Erythritol: Too Good to Be True?

Is the Promise of Calorie Free Sweetness, Erythritol, too Good to Be True?

Erythritol, a “natural” sweetener that both looks and tastes like sugar, and boasts of having no calories, looks pretty great, right? What isn’t there to like? Well, recently-completed studies show that this too-good-to-be-true sugar may be linked to not only heart attacks and strokes, but is also likely to pose a serious risk to those with diabetes or those who suffer from heart-related diseases.

But, what, specifically, is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a natural sweetener often used in a wide range of diets, and it is known for containing less calories and sugar. According to Nature Medicine, “Erythritol is a 4-carbon sugar alcohol (polyol) that is commonly used as a sugar substitute.” Not only is it used to sweeten otherwise bitter products, it is also commonly used when baking. Those who wish to use as a “lower-calorie” option when making their baked-goods use Erythritol as a substitute because the difference in taste is “practically nonexistent.”

While Erythritol is usually only present in fruits and vegetables in very small and ineffectual amounts, when it comes to processed foods, this sweetener plays a much bigger role.

Concluding their study on Erythritol, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute decided to run an experiment on 8 healthy volunteers. These volunteers drank a beverage that contained approximately 30 grams of Erythritol, and then scientists monitored their blood levels for the next few days. The results were jaw-dropping, as the patients’ blood levels “remained elevated above the necessary threshold to trigger and heighten clotting risk for the next two to three days.” Although 30 grams may not seem like a lot, according to Stanley Hanzen, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, consuming 30 grams of Erythritol is “equivalent to eating a pint of keto ice cream”. 

This news is quite shocking, and begs the question: “How did this group of researchers find that out?” Well, it turns out that they weren’t looking for it in the first place. The main focus of the experiment was to find any “unknown” or even hidden chemicals or compounds in a person’s blood that might “predict their risk for a heart attack, stroke, or death in the next three years”, says CNNhealth. Erythritol was among the most prevalent of the molecules found, naturally piquing the curiosity of those analyzing the results. After further investigation, it was discovered that those who had experienced a major heart problem or stroke in the last several years had higher levels of Erythritol in their blood than those who had not.

Furthermore, according to CNNhealth, “people with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke if they had the highest levels of Erythritol in their blood.” What’s even more concerning is that most foods that contain the highest levels of Erythritol are said to be catered to people with diabetes as a “zero sugar” and “safe” option.

Researchers and scientists are currently peering much more deeply into the issue of the effects of Erythritol, and although it isn’t yet established science, some are advising their patients to steer clear of products that contain large amounts of Erythritol, especially if that patient is one of the more at-risk candidates.

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