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Good Sugar?

April 27th, 2011

Good Sugar?
Remember the basic equation?  Sugar and carbohydrate in the diet is used by bacteria to produce acids that cause tooth decay.  That goes for common sugar (sucrose) and most carbohydrates such as fructose in fruits.  Other sugars cannot be used by bacteria and so they do not cause dental disease.  These are the sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol.  They are often found in diet foods or foods and snacks designated as safe for diabetics.
The sugar alcohols are not harmful, but one of them, xylitol, goes even further.  It actually has been shown to prevent dental decay.  This is quite amazing.  Subjects in studies who were given xylitol chewing gum had lower rates of tooth decay than the control group that had gum with no sugar at all.  The mechanism of action is related to how the bacteria in the mouth use this sugar, and it really works.
So why aren’t there more products with xylitol?  Well, to get the benefit, you need to be ingesting the xylitol product quite often, as many as 10 or more sticks of gum a day.  This is not always recommended, especially for those with jaw joint problems.  Also, xylitol’s sweet flavor doesn’t last as long as other sugars.  The products with it often get poor taste ratings from consumers.  Often the xylitol is one of several sugars added for flavor in a product.
Look for some products that have xylitol.  While we don’t recommend chewing gum as a routine, if you are chewing anyway, you might as well add a product that may be healthier for you.
And what does the xylitol do to bacteria?  Well, actually nothing.  But it seems that the amount of energy that the bacteria need to use to digest the sugar is more than the amount of energy the bacteria get from it.  They literally burn themselves out trying to use xylitol.  The more it is available, the more good it can do.
There are few side effects with xylitol.  Possibly some diarrhea with excessive use.  It has 40% less calories than table sugar and will not cause as great a rise in blood glucose so it may be safer for diabetics.  There are some reports that xylitol can be quite toxic to dogs so care should be taken to keep it away from your pets.
There are readily available sources for products containing xylitol.  Try your local health food store or food co-op or go online to find supplies.  The most common delivery system is chewing gum, but mouthwash, moistening gel, toothpaste, and even bulk granulated containers are available as well.  The bulk product can be substituted for sugar in baking.

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