Xylitol, Sorbitol, Malititol, Mannitol, and Erythritol are actually neither sugar nor alcohol despite being called sugar alcohols or polyols. They are classified as carbohydrates. Polypols do not promote tooth decay.
Organic xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is naturally present in small amounts of various fruits and vegetables, such as corn, berries, mushrooms, lettuce, and raspberries (one cup of raspberries contains less than one gram of xylitol). Commercial xylitol comes from the birch tree.
The Finnish name for xylitol is ‘koivusokeri’, or birch sugar, since it is extracted from birch bark. It is classified broadly as a carbohydrate and is slowly absorbed from the digestive tract and does not cause rapid rises in blood sugar.
Xylitol is produced by our bodies from other food sources using established energy pathways. It is widely distributed throughout nature in small amounts.
Organic xylitol is a natural sweetener (usually available in crystal form) that doesn’t have the negative side-effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Extremely large amounts may produce weight gain, diarrhea, or dysfunction of some organs.
Studies have shown that it reduces incidence of tooth decay, stabilises insulin and hormone levels and promotes good health.
Sorbitol and Mannitol are produced from corn and are far less sweet than sugar. They are low on the glycemic index but some studies show they may be carcinogenic, and large amounts may cause diarrhea.
Malititol is sweeter than Sorbitol and Mannitol but still less sweet than sugar.
Erythritol is also produced from corn. It has been used in Japan for many years, and since the 1990s has been used in a range of foods and confectionary. Erythritol has a low glycemic index. It is often used in combination with artificial sweeteners to mimic sugar’s taste and sweetness and to reduce the artificial sweeteners aftertaste.
Not enough research has been conducted on any of the polypols in relation to their health effects.