As the population becomes increasingly aware of the harmful effects refined sugars can have on our bodies, various alternatives have emerged to sweeten food without presenting any harm to our health. Among new sweetener alternatives we find xylitol. Is it easy to get used to its taste? Can it be used in cooking and baking? Does it sweeten as much as ordinary sugar?

Birch sugar, or xylitol, is a common sugar substitute that has emerged in recent years. It has a high acceptance by consumers thanks to its pleasant taste. In addition, when used in small quantities, it provides very few calories. Throughout this guide you will discover all the benefits of adding birch sugar to your diet.

Key Facts

  • Xylitol is a 100% natural sweetener obtained from the wood of birch trees, hence it’s other common name “birch sugar”. It is an excellent replacement for common sugar and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, cyclamate and acesulfame K.
  • Birch sugar has the same sweetening power as common sugar, but provides only 40% of the calories. Although it contains some simple carbohydrates, it does not enable cavities – it is actually known to prevent plaque formation and bad breath.
  • Xylitol is highly recommended for people with diabetes because it has a low glycemic index. This means that blood glucose levels will not spike from consuming it.

Ranking: The best xylitol products on the market

Birch sugar, or is a natural sweetener that is extracted from Finnish birch wood. Keep in mind some manufacturers mix it with other compounds or artificial sweeteners which alter its nutritional properties. In this section we choose the best commercial brands of birch sugar that you can find on the market.

No. 1: NOW, Xylitol, 1kg

This birch sugar product is presented in a 1 kg self-closing bag. 100% natural xylitol. Granulated texture, white colour and flavour almost identical to that of common sugar. It provides 40% fewer calories than refined sugar. Gluten and soy free. Suitable for diabetics. This product is also GMO free.

Birch sugar is used to sweeten drinks, infusions, desserts and bakery products. It is used in the same proportions as common sugar, since its sweetening power is practically the same. It doesn’t damage teeth. This product is of an excellent price-quality ratio. It should be noted that this sweetener is toxic to dogs and other pets.

No. 2: Zveet, Birch Xilitol Sweetner 1lb

This pure granulated birch sugar is packed in a hermetically sealed bag of 1 pound. This is a premium product of complete natural origin. It is free of soy, gluten and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is suitable for vegans and known to improve oral health. Moreover, thanks to its low glycemic index, it is a sweetener recommended for diabetics.

Xylitol is a perfect substitute for common sugar as it has the same taste and texture. It dissolves perfectly in hot and cold drinks. It can also be used as an ingredient in desserts and baked goods. If consumed in excess, it can produce a laxative effect. Store in a cool, dry place.

No. 3: XyloSweet, Natural Xylitol Granules 5lbs

This is granulated birch sugar of excellent quality, 100% xylitol. The bag contains 5 pounds of product, enough for several months of heavy use. It has been reviewed to have a sweet taste, identical to common sugar. The ration recommended by the manufacturer is 15 grams per day. If consumed in excess, it can produce flatulence or diarrhea.

Xylitol is used in the same proportions as common sugar either to sweeten beverages or to make baked goods or pastries. The only disadvantage of this product is that it is not suitable for people with celiac disease because it may contain traces of gluten. People allergic to nuts or sesame should also refrain from using this product.

No. 4: Health Garden, Xylitol single serve packets

This all natural product is of high quality. Health Garden is known for making quality products that are made fresher, richer in nutrients, better for the environment and safer for you to consume. This product allows you to get your sugar fix on the go, being individually packaged by portion.

This product is reported to be easily dissolved and it can be used to sweeten hot and cold drinks. Birch sugar strengthens tooth enamel, prevents the development of cavities and fights bad breath. It is recommended for diabetics, as it does not increase blood glucose. As with all the products in this ranking, this product is free of chemicals and artificial flavours.

No. 5: Xyla, Xylitol Seetner 454gr

Granulated birch sugar, presented in a hermetic bag of 454 grams. This product is kosher, dairy free, gluten free, non GMO and nut free. It has the same sweetening power as refined sugar, but provides 40% fewer calories. It is almost identical in taste and appearance to table sugar (white, granular). It has excellent cost-performance ratio.

This sweetener is suitable for diabetics thanks to its low glycemic index. It is used as conventional sugar to sweeten beverages and to bake goods. It is known to prevent the formation of dental plaque and it reduces the incidence of cavities. It is not specified whether its a product suitable for vegans.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about birch sugar or xylitol

If you have never tried birch sugar it is normal that you have many questions regarding its use, taste and properties. Even some habitual consumers of this sweetener do not know all its benefits and ways in which it can be used. Read this section carefully to learn more about this great sugar alternative.

Xylitol1

Calories that come from sugars especially in the form of liquids such as milkshakes, do not give satiety to the consumer. (Source: Shironosov: 31226388/123rf.com)

What is birch sugar exactly?

Birch sugar, or xylitol, is a crystalline and granulated sweetener obtained from Finnish birch trees. The bark of this tree is rich in a fibre called xylan, from which xylitol is extracted. It can also be extracted from corn cobs, but unfortunately most current corn crops are transgenic (GMO).

Although birch sugar is a 100% natural sweetener and it contains no synthetic additives, chemical processes are used to extract the element from the bark. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to obtain xylitol from birch wood. The same goes for other healthy sweeteners, such as stevia.

What does it mean that xylitol is an ‘alcoholic sugar’?

The fact that xylitol is an alcoholic sugar is what makes birch sugar so healthy. Alcoholic sugars are metabolized in a different way than common sugar (sucrose). As a result, its assimilation does not produce sudden elevations in blood glucose levels.

In addition, the body does not fully assimilate alcohol sugars, so they provide much fewer calories than ordinary sugars. Finally, these compounds are not fermented by bacteria in the mouth and do not become an acid helping preserve our dental health.

foco

Did you know that birch sugar does not damage tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay?

What is the difference between birch sugar and refined sugar?

Birch sugar is xylitol, while common sugar is sucrose. As mentioned, xylitol is not fermented by oral bacteria, while sucrose is converted to acid by these bacteria. Acid damages tooth enamel and promotes the formation of cavities. This means that sucrose is harmful to oral health, while xylitol is not.

Another difference between xylitol and sucrose is the glycemic index (GI). This index, which is very important to diabetics, measures changes in the blood sugar produced by a food containing carbohydrates. If a food has a high GI, when consumed, it quickly raises blood sugar levels.

Xylitol2

Regular sugar doesn’t have any nutrients and thus, no nutritional value. Xylitol however, has many benefits. (Source: Morisfoto: 86796531/123rf.com)

Refined sugar (sucrose) has a high glycemic index, which is 70. In contrast, the GI of xylitol is 7 (very low) which means that it does not cause sudden spikes in blood glucose. For this reason, birch sugar is a sweetener suitable for diabetics, although if consumed in excess can cause intestinal discomfort.

Finally, Birch sugar helps with weight control because it has fewer calories than regular sugar (40% less). While xylitol provides 2.4 calories per gram, sucrose provides 4 calories per gram. One teaspoon of birch sugar provides 12 calories and one teaspoon of regular sugar provides 20 calories.

Is birch sugar better than stevia?

No, it’s not better than stevia. It’s just different. Stevia is a natural sweetener that does not provide energy, i.e. zero calorie sweetener. Nonetheless, just like birch sugar, it does not raise blood sugar levels, nor does it promote the development of cavities. However, some people report not being able to manage stevia’s bitter taste.

The advantage of xylitol over stevia is that the taste of the former is almost identical to that of refined sugar. This makes it easier to adopt by consumers. In addition, when heated for several minutes birch sugar has the ability to caramelize, while stevia does not caramelize.

Xylitol3

Sugar stimulates the body to release opioids and dopamine. (Source: Boiko: 58199021/123rf.com)

Another benefit of birch sugar is that it is used in the same amount as regular sugar, since its sweetening power is the same. Stevia, on the other hand, has a much higher sweetening capacity. As a result, stevia drinks or preparations may become too sweet or taste different than regular sugar and recipes must be adjusted with different measurements.

We should add that, although stevia does not damage the teeth, it also does not have the same protective attributes to oral health as xylitol does. On the other hand, in stevia’s favour, it rarely causes digestive discomfort, while xylitol in amounts greater than 50 grams daily has a laxative effect.

Birch sugar (xylitol) Stevia Common sugar (sucrose)
Sweetening Power: 1 300-400 1
Glycemic Index: 7 0 70
Flavour: Sweet, almost identical to sugar. Sweet, although it usually leaves a bitter after taste. Sweet, similar characteristics of refined sugar.
Calories (per 100gr): 240 calories 0 calories 400 calories
Presentation: Granulate. Granulate, liquid and tablets. Granulate, in clumps.
Suitable for cooking: Yes Yes Yes
Caramalizsing Capabilities: Yes No Yes
Effect on dental health: Prevents tooth decay. It reduces the formation of bacterial plaque in teeth and contributes to the regeneration of dental enamel. It works as an anti-inflammatory for the gums and combats bad breath bacteria. It does not favour the occurrence of cavities nor the accumulation of bacterial plaque in teeth and gums. It is cariogenic, that is to say, it promotes the appearance of dental cavities. Deteriorates dental enamel and stimulates the formation of bacterial plaque. Increases the risk of gingivitis (gum inflammation and bleeding).
Effect on blood glucose levels: Does not raise blood glucose. Does not raise blood glucose. Rapidly increases blood glucose levels.

How is xylitol used?

Xylitol is used in exactly the same way as common sugar and in the same proportions, as it has an equal sweetening power. It is dissolved in drinks and infusions to sweeten them and, in the case of baked goods, it is mixed with the rest of the ingredients while cooking.

Can xylitol be cooked?

Xylitol is stable at high temperatures and can be cooked without altering its flavour. One advantage of xylitol over other sweeteners is its ability to caramelize, just as ordinary sugar does. Birch sugar can be used in custards, biscuits, jams, cookies, pancakes and flans.

Why can’t birch sugar be used in recipes with yeast?

It is noted on several birch sugar packages that this sweetener should not be used in preparations containing yeast. This is because yeasts cannot ferment xylitol and carbon dioxide will not be produced. Without carbon dioxide, the mass will not increase in volume and will not be spongy either, this basically means xylitol prevents yeast from doing its job in the recipe.

What is the recommended daily dose of xylitol?

There is no recommended serving of xylitol when consumed as a sweetener, but it is important not to exceed 50 grams per day. Exceeding this amount can produce flatulence, colic and/or diarrhea. Although birch sugar is a healthy alternative, as with anything in life, it is always important to consume it in moderation.

What benefits does birch sugar offer to oral health?

Xylitol, unlike sucrose (regular sugar), is not fermented by the bacteria in our mouth. As a result, the acid that damages the tooth enamel and encourages the development of bacterial plaque doesn’t appear. If the tooth enamel is not damaged, cavities are less likely to form.

In addition, the regular consumption of birch sugar, or xylitol-based chewing gum, candy and mouthwashes, has been linked to:

  • Regeneration of dental enamel
  • Less incidence of halitosis (bad breath)
  • Improvement of gingivitis (gum inflammation and bleeding).
Bruno BaraccoOdontologist

“Xylitol does not generate acid and therefore does not promote tooth decay and decreases the bacteria in the mouth that cause enamel deterioration. The recommendation to consume candies or chewing gum with xylitol is accepted and included in caries prevention programs.”

How is birch sugar used as a mouthwash?

There are commercial mouthwashes containing xylitol, but pure birch sugar can be used as a homemade mouthwash. Just put 1 teaspoon of birch sugar in your mouth, wait for it to dissolve when mixed with the saliva and keep it in your mouth for 3 minutes. The mixture is then expelled and the mouth rinsed with water.

Does xylitol help fight Candida infection?

Oral candidiasis is an infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans that can spread from the mouth to the esophagus, stomach, and intestine. Those who suffer from this disease should avoid sugar because it would aggravate their condition. Birch sugar does not serve as a substrate for Candida and therefore inhibits its growth.

Xylitol4

Birch sugar is ideal for sweetening your favourite desserts in a healthier way.(Source: Morisfoto: 88862099/123rf.com)

Is birch sugar really beneficial to weight loss?

Although birch sugar provides 40% fewer calories than regular sugar, it’s consumption should still be limited. The main advantage for those who want to lose weight is that, as stated by nutritionist Marta Cecilia Castillo:

“Unlike sugar, xylitol does not turn into fat easily”.

This is because xylitol does not raise blood glucose and therefore does not increase the levels of insulin in the blood. In contrast, common sugar increases both blood sugar and insulin levels. Excess insulin promotes the conversion of carbohydrates into fat and this leads to an increase in weight and body fat percentage.

What are some contradictions to the use of birch sugar?

Xylitol is a safe sweetener to human health, it is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Nonetheless, those who have chronic diarrhea or are experiencing gastroenteritis should avoid using it. It should also be noted that xylitol is toxic to many animals, especially dogs.

Does the consumption of xylitol produce any adverse reactions?

Adverse effects frequently associated with overconsumption of xylitol are diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, nausea and colics. Some people may have allergic reactions or develop hives, but this is very rare. It is recommended not to exceed 50 grams of birch sugar per day.

Xylitol5

Birch sugar will help you keep your teeth healthy.(Source: Rido: 35534675/123rf.com)

What types of birch sugar are there and which is the most suitable for me?

Birch sugar consists of practically pure xylitol. As a sweetener, it is marketed under the name of birch sugar or xylitol. However, there are other products that contain xylitol and are used for non-food purposes. Let us delve deeper into both of these uses:

  • Xylitol (food use)
  • Xylitol (non-food use)

Food-use xylitol (sugar substitute)

The xylitol used as a replacement for refined sugar is considered as a food-use supplement. It is used to add sweetness to beverages, infusions, baked goods and desserts. It comes in the form of a crystalline, granular powder. The appearance is very similar to that of refined sugar. Birch sugar is not available in liquid or tablet form.

Advantages
  • Taste, colour and texture identical to common sugar
  • Dissolves easily
  • Can be used in cooked preparations
  • Has the ability to caramelize
Disadvantages
  • Higher price point
  • When consumed in excess it causes digestive discomfort

Non-food use

Xylitol for non-food use, e.g. to improve oral health, comes in the form of powder, spray, chewing gum, sweets, creams, mouthwash and tablets. These products are generally used in dentistry to reduce gum inflammation and eliminate bad breath. They may be prescribed in the treatment of oral candidiasis.

Purchase Criteria

Although all Birch sugar brands may look the same, they are not. Their taste, appearance and sweetening power are usually very similar from one brand to the other. However, there are other differentiating aspects that you should keep in mind in order for the product you choose to meet all your expectations. Check them out:

  • Origin of ingredients
  • Presence or absence of gluten
  • Allergen free certification
  • Intended use

Origin of ingredients

As mentioned above, xylitol can also be obtained from corn cobs. In general, the corn from which this compound is obtained is transgenic. If you try to stay away from GMO products, pay close attention to where the ingredients are coming from, make sure to buy xylitol extracted from birch.

Presence or absence of gluten

As we all know, gluten-free products tend to be more expensive than those without this certification. Therefore, if you are not celiac or gluten intolerant, you can buy any brand of birch sugar. On the other hand, if you suffer from celiac disease, you will have to buy a product certified as gluten-free.

Allergen free certification

During processing and packaging, birch sugar can be contaminated with traces of soybeans, nuts, sesame or other allergens. For this reason, if you are allergic to any of these foods, you should look on the label of the sweetener for a seal that guarantees the product is free of any relevant allergens.

Intended use

Generally, birch sugar should be consumed within 6 months after opening the package. This means that if you are only using it to sweeten drinks and infusions, it would make more sense to buy in lesser quantities or opt for individually packed portions. This way, you’ll avoid wasting this sweetener and you won’t overspend.

Summary

If you’ve never heard of birch sugar, you’ve probably been pleasantly surprised by everything you’ve read in this guide. Even if you had already heard of xylitol, you may still have discovered something new about this natural sweetener. At the end of the day it is one of the best substitutes for common sugar.

Xylitol helps in the treatment of various diseases and supports the protection of oral health. In addition, it can be used in a wide variety of beverages, infusions and sweet recipes.

If you liked this article on all things xylitol, share it so more people can improve their health while still feeding their sweet tooth.

(Featured image source: Koosen: 45651542/123rf.com)

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