Xyli-what? All about the Natural Sweetener Xylitol

You may have seen xylitol touted as the latest alternative sweetener. But xylitol is vastly different from the fake sweeteners in the little colored packets: It’s much better.

What is xylitol?

Unlike the stuff in the little pink, blue and yellow packers, xylitol is a natural sweetener, extracted from plants. The tiny crystals look and taste like sugar—but xylitol plays nice with your metabolism.

Sugar and fake sweeteners do not. Refined sugar (including white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup and others) dumps itself into your bloodstream so fast that your body panics, pitching the sugar into your fat cells like mad—it’s a desperate attempt to get your blood sugar back to normal. (In fact, just two teaspoons of the stuff can hinder fat-burning for the next three to four days). Artificial sweeteners force your metabolism to a crawl—your liver gets too busy breaking down these chemical intruders to worry about burning fat.

Xylitol, on the other hand, absorbs nice and slowly. It won’t spike your blood sugar and kill your metabolism the way regular sugar does.

And because it’s natural, xylitol doesn’t put any chemical load on your liver, so it won’t stall your metabolism like fake sweeteners do.

Where can I get xylitol?
You can buy this natural sweetener in bags—just like sugar—at health food stores and online. Careful, though: More than 90 percent of xylitol is derived from corn, which raises worries about corn allergies and inflammation.

Look for xylitol extracted from birch trees instead. Xyla is a good brand, made in the U.S. from North American birch.

How do I use xylitol?
Xylitol is just as sweet as sugar. It measures just like sugar, too, so you can substitute it in recipes. But too much can cause digestive upset, so just use a tiny smidgen here and there—a quarter-teaspoon to sweeten a smoothie or a half-teaspoon to pump up homemade salad dressing.

Just be sure to keep xylitol out of your dog’s reach. Like chocolate, xylitol can be toxic to dogs.