Xylitol is an all-natural sugar free sweetener that tastes and looks like sugar, but that is where the similarities end. Our bodies produce up to 15g of xylitol daily during normal metabolism. Xylitol is one of a group of sugar substitutes known as polyols. Others in the same group include sorbitol and maltitol, but they have 6 carbon structures and can be metabolised by harmful bacteria. However, xylitol has a unique 5 carbon structure metabolised only by friendly bacteria. Xylitol is a sweetener that occurs naturally. It can be found in berries and other fruits, some vegetables and in the woody fibres of birch tree and corncobs.

Where was xylitol discovered?

German and French chemists discovered xylitol almost simultaneously in the late 19th century. In Russia, it has been used for decades as a sweetener for diabetics and in Germany, for intravenous feeding solutions. In China, xylitol has been used for various medical purposes. It is now used in over 40 countries as a safe, natural and healthy alternative sweetener. The FDA in the USA has approved it for over 40 years.

How is xylitol manufactured?

Xylitol derives its name from xylan, meaning wood, and is manufactured from natural xylan-rich sources (biomass) such as birch tree and corncob fibre. Wood sugar (xylose) is extracted from the biomass, and the liquid wood sugar is then converted to pure crystalline xylitol.

How is xylitol metabolised in the body?

Dietary xylitol is easily metabolised by the body. A small portion is slowly absorbed through the small intestine and carried in the portal blood supply to the liver, where it is converted to glucose. Because of the slowness of absorption, the majority of xylitol (approximately ¾ of that consumed) moves down to the lower intestine. There, it is metabolised by friendly bacteria to short-chain fatty acids, which are mostly returned to the liver for oxidation, providing energy.

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