We’ve all been told frequently enough that sugar isn’t doing us any favors. Added sugars in our diet can contribute to unwanted weight gain, tooth decay, diabetes, and many other unwanted side effects.
This has opened the door for many plant based sweeteners and sugar alternatives that provide a sweet taste without the potential for damaging our health.
Sorbitol and xylitol are two popular alternatives to both sugar and artificial sweetener. They’re both derived from plants and used in everything from food to toothpaste. They’re both great at what they do, but it’s important to understand that they work in different ways. They aren’t necessarily substitutes for each other.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from plants. Its name makes it sound like a chemical concoction, but don’t be alarmed. “Xylo” is a prefix meaning “wood” in Greek, and xylitol was originally derived exclusively from birch wood trees.
What is Sorbitol?
Sorbitol is a water soluble sweetener that occurs naturally in many fruits. Sorbitol can be extracted from peaches, figs, berries, apricots, dates, and apples. Even though it occurs naturally, manufacturers don’t want to destroy edible fruit to produce it. Instead, they often produce it from corn syrup.
What is Xylitol Used For?
Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many dental health products. Since it cannot be converted to acid by bacteria, it’s a popular ingredient used to improve the flavor of chewing gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste. It can also be used as a sugar alternative for people who are looking to avoid added sugars in their diets, including those living with diabetes.
Some evidence shows that xylitol can be successful in preventing ear infections in small children. Small children are particularly prone to infections of the middle ear, and administering xylitol orally after meals seems to correlate with a reduced prevalence of these ear infections.
What is Sorbitol Used For?
Sorbitol can be used to sweeten toothpastes, candy, and foods. Many patients with diabetes use sorbitol as a sugar alternative when cooking, and they treat their sweet cravings with candy that substitutes sugar for sorbitol.
Sorbitol is also a remedy for constipation. Sorbitol can be taken orally or used as an enema to produce a bowel movement in eight hours or less. Many people use sorbitol as a natural alternative to commercially available laxatives.
How Are Sorbitol and Xylitol Alike?
Sorbitol and xylitol are alike in the sense that they’re both sugar alcohols that are natural alternatives to refined table sugar. They both can come from plants, although sorbitol usually comes from plant derived corn syrup to keep manufacturing costs down.
Neither sweetener is converted to acid by the body, meaning that they cannot feed harmful bacteria. They won’t cause cavities, tooth decay, yeast infections, or probiotic disruptions that come from consuming plain white table sugar.
How Are Sorbitol and Xylitol Different?
Sorbitol is a known laxative. Laxatives are great when you need them. If you’re experiencing difficulty producing a bowel movement, you likely feel bloated and uncomfortable. The relief provided by a laxative helps your body function normally and makes it easy to relax.
Laxatives aren’t so great when you don’t have a use for them. You may see warnings on foods or sweeteners made with sorbitol that excessive consumption can cause gas or a laxative effect. If your bowel function is already fine, you don’t want to stimulate it any further. Using an excessive amount of sorbitol will lead you to the bathroom -- whether or not you actually want to be there.
Everyone tolerates things differently. Our systems have a lot in common, but no two human bodies work exactly the same. You might have a friend who gets very giggly after a single glass of wine, while another can confidently polish off the bottle and keep their composure. Sorbitol isn’t any different.
It may take a lot of sorbitol to cause a laxative effect in one person, while someone else may find themselves running for the nearest restroom after a single piece of sorbitol sweetened candy.
Although xylitol can technically cause bloating, its effects as a laxative are nowhere near as profound. The only cautionary tale about xylitol is that it’s toxic to dogs. Don’t ever brush your dog’s teeth with xylitol products or feed your dog anything that’s been sweetened with xylitol.
Another major difference between sorbitol and xylitol is the way they work in your mouth. While they both deprive bacteria of food, only xylitol will continue to protect your teeth for hours after you’ve used it. Xylitol creates a healthy film over your teeth that can lock out bacteria and lock in valuable minerals like calcium and phosphorus. When used in toothpaste, xylitol can help to boost its remineralizing effects.
While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with sorbitol in toothpaste (especially since you aren’t intended to swallow toothpaste), it doesn’t stack up to xylitol’s additional benefits. Xylitol wins out over sorbitol in oral health products.
Why Don’t All Toothpastes Use Xylitol?
Most toothpaste manufacturers are looking to keep their costs as low as possible. They use the cheapest ingredients they can produce or purchase, including artificial sweeteners. Brands that have opted to forego artificial sweeteners due to their controversial nature are more likely to use sorbitol than xylitol.
This isn’t because they don’t recognize the health benefits of xylitol. It’s simply because xylitol is a little more difficult to produce and use in toothpaste. Since sorbitol can easily and cheaply be derived from corn syrup, something we already have an abundance of, manufacturers looking to cut prices will also cut corners.
This isn’t necessarily because toothpaste manufacturers don’t care about your dental health. It’s because many people don’t understand the additional benefits that xylitol provides, and wouldn’t immediately know why it’s worth it to spend a little more on toothpaste that provides you with the extra boost that xylitol gives.
Consumer education about ingredients often takes a while to catch up. As more people become familiar with the oral health benefits of xylitol, more brands may begin swapping out sorbitol for the better ingredient.
The Perfect Xylitol Toothpaste
Xylitol provides oral health benefits all by itself, but it works best when integrated into a toothpaste formula that’s designed to address all of your oral health needs.
Time, your diet, and improper oral hygiene can contribute to the erosion of your enamel. Once your enamel is gone, there’s no getting it back. That’s why dentists often recommend fluoride toothpaste to their patients. Fluoride can help to fortify the enamel with great results, but the ingredient remains controversial. Several serious health conditions can be directly attributed to the excessive consumption of fluoride, and many people attempt to steer clear of the ingredient.
Other remineralizing ingredients like coral calcium and its trace minerals can be used to replenish the minerals your teeth will naturally lose. They can fortify weak teeth and stop cavities before they begin.
Ingredients like naturally antibacterial nano silver can be used to kill bacteria that contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. Nano silver is non-irritating and will not negatively impact your mouth’s healthy natural balance. It works by stealing electrons from the cell walls of harmful bacteria, causing them to implode before they’re able to inflict serious damage.
Xylitol is the important third ingredient in this scenario. You’ve killed the bad bacteria and you’ve given your teeth the minerals they need to fortify themselves. Then, the xylitol comes in to help your mouth hold onto the minerals and protect your teeth. The minerals are on the inside of the barrier that xylitol creates, and the bacteria that enter your mouth throughout the day are on the outside of that barrier.
With the protective film that xylitol leaves behind, bacteria can’t set up shop. It repels them from sticking to your teeth and creating plaque that will ultimately become tartar. Xylitol is the perfect shield. Using it twice a day in your toothpaste and chewing xylitol-sweetened gum after you eat can keep you breath fresh and your mouth free from the harmful effects of plaque.
If you don’t experience any negative side effects from sorbitol sweetened foods, there’s no reason to remove them from your diet. Even though sorbitol is a great alternative to eating sugar, it may not be the best sweetener for your toothpaste. It simply cannot promise the same dental health benefits that xylitol can.
Xylitol is more than just a sweetener. It’s a bacteria defense system that’s easy to apply and maintain. Who couldn’t use a little more protection throughout the day?