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Xylitol vs Maltitol

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol (a polyol) used as a sugar substitute. It has 75-90% of the sweetness of sucrose (table sugar) and nearly identical properties, except for browning. It is used to replace table sugar because it has fewer calories, does not promote tooth decay and has a somewhat lesser effect on blood glucose. Chemically, maltitol is also known as 4-O-α-glucopyranosyl-D-sorbitol. Commercially, it is known under trade names such as Maltisorb and Maltisweet.

Production and uses

Commercially, maltitol is a disaccharide produced by Corn Products Specialty Ingredients (formerly SPI Polyols), Cargill, Roquette, and Towa, among other companies. Maltitol is made by hydrogenation of maltose obtained from starch. Its high sweetness allows it to be used without being mixed with other sweeteners, and exhibits negligible cooling effect (positive heat of solution) in comparison with other sugar alcohols, and is very similar to the subtle cooling effect of sucrose.[1] It is used especially in production of sweets: sugarless hard candies, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods, and ice cream. The pharmaceutical industry uses maltitol as an excipient where it utilised as a low-calorie sweetening agent. Its similarity to sucrose allows it to be used in syrups with the advantage that crystallization (which may cause bottle caps to stick) is less likely. Maltitol may also be used as a plasticiser in gelatine capsules, as an emollient, and as a humectant.[2]


Maltitol does not brown and caramelize after liquifying by exposure to intense heat. It is not metabolized by oral bacteria, so it does not promote tooth decay. It is somewhat more slowly absorbed than sucrose which makes it somewhat more suitable for people with diabetes than sucrose. Its food energy value is 2.1 kilocalories per gram (8.8 kJ/g); (sucrose is 4.0 kcal/g (16.7 kJ/g)).

Due to its slow absorption, excessive consumption can have laxative effect and sometimes can cause gas and/or bloating. It is very easy for food producers to use it in vast quantities, due to its similarity to sugar, so consumers often end up ingesting far more than they could most other sugar alcohols. This means that maltitol is particularly associated with gastric issues.

In countries like Australia, Norway and New Zealand, it carries a mandatory warning such as “Excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.” In the United States, it is a Generally recognized as safe (GRAS) substance, with a recommendation of a warning about its laxative potential when consumed at levels of 100 grams per day or more.

Permissible for Muslims

Islam forbids the handling, promotion, selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages and other intoxicants.[3][4] However, sugar alcohols are chemically different from ethanol, the type of alcohol found in all alcoholic beverages. Sugar alcohols do not intoxicate, and are permissible for Muslims to eat.

Food import regulations of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries like Saudi Arabia[5][6] and Qatar permit the sugar alcohol maltitol. GCC food import regulations are based in large part on Islamic dietary law, formed in consult with the member countries’ Ministries of Health and religious professionals


Xylitol (from Greek ξύλον – xyl[on], “wood” + suffix -itol, used to denote sugar alcohols) is an organic compound with the formula (CHOH)3(CH2OH)2. This achiral species is one of four isomers of 1,2,3,4,5-pentapentanol. This sugar alcohol is used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms.[2] It can be extracted from corn fibre,[3] birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose with only two-thirds the food energy.

Production of Xylitol

Xylitol (Finnish ksylitoli) was first derived from birch trees in Finland in the 20th century and was first popularised in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels. Today, using hardwood or maize sources, the largest manufacturer globally is the Danish company Danisco, with several other suppliers from China.[4][5] Xylitol is produced by hydrogenation of xylose, which converts the sugar (an aldehyde) into a primary alcohol.


One teaspoon (5 mL) of xylitol contains 9.6 calories, as compared to one teaspoon of sugar, which has 15 calories. Xylitol has virtually no aftertaste, and is advertised as “safe for diabetics and individuals with hyperglycemia“. This is because sugar-alcohols have less impact on a person’s blood sugar than regular sugars.[6]

Dietary use worldwide

Xylitol is widely used in Finland, its “home country.” Many Finnish confectioneries employ xylitol, or have a xylitol version available. Virtually all chewing gum sold in Finland is sweetened with xylitol.[7]

Medical applications

Dental care

Xylitol is a “tooth friendly” non-fermentable sugar alcohol[8][9]. A systematic review study[10] on the efficacy of Xylitol has indicated dental heath benefits in caries prevention, showing superior performance to other polyols. Early studies from Finland in the 1970s found that a group chewing sucrose gum had 2.92 decayed, missing, or filled (dmf) teeth compared to 1.04 in the group chewing xylitol gums.[11] In another study, researchers had mothers chew xylitol gum 3 months after delivery until their children were 2 years old. The researchers found

that the xylitol group had “a 70% reduction in cavities (dmf).”[11] Recent research[12] confirms a plaque-reducing effect and suggests that the compound, having some chemical properties similar to sucrose, attracts and then “starves” harmful micro-organisms, allowing the mouth to remineralise damaged teeth with less interruption. (However, this same effect also interferes with yeast micro-organisms and others, so xylitol is inappropriate for making yeast-based bread, for instance.)

Xylitol based products are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the medical claim that they do not promote dental cavities.[13]

A recent study demonstrated that a water additive for animals containing xylitol was effective in reducing plaque and calculus accumulation in cats.[14]


Possessing approximately 40% less food energy,[15] xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to table sugar. Absorbed more slowly than sugar, it doesn’t contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response.


Xylitol also appears to have potential as a treatment for osteoporosis. A group of Finnish researchers has found that dietary xylitol prevents weakening of bones in laboratory rats, and actually improves bone density.[16][17]

Ear and upper respiratory infections

Studies have shown that xylitol chewing gum can help prevent ear infections[18] (acute otitis media); the act of chewing and swallowing assists with the disposal of earwax and clearing the middle ear, whilst the presence of xylitol prevents the growth of bacteria in the eustachian tubes (auditory tubes or pharyngotympanic tubes) which connect the nose and ear.[19] When bacteria enter the body they hold on to the tissues by hanging on to a variety of sugar complexes. The open nature of xylitol and its ability to form many different sugar-like structures appears to interfere with the ability of many bacteria to adhere.[20] Xylitol can be applied nasally through a saline solution containing xylitol.

When applied nasally to 21 subjects in a double-blind randomized controlled trial, it significantly reduced the number of nasal coagulase-negative Staphylococcus bacteria compared to the saline control. The researchers believe that it increases the effectiveness of endogenous (naturally present in the body) antimicrobial factors.[21]


In rats, xylitol has been found to increase the activity of neutrophils, the white blood cells involved in fighting many bacteria. This effect seems to be quite broad, acting even in cases such as general sepsis. [22]

Candida yeast

A recent report suggests that consumption of xylitol may help control oral infections of Candida yeast; in contrast, galactose, glucose, and sucrose may increase proliferation.[23]

Benefits for pregnant or nursing women

Xylitol is not only safe for pregnant and nursing women, but studies show that regular use significantly reduces the probability of transmitting the Streptococcus mutans bacteria, which is responsible for tooth decay, from mother to child during the first two years of life by as much as 80%.[24]


Xylitol has no known toxicity in humans, and people have consumed as much as 400 grams daily for long periods with no apparent ill effects.[25] Like most sugar alcohols, it has a laxative effect because sugar alcohols are not fully broken down during digestion; albeit ten times weaker than sorbitol. The effect depends upon the individual. In one study of 13 children, 4 experienced diarrhea when consuming over 65 grams per day.[26] Studies have reported that adaptation occurs after several weeks of consumption.[26]

Dogs that have ingested foods containing high levels of xylitol (greater than 100 milligram of xylitol consumed per kilogram of bodyweight) have presented with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) which can be life-threatening.[27] Low blood sugar can become manifest as a loss of coordination, depression, collapse and seizures as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion.[28][29] Intake of very high doses of xylitol (greater than 500 – 1000 mg/kg bwt) has also been implicated in liver failure in dogs, which can be fatal.[30] These are points of controversy, however, as earlier World Health Organization studies using much higher doses on dogs for long periods showed no ill effect. [31]

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