Xylitol was discovered in the late 19th century, but lately the sweetener been touted loudly and often as a healthier alternative to sugar. Because it doesn't effect insulin levels the way sugar does, xylitol is considered safe for diabetics. In the 1970s, scientists discovered it also causes remineralization of tooth enamel before cavities can form. The natural sweetener also inhibits the bacteria that cause cavities because it cannot be used for energy, causing the bacteria to starve while the xylitol remineralizes the teeth. The bacteria in our mouths aren't the only ones inhibited by this substance. Xylitol inhibits pneumococcus, which is a leading cause of pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections, meningitis, sepsis, cellulitis, brain abscess, and other infections.
Be careful, however, not to overindulge. While it is considered safe by the FDA (that we all love and trust, right?), xylitol is not easily digestible and causes upset stomach if over-used. Symptoms can include bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Our bodies can handle much less xylitol than sugar.
Of concern are the studies that show animals as small as rats and as large as dogs have experienced life-threatening symptomes when consuming xylitol. In fact, large doses resulted in liver failure.
It is also important to note that much of the xylitol manufactured today is produced from corn, which presents all of the same problems as high fructose corn syrup. Is the corn organic? Is it GMO? How much of our farmland is being destroyed by overgrowing of corn? How much farmland could have been used to grow real food for hungry people all over the world?
What do you think? Would you eat xylitol mints or use xylitol as a sweetener in your food? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
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