A Healthy Sugar?

March 8, 2011

Sugar is not among the top ten healthy ingredients but new research, published last month, on a natural sugar alternative shows that despite looking and tasting just like sugar it also has some surprising health benefits in dealing with infections such as candida and is particularly good for dieters and diabetics.
Xylitol – the name derives from the Greek word ‘xyl’, meaning wood, as it was first found in the bark of birch trees – and is found in plants, fruit, and even our own bodies.   It looks and tastes just like sugar and can be used in the same way in cooking, hot drinks or sprinkled over fruit and cereals.  Xylitol has 40% fewer calories and 75% less available carbohydrates than sugar together with a very low GI (glycaemic index) of 7 which is ten times lower than sugar.  It has already been used in many dental products, as it has been seen to be extremely good for teeth, helping reduce dental caries and plaque, and even seen to help re-mineralise enamel.
It is still relatively new to UK consumers and as well as being a healthy alternative to sweeteners, it now seems that new research shows that it could help reduce numerous infections.  The first study 1 looked at xylitol’s ability to prevent infections by the Streptococcus Pneumoniae bacteria, the bacteria responsible for pneumonia and various sinus and ear infections. The study showed that xylitol was able to inhibit the growth of all the strains of the bacteria tested and the researchers suggested this was because xylitol had an anti-microbial activity.
This is not dissimilar to why xylitol is thought to help with dental problems, and it appears the sugar alternative doesn’t taste as good to bacteria as it does to us, so sweetening your food with it could help keep infections at bay.
The second study 2 looked at xylitol’s use against candida, a form of yeast that is found in 80% of people and if occurring in large numbers can result in bouts of thrush. Candida are known to produce a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is both toxic and known to be a carcinogen. When xylitol was used, production of the chemical by candidia was reduced by 84%, and even when used in small amounts, similar to that you might expect to eat if using it in your diet, xylitol still worked to significantly reduce the levels of acetaldehyde.
For something so healthy, it is not confined to stores like Holland and Barrett, but you will find it in supermarkets such as Sainsburys and Waitrose under the name Perfect Sweet.  Use it as you would ordinary sugar, and if you are stuck for recipe ideas you will find them at www.perfectsweet.co.uk

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