Xylitol is a natural sweetener classified as a sugar alcohol. It in found in many fruits and plants, but the more plentiful sources include corn, potatoes, and birch trees. Unlike some other non-sucrose sweeteners, xylitol tastes almost exactly like table sugar. The only noticeable difference is a slightly cool feeling on the tongue.
Like other sugar alcohols, Xylitol is harder to digest than sucrose and other common sweeteners—it has a Glycemic Index of about 7 (with 100 being pure glucose). This makes it a better sweetener for people to eat, since more energy is spent in the digestive process, thus providing a lower net amount of energy. This difficulty of breaking xylitol down is even more helpful for dental health. The bacteria which live in the mouth will capture sugar molecules and digest them for energy as a person eats. When the bacteria detect xylitol, they see it as a sugar and capture it. However, they are unable to use it, and in most cases literally run out of energy trying to break it down. Therefore, it helps to remove plaque-generating, cavity-causing bacteria from the mouth.
However, bacteria are not the only lifeforms incapable of processing xylitol. Some animals are also unable to digest it, and are ultimately poisoned by it. Dog owners are perhaps most aware of this risk, since dogs fall into this category. Some other animals including ferrets are also affected in the same way.
- http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2481&ak=detail Retrieved 2/21/17
- "About Xylitol." Xylitol. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. <http://xylitol.org/about-xylitol>