Xylitol is an all-natural sugar alternative that tastes and looks like sugar but that is where the similarities end. Our bodies produce Xylitol daily during normal metabolism. Xylitol is one of a group of sugar substitutes known as polyols. Others in the same group include sorbitol and maltitol, which have 6 carbon structures (and can be metabolised by harmful bacteria). However, xylitol has a unique 5 carbon structure which is metabolised only by friendly bacteria. Xylitol is a sweetener that occurs naturally. It can be found in berries and other fruits, some vegetables and in the woody fibres of birch tree bark and corn cobs. It is even produced by the human body as a part of normal metabolism.
Xylitol was discovered almost simultaneously by German and French chemists in the late 19th century. In the Soviet Union it has been used for decades as a sweetener for diabetics, and in Germany in solutions for intravenous feeding. In China, xylitol has been used for various medical purposes. It is now used in over 40 countries as a safe, natural and healthy alternative sweetener. It has been approved by FDA in the USA for over 25 years.
Xylitol derives its name from xylan, meaning wood, and is manufactured from natural xylan-rich sources (biomass) such as birch tree bark, and corn fibre. Wood sugar (xylose) is extracted from the biomass, and the liquid wood sugar is then converted to pure crystalline xylitol.
Dietary xylitol is easily metabolised by the body. A small portion is slowly absorbed through the small intestine and carried in the portal blood supply to the liver, where it is converted to glucose. Because of the slowness of absorption, the majority of xylitol (approximately ¾ of that consumed) moves down to the lower intestine, There it is metabolised by friendly bacteria to short-chain fatty acids, which are mostly returned to the liver for oxidation, providing energy (2).
Xylitol is in use in more than 50 countries around the world and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and in Australia by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
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