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Although it has a white crystalline appearance and sweet taste like table sugar, xylitol ("SIGH-li-toll") has a different molecular structure than sugar and is therefore classified differently, as either sugar alcohol or a pentose sugar (pent = five; a molecule of xylitol has only 5 carbon atoms whereas ordinary sugars have 6 or 12). Xylitol is a completely natural compound found in many plant foods, fruits and also produced in the human body.
Xylitol is used as a healthy sweetener for almost any kind of food or beverage and is also widely used in candies, gums, mints and toothpastes since it inhibits tooth decay, unlike regular sugar which promotes decay and cavities. Also unlike table sugars, xylitol does not cause blood sugar to rise dramatically, and does not promote insulin resistance. Therefore xylitol is a terrific alternative sweetener for diabetics or those watching their weight. Xylitol can be used in place of sugar to reduce calories, and can be used for cooking and baking.
Studies have shown that xylitol has significant antimicrobial properties and can provide significant dental benefits, helping to prevent cavities and other conditions caused by poor dental health. Xylitol is therefore a common ingredient in "natural" toothpastes. In addition, research has shown that xylitol may also inhibit growth of bacteria that causes middle ear infections in young children.
Use xylitol as desired to sweeten foods, drinks or recipes in place of other, higher-glycemic sweeteners
Xylitol is non-toxic but high doses (> 15g per day) may cause temporary gas or loose stools in some individuals, depending upon the amount consumed. These side effects diminish with continued use.