Erythritol: the Coming Alternative to Simple Sugars

April 23, 2011 in Natural Sweeteners by Webmaster

The following is a slightly revised version Dr. Grandma's July 10, 2010 post on Erythritol.

Despite the name change to "corn sugar" and the money spent on advertising, the soft drink industry is rejecting High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). More slowly, HFCS may be replaced in the myriad of other foods it is added to. A new darling is coming, and its main ingredient is Erythritol.

In 2009 a Google search on the term “Natural Sweetener” brought up a web site on High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in the first paid position. The web site put forth an argument, widely used in a huge ad campaign appearing in many forms of media, that HCFS was an all-natural sweetener just like sugar was, because, like sugar, it was made from natural plants. Also, the argument was given that it acted no differently from sugar when it entered the body and bloodstream. They even renamed the product to "corn sugar." The American public rejected this big campaign. Documentaries like the Academy Award Nominated Food Inc and King Corn, along with many books and blogs, have exposed HFCS, especially in soft drinks, as a probable major contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Research reported in these pages has provided evidence of serious consequences of the use and overuse of HFCS.

This year a Google search on the same term doesn't bring up any HFCS or "corn sugar" ads. Among a new cast of characters: TruVia, Stevia, and ZSweet These same three trademarked names also come up in the first three expensive paid advertising positions at the top of the Google search page when you search on Erythritol.

This is a responsible action on the part of Cargill, who sells Zerose, a new name they recently coined for their Erythritol. It is a responsible move for the owners of this very large, privately held corporation, because Erythritol has the most attractive profile as a widely useable sweetener among all the sugar alcohols. It can replace lost profits from HFCS. It is also a responsible move for public heath, because Erythritol yields close to zero calories when metabolized (thus the name “Zerose” – rhymes with sucrose, fructose, and other “-ose” sweeteners). It is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS list of the FDA), and has been used by humans for thousands of years. It works well for diabetics, and does not cause tooth decay. When you go to the Purevia and Truvia websites, you learn about a new zero-calorie sweetener that uses extracts from the Stevia plant, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is not on the GRAS list.

Those of you who follow this blog know that Doctor Grandma’s Delight is made with Erythritol, which provides both sweetness and bulk, and that we have added fruit extracts of Doctor Grandmas devising that makes Delight as sweet as sugar. We began using Doctor Grandma’s Delight in our mixes and selling it as a sweetener in 2006. We are an advocate for Erythritol with added, intense but healthy sweeteners, as a substitute for simple, calorie-laden sweeteners.

Products using Erythritol are not only substitutes for the empty calories and rapid blood-sugar spiking attributes of HFCS, but also as a substitute for sugar’s close relatives: honey, brown sugar, molasses, fructose, maple sugar, powdered sugar and agave. The message is getting out that any of these caloric sweeteners can have serious health consequences. Based upon good research the American Heart Association has published its recommendation to decrease simple sugar intake to 100 calories for women and 150 for men – per day.

The public is slowly beginning to understand that the few trace minerals found in agave, molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar and honey are not enough to matter nutritionally; those nutrients can easily be obtained in the other foods in the diet. So the point is: Do not think of these sweeteners as nutritious. They’re simple blood sugar spiking molecules that offer little to no nutritional benefit. This is why they are often described as offering only “empty calories”.

Both honey and agave have 60 – 64 calories per tablespoon; which is compared to 45 for table sugar. Because they are a little sweeter than sugar, it brings the calories to about the same as sugar, in order to achieve the same sweetness. Remember, if you’re watching your sugar intake, agave and honey are not ‘sugar savers.’

Agave and high fructose corn syrup both have proportionately more fructose, which has been linked with more insulin-resistance, more unhealthy visceral fat and a greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Now new research has been added to fructose’s unflattering nutrition profile. It has been reported in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology that fructose may be increasing the risk of developing high blood pressure. The study showed that consuming an equivalent of 2.5 cans of non-diet soda per day or the equivalent amount of fructose from other foods (usually in processed cookies, jam, fruit punch, candy and chocolates) increased the risk of hypertension by at least 30 percent. Hypertension is a serious problem because it can affect the blood vessels and is the leading risk factor for heart disease and kidney disease.

The Corn Refiners Association and the American Beverage Association say that the study was flawed. I say, maybe we better cut back on all forms of sugar and find out the ‘verified answer’ later. I’m not really ready to put my blood pressure, heart health and diabetes risk in the hands of either association (hello vested interests.)

Most nutritionists, including myself, were surprised by the fructose/hypertension link. The researchers don’t know the mechanism by which the blood pressure is boosted. But some think that the fructose may make the body absorb sodium more readily. Another theory is that fructose intake may also increase levels of uric acid, which has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure. Either way, you may want to be aware of how much high fructose corn syrup or agave are in your food.

If you have diabetes these are all sweeteners that you should be very careful with: HFCS heads the list, followed by fructose, powdered sugar, table sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave, molasses, and maple syrup.

If you’re one of the crowd who is lightening up on the sweet stuff, you may discover that there are foods that you’ve become accustomed to being sweetened. What can you do? Certainly, there are a number of zero-calorie choices; unfortunately, many have never existed in nature.

Because of Dr. Grandpa’s diagnosis of diabetes, over six years ago, we had to face that very question. Dr. Grandpa had/has a sweet tooth (O.K., He probably has more than one.) He’s not alone; most people enjoy sweetness. So Dr. Grandpa could enjoy sweetness, without affecting his blood sugar, we came up with Dr. Grandma’s Delight. Unlike other sugar alcohols or polyols, Erythritol is well tolerated in the digestive tract. It essentially has no calories (0.2 calories per gram) and is perfect for diabetics who don’t want to increase blood sugar or affect insulin. Delight has a very clean taste – like regular table sugar – just sweet. It doesn’t cause tooth decay. It responds like sugar in baking and can be boiled, baked and cooked. Because erythritol is only 70 – 80 % as sweet as sugar, Dr. Grandma’s adds FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) List fruit extracts to bring the sweetness of the erythritol up to the sweetness of sugar. So if you’re looking for something to give you a little sweetness, you may want to consider the little crystals that look and taste like sugar – just sweet, without the ability to cause the problems of sugar.

Now that Truvia and Purevia are being so widely advertized, and Coke and Pepsi are using Erythritol and Stevia extract, there is a huge new market for replacing simple calorie-laden sugars with Erythritol, either alone or enhanced by something else healthy that is intensely sweet. In making our first samples of Doctor Grandmas Delight, we ordered Erythritol from Cargill, and later from a smaller company that offered a better price. Both of these have raised their prices, almost double for Cargill and 50% higher for the other company. For a time we couldn’t even get it – attributed to the soft drink giants. But Erythritol is made worldwide so there are other sources. There are other safe and healthy intense additives besides the Stevia extracts selected and controlled by process patents by the food giants. We hope there will always be room for many smaller food companies to offer healthy sweeteners, to the public, and products made from them like the pancakes and muffins Dr. Grandpa and I love so much.

I’m glad that we have several years of experience, and the way to produce our own healthy Erythritol-based sweetener. In my opinion, life would be bland without a little sweetness here and there. Tonight I’m making my homemade whole-wheat no-sugar ‘shortcake’ (with Delight) topped with blue berries and raspberries (with a touch of Delight) and non-fat Greek Yogurt (it also sweetened up a bit with a little Delight). There are going to be so many ways creative people can use healthy, zero-calorie sweeteners in reshaping our food environment away from the calorie-laden, blood sugar spiking, and addictive caloric sweeteners.