Many people are already aware of the artificial sweetener aspartame, an ingredient frequently found in chewing gum and mint (and sugar substitute), known for a variety of unpleasant side effects. The chewing gum/mint ingredient that is less well known is erythritol, another type of artificial sweetener that is no friend to your health when it is consumed in large amounts.
What Is Erythritol?
Erythritol is an artificial sweetener commonly used in low-sugar and sugar-free foods. It is designed to replace sugar and calories to create “diet-friendly” results. Powdered erythritol sweeteners bake in a way almost identical to sugar and are made by combining and fermenting certain natural sugars. Corn is frequently used to create the sweetener; however, it is also found naturally in watermelon, soy sauce, and pears, among other foods. Such foods include fermented options such as cheese, as well as fermented beverages including wine and sake. It is classified as a carbohydrate according to the FDA and is used not only to add sweetness to foods, but texture and bulk as well. The sweetener also prevents browning and dryness issues.
Despite its carb label, erythritol is not absorbed by the body and will not contribute to weight gain. The sweetening effect this substance provides comes from sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols do not break down in the body and therefore do not contribute to your daily carbohydrate intake.
Erythritol is generally crafted from GMO cornstarch and has been referred to as an “invisible GMO ingredient.” It may be used as an insecticide in the future due to its apparent ability to kill bugs. This substance is frequently marketed to diabetics and those with weight and metabolic issues because it provides a sweet taste without the insulin spike or added poundage. How well it prevents weight gain will be discussed later in this article.
What Are The Side Effects Of Erythritol?
Despite the fact that the body does not break down this artificial sweetener, it can still produce a number of unpleasant side effects. Erythritol side effects typically include digestive problems and diarrhea. It may also cause bloating, cramps, and gas. Additionally, erythritol and other sugar alcohols frequently result in more water in the intestines, causing diarrhea. Nausea and headaches may occur as well. The latter symptom is often a result of excessive diarrhea because the body is dehydrated.
The laxative effect the substance is known for is true of all sugar alcohols. You must consume a significant amount of erythritol to experience these effects. One study found consuming about half a gram of the sweetener per pound of body weight is safe and will not result in side effect issues. Generally, you have to consume more than 18 grams to experience problems. However, no two human bodies are alike, so while ingesting 18 grams or more of the substance may affect you, it might not affect your friend or neighbor.
Yet another potential complication this sweetener presents is overeating. Because it is not digested by the body, it may trick your brain into thinking you are still hungry. This is a somewhat ironic side effect given the substance is commonly used in sugar-free and other “diet” foods.
What Are The Dangers Of Erythritol?
Since the side effects of this substance depend on the dose, the dangers are relative to the amount ingested. How sensitive you are to the artificial sweetener and sugar alcohols, in general, may result in anything from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to severe nausea and diarrhea. Consuming large amounts of erythritol may cause serious diarrhea and nausea/vomiting if you have a heightened sensitivity, which can result in dehydration. It does not take long for the body to become dehydrated if diarrhea is continuous, which is why some people with food poisoning end up in the hospital. They cannot keep liquids down and require saline IVs to stay hydrated and out of life-threatening danger.
Long-term gastrointestinal issues from continual consumption may result in chronic heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion. These problems are not only uncomfortable, they result in extreme stress. Research indicates a powerful connection between stress and stomach trouble. The brain and the stomach are connected according to this research, with the stomach being “extremely sensitive to our moods.” Stress is a key factor in stomach trouble, so if you are experiencing chronic anxiety and consume a diet high of this artificial sweetener or other sugar alcohols, you are exacerbating the problem. You will likely experience more stomach problems and more stress in what could become a very detrimental cycle.
Erythritol has no known health benefits other than its work as a weight loss assistant, but again, this advantage is debatable. It is not a dangerous artificial sweetener in that it is not considered fatal in large amounts. However, ingesting too much over a lengthy period of time can result in severe gastrointestinal issues that may become chronic depending on your constitution and overall lifestyle.
If you think you have eaten too much erythritol in your lifetime and are concerned about its effect on your gastrointestinal tract and stomach, make the switch to whole foods. Enjoying a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low on sugar and processed foods is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. Whole foods are healing and cleansing, and do not feature the long list of ingredients their processed counterparts do. Buy from local farmers’ markets as much as possible, and ask the vendors whether they use pesticides or not. Purchase whole foods from vendors selling organic produce to enjoy a healthier, happier life.
Should you still be concerned about your erythritol consumption, get in the habit of reading food labels every time you go to the grocery store. The general rule is if you cannot pronounce or spell most of the ingredients on a food label, leave it on the shelf. This includes all mints and gum–look for organic versions in health food stores and online to avoid ingesting more artificial sweeteners than you realize.
Educate yourself about the food and beverages you consume, and enjoy the results!