Ingredient of the Month 5: Xylitol
|Total Sweet, one brand of xylitol available in the UK|
|Xylitol looks just like white granulated cane sugar and can be used interchangeably with it|
Hooray! I'm very excited because I finally found some in Holland and Barrett and also in Waitrose after many months of pondering mail order. Now I can try out some of the delicious low-GI recipes on "Sensible Veg", a great heath-conscious recipe blog I have been following for some months now...
Xylitol ("wood- sugar") is found widely in the fibres of fruits and vegetables, oats and mushrooms, and is also commonly extracted from birch bark. The xylitol from one source is exactly the same as the xylitol from any other. It is GI 7 (says the packet; I found this figure to be 13 when I went online) as opposed to glucose at 100 and therefore safe for diabetics, about as sweet as sucrose but with only 2/3 of the calories- but what makes it a real winner in my book, however, is that far from being bad for your teeth, xylitol is actually very tooth-friendly, and strengthens the tooth enamel. It is an ingredient in many toothpastes and mouthwashes, in fact!
Studies have shown that xylitol can, if taken in amounts of 3.44g- 10g a day, inhibit the growth of the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae and haemophilus influenzae, two very nasty characters which can cause no end of misery, especially in Winter.
It has also been found to improve bone density.
Xylitol chewing gum has also been shown to help prevent ear infections, as it stops the growth of bacteria in the eustachian tubes.
Those who are prone to candida overgrowth may fnd that xylitol is a useful sugar substitute, as it does not encourage yeast like sugar does.
Xylitol is often an ingredient in chewing gum, but besides this, there are lots of other ways in which it is used. You can use it exactly as you would sugar in baking, no recipe adaptation needed, which is a big "plus". I baked a cake the other day using xylitol instead of sugar and nobody in my family even noticed! That's the first time I've used a natural sweetener without at least one of the kids complaining. It is also good for sweetening drinks; in fact, it will sweeten anything for which you would normally use sugar.
One caveat, however: eating over a certain amount of xylitol (exactly how much varies from person to person) can cause temporary abdominal discomfort, although if you eat it regularly, your threshold does increase. Xylitol is more easily tolerated than mannitol and sorbitol.