Erythritol – like sugar without calories?

The low-calorie erythritol sweetener may seem too good to be true.

It is natural, does not cause side effects and tastes almost exactly like sugar, without the calories.

Basically, it has all the good things about ordinary sugar, without any of the negative aspects, although some media question its benefits.

This evidence-based article reviews the benefits and possible side effects of erythritol.


Erythritol belongs to a class of compounds called sugar alcohols.

Many different sugar alcohols are used by food producers. These include xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol.

Most of them work as low-calorie sweeteners in sugar-free or low-sugar products.

Most sugar alcohols are found in small amounts in nature, especially in fruits and vegetables.

The way these molecules are structured gives them the ability to stimulate sweet taste receptors in their tongue.

Erythritol seems to be quite different from the other sugar alcohols.

For starters, it contains many fewer calories:

  • Table sugar: 4 calories per gram
  • Xylitol: 2.4 calories per gram
  • Erythritol 0.24 calories per gram

With only 6% of the calories of sugar, it still contains 70% of the sweetness.

In large-scale production, erythritol is created when a type of yeast ferments corn glucose or wheat starch. The final product looks something like this:

Erythritol In A Bowl

In general, erythritol seems to be very safe.

Multiple studies have been conducted on its toxicity and effects on metabolism in animals.

Despite the long-term feeding of high amounts of erythritol, no serious side effects have been detected (1, 2).

Most sugar alcohols have an important caveat: they can cause digestive problems.

Due to its unique chemical structure, your body can not digest them and pass unchanged through most of your digestive system, or until they reach the colon.

In the colon, they are fermented by resident bacteria, which produce gas as a secondary product.

Consequently, eating high amounts of sugar alcohols can cause bloating and digestive discomfort. In fact, they belong to a fiber category known as FODMAPs.

However, erythritol is different from other sugar alcohols. Most of it is absorbed into the bloodstream before reaching the colon (3).

It circulates in the blood for a time, until finally it is excreted without changes in the urine. About 90% of erythritol is excreted in this way (4).

Although erythritol does not have any serious side effects, eating large amounts can cause digestive upset, as explained in the next chapter.

Summary Most of the erythritol you consume is absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted in the urine. It seems to have an excellent security profile.

Side effects of erythritol

About 90% of the erythritol you consume is absorbed into the bloodstream. The remaining 10% travel undigested to the colon.

Unlike most sugar alcohols, it appears to be resistant to fermentation by bacteria in the colon (4).

Feeding studies that provide up to 0.45 grams per pound (1 gram per kg) of body weight show that it is very well tolerated (5, 6).

However, one study showed that 50 grams of erythritol in a single dose increased nausea and stomach noise (7).

Unless you're eating massive amounts one by one, it's unlikely to cause an upset stomach. However, sensitivity to erythritol can vary between people.

Summary About 10% of ingested erythritol is not absorbed into the blood and travels to the colon. For this reason, a very high intake of erythritol can cause some digestive side effects.

Does not stick blood sugar or insulin

Humans do not have the enzymes needed to break down erythritol.

It is absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted without change in the urine.

When healthy people are given erythritol, there is no change in blood sugar or insulin levels. There is also no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides or other biomarkers (8).

For those with overweight or diabetes or other problems related to the metabolic syndrome, erythritol appears to be an excellent alternative to sugar.

Summary Erythritol does not raise blood sugar levels. This makes it an excellent substitute for sugar for people with diabetes.

It can reduce the risk of heart disease

Studies in diabetic rats show that it acts as an antioxidant, possibly reducing damage to blood vessels caused by high blood sugar levels (9).

Another study in 24 adults with type 2 diabetes found that taking 36 grams of erythritol every day for a month improved the function of their blood vessels, possibly reducing the risk of heart disease (10).

However, erythritol is not without controversy. One study linked high levels of blood erythritol with increased fat in young adults (11).

More studies are needed before claims can be made about the health relevance of these findings.

Summary Erythritol acts as an antioxidant and can improve the function of blood vessels in people with type 2 diabetes. These benefits can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, but more studies are needed.

The bottom line

In general, erythritol appears to be an excellent sweetener.

  • It does not contain almost calories.
  • It has 70% of the sweetness of sugar.
  • It does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
  • Studies in humans show very few side effects, mainly minor digestive problems in some people.
  • Studies in which animals are fed in large quantities for long periods of time show no adverse effects.

People concerned about their health may choose to sweeten their food with stevia or honey. However, honey contains calories and fructose, and many people do not appreciate the taste of stevia.

Erythritol seems to offer the best of both worlds.

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