The Perfect Sweet:  the Magic of Xylitol

(Based on an article by Robert Anderson PhD)


There are few readers not aware of the dubious nature of Aspartame, but for those in doubt I suggest they re-read the excellent article by Chris Wheeler in the April edition of Healthy Options, Dying for a diet drink

Aspartame and other sweeteners like it are common food ingredients:  e.g. in Diet-Coke, ‘diet’ meals and ‘sugar-free’ foods.  Aspartame has even found its way into chewing gum, children’s sweets and vitamins. For this reason, it is now essential to become a careful label reader, an added chore to the shopping experience, but a necessary one.  A much safer and valuable alternative to artificial sweeteners exists which has been largely hidden from the public for decades by industrial giants keen on promoting their own chemical miscreant creations such as Aspartame and Neotame.  Aspartame is an “approved sweetener” only because greedy, dishonest people are willing to sacrifice human health on the altar of profit.

The Obesity Epidemic

The escalating problem of obesity and diabetes is rapidly becoming a major concern in the ‘Western’ world.  Our love of sugar and sweetened confectionary is legend.  The famous New Zealand pavlova, together with other sweet goodies, has helped to make us a nation of overweight Kiwis and it has led to inevitable health problems related to being overweight.  I am frequently asked, particularly by diabetics, what safe alternatives to aspartame and related sweeteners are there available to them.  A safe and suitable alternative, and one of the safest sweeteners on the market, is Xylitol.

A healthy solution

Xylitol has a long history and many exciting properties besides being an alternative to sugar.  The molecule is no stranger to the organic chemist and has been known since the early 1890s.  More than 100 years ago, German and French chemists were the first to make Xylitol.  The compound was virtually ignored until scientists began to exploit its insulin-independent properties. Furthermore, because of sugar shortages during World War II, countries like Finland began to look more closely at this alternative sweetener. They were not disappointed.

Xylitol is a natural sugar alternative that both tastes and looks like sugar.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Our bodies produce this substance during normal metabolism.  An average-sized person makes about 10 grams of Xylitol every day.  It also occurs to a small extent in breast milk; an important reason for mothers to overcome the breast feeding bogie and feed their babies in the most natural way intended. In case you are thinking that this comment is unwarranted, even by the year 2000, when breastfeeding was once again on the increase, only 64 percent of Americans even attempted to breastfeed their babies and with babies at six months old, only a mere 29 percent were still breast-feeding.

Sources of Xylitol

So where do we find this sugar look-alike? It is found naturally in berries, lettuce, mushrooms, corn cobs and certain hardwood trees.  Thus Xylitol is a naturally occurring food substance: A plum contains about half of a gram of Xylitol.

Xylitol is about as sweet as table sugar (sucrose), but with a third less calories.  Unlike sugar, Xylitol does not require the body to produce insulin to metabolised it.  It has a Glycemic index of 7 making it a diabetic’s dream – and for those with a sweet tooth.  The glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly particular foods are converted into glucose after we eat them and of how much insulin is necessary for the body to utilize that food.  Xylitol is sometimes used intravenously in emergency cases for diabetic patients and in critical care situations such as burns.  Xylitol is available in many hospitals as IV solutions, the usual IV dose 0.25 grams per kilogram per hour and the safe dose double that.  For a 83 kg person, that is the equivalent of about one thousand plums a day.

One great advantage of Xylitol is that it can be used instead of sugar for most cooking applications.  (See one of my favourite recipes at the end of this article.)  Because yeast will not work with Xylitol, it cannot be used effectively in baking such items as bread or other yeast containing confectionary.  For this very reason, many doctors disposed toward natural treatments recommend its use to combat and prevent yeast infections.  Xylitol is also very heat and acid stable.  When heated to 94°C it just melts, and it boils at 216°C.

Finland and Xylitol

Because of severe sugar shortages during WWII, Finland carried out possibly the greatest research on this sugar substitute.  The results, more often than not, amazed their researchers.  Some twenty years after the war, the Finns recognized that people using Xylitol developed less tooth decay.  Later, studies carried out by the University of Turku, confirmed this observation.  The results of this study were exciting to the Finns and they increased their use of Xylitol and also carried out many more studies.  They also developed chewing gum containing Xylitol, a far more sensible solution to dental decay than poisoning drinking water with fluoride as the NZ government is set on doing. 

In Hungary, the World Health Organisation (WHO) compared Xylitol with fluoride.  A ‘fluoride group’ used fluoride toothpaste and systemic fluoride in water and milk.  A ‘Xylitol group’ (no fluoride) had 45 percent fewer cavities than the controls and 35 percent fewer cavities than the fluoride group.

For over two years, scientists studied 117 children who consumed a specially prepared diet sweetened with three sugars:  sucrose (white table sugar), fructose, and Xylitol.  The group eating Xylitol ate an average of 57 grams per day (about half the amount of sugar consumed by the average Kiwi school child).  The study then took note of the rate of decayed surfaces on teeth, fillings and missing teeth that occurred over the two year time span.  It was found that those eating the sucrose diet had by far the greatest tooth decay.  Those eating fructose had somewhat less, but still considerable decay, while those consuming Xylitol had no decay.  The message was clear:  keeping Xylitol in contact with the surface of children’s teeth considerably reduced dental decay. 

The University of Michigan Dental School later verified these studies using Xylitol chewing gum and found that regular use was the answer.  Chewing Xylitol gum once a day had little benefit, but chewing it twice a day reduced cavities by 40 percent and three times a day by 60 percent.  If the gum was chewed five times a day, dental cavities were reduced by more than 80 percent. 

After eating sucrose, it takes over half an hour before the pH of plaque is restored to the normal level of around seven.  If sugar is eaten several times a day, salts are dissolved off the enamel more and more deeply and the enamel becomes porous and open to bacterial attack.

An even greater surprise awaited Finland’s researchers - there seemed to be a decrease in ear infections in children chewing Xylitol gum.  After some 20 years of use, the researchers decide to look more closely into this added benefit (British Medical Journal (BMJ) November 1996; Paediatrics 1998).  A syrup was used for those too young to chew gum.  The scientists found that ear infections in children could be reduced by up to 40 percent by administering 8-9 grams of oral Xylitol per day. 

The interactions of Xylitol with the bacteria in the mouth and throat seem to prevent tooth decay and throat infections.  Finnish researchers tested this hypothesis (British Medical Journal, November 1996), Dr Alan Greene giving this account of the trials: 

“The study included 306 children in day-care nurseries, most of whom had a history of repeated ear infections.  Half of the children chewed Xylitol-sweetened gum (2 pieces, 5 times a day - after all meals and snacks); the other half chewed ordinary gum at the same frequency.  During the two months of the study, 21 percent of the regular gum chewers, but only 12 percent of the Xylitol group, had one or more ear infections.  Gum chewing by itself, by promoting swallowing and thus clearance of the middle ear, probably prevents some ear infections.  The sugar in the regular-sugar-sweetened gum may have offset this effect by promoting bacterial growth in the children who chewed this ordinary gum.  By contrast, in this study Xylitol dropped the incidence of ear infections by almost half!”


Without doubt, Xylitol has been shown to be beneficial, not only as a safer alternative to sweetening food, but also as a preventative measure in controlling children’s tooth health and avoiding the common ear infections so prevalent today.  So remember, next time you eat out, take along some Xylitol chewing gum.  After eating, chew a piece of Xylitol gum.  When chewing is not convenient, let a Xylitol tablet dissolve in your mouth.  And after brushing your teeth, use a Xylitol mouthwash.


My favourite Xylitol recipe:

Xylitol can be used safely in all cooking. (Aspartame changes chemically when heated and is NOT recommended.) 

Coconut Macaroons

You will need:  A baking tray lined with greased baking paper


2 egg whites

½ to ¾ cup Xylitol

1 cup of desiccated coconut

OR ½ cup desiccated coconut and ½ cup ground almonds with two drops lemon or almond essence


Preheat oven to 180oC.

Whisk egg whites until peaks.  Slowly add Xylitol while beating until a smooth creamy white mixture is obtained.  Fold in the coconut or coconut mix.  

Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the tray.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Cool. 

Store in an airtight jar.

Note:  Experiment with quantities of Xylitol - ¾ cup may be too sweet for some people.


(c) Robert Anderson PhD (4.2.42 - 5.12.08)


Xylitol and Xylitol products are available from Nature's Star NZ Ltd

 Freephone New Zealand only 0800 11 67 33; Auckland local 572 0200; e-mail




Mäkinen KK. Biochemical principles of the use of xylitol in medicine and nutrition with special consideration of dental aspects. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 1978.

  Xylitol “Sweeten Your Smile” Dr John Peldyak

A Novel Use of Xylitol Sugar in Preventing Acute Otitis Media” Matti Uhari et al Pediiatrics Vol. 102 No. 4 October 1998, pp. 879-884


The following studies have found xylitol effective for diabetic patients:


1. Natah SS, Hussien KR, Tuominen JA, Koivisto VA:  Metabolic response to lactitol and xylitol in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr 65:947–950, 1997 Abstract available at the following link:

2. Hassinger W, Sauer G, Cordes U, Krause U, Beyer J, Baessler KH: The effects of equal caloric amounts of xylitol, sucrose and starch on insulin requirements and blood glucose levels in insulin-dependent diabetics. Diabetologia. 1981 Jul;21(1):37-40 Abstract available at the following link: