Readers of this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a serious sweet tooth, so it should come as no surprise that I usually like to sweeten my coffee, tea, and brewed chocolate. What might come as a surprise is that I don’t use sugar to do it. There’s nothing swoon-worthy about artificial sweeteners, so when it comes to sugar alternatives, I’m prone to reach for xylitol.
Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sweetener that can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables and is even produced by the human body in small amounts. Unlike other natural sweeteners, such as stevia, xylitol tastes just like sugar and leaves no bitter or unpleasant aftertaste behind. In fact, this is the primary reason I choose xylitol over sugar to sweeten my beverages. Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause bad breath and can leave a disagreeable taste in the mouth. When enjoying a breakfast pastry or postprandial dessert, I used to drink plain water or unsweetened tea, so most of the residual sugar was washed away, but a sugar-laden beverage can linger and cause the sweet hereafter to strike a sour note. Not so with xylitol.
Because xylitol actually prevents the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the mouth, it has a host of dental benefits and is commonly used to sweeten chewing gum and other oral care products. With a low glycemic index and 40% less calories than sugar, xylitol is also a great choice for diabetics and those who are watching their weight. It has a neutral flavor that does not affect the taste of coffee or tea and can be used measure-for-measure in recipes calling for sugar.
I find this sweetener to be almost miraculous, but there are two important things you should be aware of. The first is that ingesting xylitol in large amounts can initially lead to digestive upset in some people. As a kid let loose in the sugar-free section of a candy store, I learned the hard way that if it ends in -itol, “it all” comes out in the end. To avoid a laxative effect, start slowly with a teaspoon or two and increase over the course of a few weeks until the body adapts. While there is no known toxicity for xylitol in humans, it is highly toxic to dogs, so the second thing you need to be aware of is keeping it out of reach of your canine companions at all times.*
Despite these concerns, the asset column is stacked in favor of this superb sweetener. Years ago, I met a naturopathic doctor of some renown who recommended xylitol in place of sugar for her patients, particularly those who suffered from candida. She preferred the type that came from birch trees, so I started reading labels and discovered Xyla, which is made from North American birch in the great ol’ USA. I bought a bag and have remained loyal ever since.
The next time you crave a sugary sip, make like a tree and leave a good taste in your mouth by reaching for a bag of Xyla. Once you branch out and try Mother Nature’s sweet secret, you’ll be prone to use it every day.
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:
*This includes sugarless gum and any other products you use that contain xylitol (including peanut butter), so keep your purses zipped, your toothpaste in a drawer, and your mouthwash in the medicine cabinet if you cohabitate with canines. I have a large dog who can reach even the farthest corner of my kitchen counter, so I always keep my jar of xylitol on a high shelf and never leave my sweetened drinks unattended where he can get to them. When it comes to your dogs, treat xylitol as you would any medication that should be kept away from pets and children.