Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Benefits of Natural Sweetener Xylitol

When I was a little girl visiting my elder relatives in Puerto Rico, I have a memory of being by the beach with my relatives. My Great Grandfather Cesaro was cutting down some sugar cane stalks with a machete and then he proceeded to cut it into smaller stalks, handing it out to all his prodigy to suck on like a candy cane. I really didn't want to put the stalk in my mouth as it looked more like a green tree bark but once my tongue and the cane met, it was all over for me. My sugar addiction had begun. Thanks Abuelito!

It seems every year there is a "new" sweetener out that is better than sugar, more natural than sugar or has less calories than sugar. We buy it and gladly sprinkle it on all our foods. However eventually you start hearing the inevitable, "has been known to cause cancer in rats" or "may cause lupus or bring on MS" warnings. You feel betrayed and go back to sugar thinking, "Perhaps if I use organic sugar or raw brown sugar that would be my healthiest choice".

My confusion is increased ten-fold when I shop at Whole Foods as there is an whole aisle dedicated to sweeteners. I think I have tried them all; unrefined brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt, rice syrups, honey and agave nectar have all made their way onto my amaranth flakes. So when my mother excitingly called me to tell me about Xylitol as a natural sweetener I was a little bit cynical on finding out more about this "healthy natural sweetener".

She had been at her local health food store pumping the clerks for information as usual on what will give her better health when the clerk strongly recommended that she try Xylitol as a sugar substitute. After researching it online she related all the information she learned to me and thought it would be a good topic for "The Wisdom of Beauty".

After I did my research and the much anticipated "taste test", I am thrilled to report the benefits of Xylitol (not a very natural sounding name). Xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar. It is a naturally occurring 5-carbon sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables and produced in small amounts by the human body. It is the sweetest of the polyols with the same sweetness as sugar (sucrose) but with 40% fewer calories and none of the negative tooth decay or insulin release effects of sugar so it is recommended to those on a diabetic diet.

Xylitol has been used in foods since the 1960's and is approved in the U.S. as a food additive in unlimited quantity for foods with special dietary purposes and is safe for use in any sugar-controlled diet. Over 25 years of clinical testing confirms that Xylitol is the best sweetener for teeth. Xylitol, unlike other sugars, may reduce the risk of dental cavities. Sugar free chewing gums and candies made with this sweetener have already received official endorsements from six national dental associations.  

Xylitol is not only a safe, natural sweetener without the bad side-effects of sugar and artificial substitutes, it's also good for your teeth, stabilizes insulin and hormone levels, and promotes good health. We humans were really not designed to eat large amounts of sugar in whatever form it may take whether it be white, brown, honey, maple, molasses, etc. Sugar is really "white poison" as it is not only unhealthy for our bodies, it also ages us prematurely. While sugar wreaks havoc on the body, Xylitol heals and repairs. It also builds immunity, protects against chronic degenerative disease, and has anti-aging benefits.

The only discomfort that some sensitive people may notice initially when taking large amounts is mild diarrhea or slight cramping. About one-third of the Xylitol that is consumed is absorbed in the liver. The other two-thirds travels to the intestinal tract, where it is broken down by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids.

Xylitol looks, feels, and tastes exactly like sugar, and leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. It is available in many forms. In its crystalline form, it can replace sugar in cooking, baking, or as a sweetener for beverages. It is also included as an ingredient in chewing gum, mints, and nasal spray.

I have replaced sugar with Xylitol as I have always joked to friends that if there was a rehab clinic for sugar, I would check myself in immediately. Now with Xylitol I feel that as long as I am craving sweets as long as I use Xylitol I am not poisoning my body or prematurely aging myself.

In a family that has a history of adult on-set diabetes I hope I will be able to turn back the clock on my sugar intake and avoid this deadly disease with my new sweetener. Then there is the vain part of me that hopes that any aging I incurred from my sugar addictive behavior throughout the years will come to a halt. 

Now perhaps I will not feel so guilty making my Red Velvet Cupcakes!


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