What Is Erythritol and Is It Bad for You?

On This Page

    Erythritol is a popular alternative to sugar. But is it bad for you? Read on to learn more.

    Erythritol is a polyol, or sugar alcohol, that’s become a popular low calorie sweetener. Proponents of erythritol point to the fact that it tastes so much like sugar that some can’t even tell the two apart – and that it doesn’t contain nearly the same amount of calories.

    So, what’s the downside? In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about erythritol – the good, the bad, and everything in between.

    What is erythritol and how is it made?

    Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, naturally found in many fruits (grapes, peaches, pears, watermelon, and so on) and naturally produced by our bodies. It can also be found in mushrooms and certain fermented foods, including beer, cheese, sake, soy sauce, and wine. Given the wide variety of erythritol sources available, the average adult tends to consume several grams of erythritol per day from food sources.

    Erythritol is similar to other sugar alcohols – including xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol – in that it also functions as a low calorie sweetener in sugar-free (and sometimes low sugar) products. Erythritol has also been used as a manufactured sweetener since 1990, made by fermenting glucose, sucrose, and glycerol with certain fungi. The resulting sweetener has between 60%-80% of the sweetness of sugar. This commercially manufactured erythritol is added to food. What distinguishes erythritol from other sugar alcohols is that it contains far fewer calories.

    How is erythritol used?

    Because of its natural abundance and potential health benefits, erythritol has become a popular sweetener. You can use it the same way you’d use sugar. Add it to your coffee or tea, bake with it – pretty much anything you’d ordinarily use sugar for. But just remember that, as a sugar substitute, it won’t taste exactly the same as regular sugar.

    Proponents of erythritol point to the fact that it’s got a high digestive tolerance and antioxidative properties, as well as a capacity for scavenging harmful free radicals.

    Is erythritol safe for consumption?

    Yes, erythritol is generally safe for consumption – with some caveats. Studies on erythritol’s toxicity have found it to be safe for people and animals to consume. However, there is some evidence that erythritol can potentially lead to harmful side effects, including gastrointestinal problems when consumed in excessive amounts and in rare cases few may experience allergic reactions.

    Potential erythritol side effects

    Gastrointestinal problems

    Consuming too much erythritol can lead to some pesky gastrointestinal problems, including bloating and an upset stomach. One study, for example, found that consuming 50 grams of erythritol can potentially increase occurrences of nausea and upset stomach. Still, you’re unlikely to experience this side effect unless you’re consuming a rather large amount of erythritol. Moreover, erythritol differs from other sugar alcohols in that most of it gets absorbed into the bloodstream before getting to the colon.

    Moreover, erythritol can lead to diarrhea and increased flatulence if consumed in large amounts. Unlike other sugar alcohols, though, erythritol is mostly absorbed before it gets to the colon, which means that erythritol has less of a laxative effect than its competitors.

    Allergic reactions

    Erythritol is generally safe however there has been a rare case of allergic reactions in some who consume it. If you have an erythritol allergy, it’s best to steer clear! Some symptoms of these allergic reactions include hives, rash, and swelling.

    Erythritol and blood sugar

    Since erythritol is a sugar substitute, it’s only natural that you might wonder about its effects on blood sugar. We have good news. This study found that erythritol had no effect on blood sugar levels in healthy subjects. That said, if you have any questions about your blood sugar, it’s best to talk to a medical professional.

    Erythritol and heart health

    If you’re looking to boost your heart health, switching from regular sugar to a sugar substitute won’t be the way to do it. The best way to support heart health is to exercise, get adequate sleep, manage your stress, and eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.

    Now, when it comes to erythritol and heart health, you may want to proceed with caution. This study found that erythritol can be linked to major cardiovascular issues. However, the study didn’t examine the general population, and it lacked proper control groups. In light of this, it’s safe to say that these results are inconclusive; it’s important to remember that the association of erythritol with heart issues does not necessarily imply a causal relationship. Additional research is needed to confirm how higher consumptions of erythritol may affect the long-term health of a healthy population.

    Erythritol and dental health

    Any dentist will tell you that too much sugar intake is bad for dental health, often leading to cavities and decay. That’s because the harmful bacteria in your mouth use sugar for energy, releasing acids that can lead to erosion of tooth enamel.

    That’s why sugar alcohols have become popular among those looking to take better care of their teeth. One study found that erythritol and xylitol can hinder the growth of bacteria in your mouth. Furthermore, this study found that erythritol may be slightly less harmful to your teeth than other sweeteners. This three-year study of school-aged children found that erythritol was better for tooth health than other sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol.

    Still, let’s remember: It’s a sweetener. The best way to maintain good dental health is through sound oral hygiene practices, including brushing, flossing, and regular visits to your dentist.

    How to use erythritol

    You can use erythritol the way you’d use any sugar substitute. Add it to your coffee or tea. Use it for baking. While many people like to replace sugar with erythritol on a 1:1 ratio, that's hardly the only way to do it. Some prefer to add a little more erythritol since it’s not as sweet as regular sugar.

    Because of the potential for side effects, you’ll want to consume erythritol only in moderation!

    Purchasing and using erythritol

    Erythritol substitutes and alternative sweeteners

    If erythritol isn’t for you, fear not. There are other sweetener options available to you, including:

    • Xylitol
    • Sorbitol
    • Maltitol
    • Mannitol
    • Isomalt
    • Lactitol
    • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

    The Bottom Line

    Here’s what to keep in mind when it comes to erythritol. It’s a good alternative sweetener for a number of reasons. First of all, it contains fewer calories than sugar and most sugar alternatives. Secondly, it’s about 70% as sweet as regular sugar. Then there’s the fact that it doesn’t seem to significantly affect blood sugar levels – a good sign. Studies of human and animal subjects have found erythritol to be generally safe.

    But that’s not all. Erythritol comes with some side effects that shouldn’t be discounted. One study, in particular, found that erythritol may present considerable perils when it comes to heart health; however, that study didn’t examine the general population, and its results should be considered inconclusive. More studies are needed.

    As a sweetener, erythritol should only be consumed in moderation. According to the American Heart Association%20for%20most%20men. "the American Heart Association"), your daily added sugar limit should be no more than 100 calories per day, or 6-9 teaspoons per day. If you have further questions about your sugar intake, talk to a medical professional. The best ways to care for your overall health include eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, and managing stress.

    You're unique. Your supplements should be too.

    Take the quiz
    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    William Glidden
    Freelance Contributor
    Billy Glidden is a writer with more than a decade of experience. He holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and has worked in nonprofit, corporate, and political communications.