol is sold just like sugar: in powdered form, with a grainy and sandy texture. It can also get quite sticky when mixed with water, so it reacts to the warmth of your hands the same way as sugar does. Therefore, Xylitol can melt and combine with ingredients the way sugar does during cooking and baking.
Regular sugar contains carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels, the levels of insulin and, when taken in excess, it can lead to a myriad of conditions ranging from diabetes to hypertension. The most obvious physical effect of excessive consumption of sugar is obesity. In a sedentary lifestyle, excess consumption of simple carbs, such as sweets, combined with little physical activity, leads to sugar getting stored in our bodies until it turns straight into body fat.
Substituting sugar for an alternative sweetener, such as Xylitol, means that the sugar alcohols contained in it will not spike up the normal levels of sugar in our blood, which means that it won’t spike your insulin levels either. Therefore, Xylitol is not going to wreak havoc in your body the way sugar does.
Is Xylitol addictive?
Unlike sugar, which is considered the most addictive substance on earth, alternative sweeteners do not seem to achieve the same level of satiety and satisfaction that sugar appears to affect people. Perhaps it is because, after all, Xylitol is NOT “the real thing.” Theoretically, our brains are wired to prefer a real ingredient over a fake one. Our brains can be that smart!
What foods contain Xylitol?
Look on the back of just about any label of sweet diet foods, and you may find Xylitol listed in the ingredients. However, you will not find Xylitol only in foods. Xylitol is also used in medications, hygiene products, powdered juice mixes, and even ketchup and jams that are marketed as sugar-free.
Aside from these, expect to find it in:
- Chewing gum
- Jams and jellies
- Sugar-free pudding snacks
- Soft and hard candy
- Ice creams and frozen treats
- Breath mints
- Peanut butter
- Any other sugar-free sweet product.
Is Xylitol Keto Friendly?
The final answer to this question is YES. Based on the carbohydrate content, its low impact on blood sugar, and its lack of nutrient density (no fat, no protein, and other keto macros), we can safely argue that Xylitol is indeed a keto-friendly product.
However, another question arises: Could Xylitol still kick you out of ketosis?
Here is where the answer becomes tricky. When used moderately, any sugar alternative will work in a ketogenic plan. However, excessive use of alternative sweeteners may cause anything from adverse reactions, such as bloating and headaches, to allergic reactions such as rash and other dangerous reactions.
To be on the safe side, be sure to test your reaction to Xylitol by tasting just a portion of the products containing this ingredient before you buy it in bulk. Everyone reacts differently to products containing alternative sweeteners, so please consult your head physician before starting this or any other diet and exercise program.
Diarrhea may occur with excessive consumption. If this happens, reduce intake or discontinue use.
Caution: Xylitol is harmful to pets; seek veterinary care immediately if ingestion is suspected.
Moderation is everything, so stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive and, most of all, stay sweet!