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Xyla wants to replace sugar in mainstream diets

12/09/2013 01:47 EST | Updated 02/08/2014 05:59 EST
You may have seen recommendations for the sweetener xylitol in bestselling cook books like Gwyneth Paltrow's It's all Good​ and Dr. William Davis' Wheat Belly Cookbook. 

Xylitol, a sweetener derived from natural sources including wood and corn, has been around for decades. Xylitol Canada marketers are hoping to steer the sweetener toward the mainstream, under the consumer-friendly name Xyla.

A 454g bag of Xyla retails for $7.99. It is available in the Montreal area, mostly in natural food stores and specialty shops.

CBC Montreal received a promotional package of Xyla including a bag of raw xylitol to be used as table sugar. It boast the same taste as sugar with 40 per cent fewer calories and 75 per cent fewer carbohydrates per serving. 

What you should know about xylitol

Montreal dietitian, author and Order of Canada recipient Louise Lambert-Lagacé says she would not recommend the sweetener to clients looking to reduce their sugar consumption.

She says you may save on calories, but it may come at a cost.

"We put that substance, xylitol, on a list of foods that can cause harm, that can cause bloating and diarrhea," says Lambert-Lagacé.

The company behind Xyla agreed to an interview but then changed its mind. Instead it sent us a statement. In it, the company says its product is a natural sweetener made from 100 per cent sustainable North American hardwood.

The statement goes on to say that the product may cause digestive problems. The company recommends slowly introducing the sweetener into the diet.

"Xylitol has been shown to cause a mild digestive discomfort among a small part of the population," says the statement. 

The statement also says the product is not safe for pets.

"Just like chocolate is safe for humans but not for animals, the same goes for xylitol," it says.

Cutting sugar is important

A recent CBC investigation found emerging research suggests sugar may be linked to diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer and Alzheimer's.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. 

While neither the Canadian nor U.S. governments has a recommended daily limit for sugar consumption, the American Heart Association suggests men consume no more than nine teaspoons a day. For women, the recommendation is a maximum of six teaspoons.

Lambert-Lagacé says Canadians are eating too much sugar and it's important to cut back. But she says turning to sweeteners like xylitol or products containing them is not a good idea.

"If you want to cut on sugar, on sweets in general, you can do it without sugar substitutes. You can try fruit for desert instead of pastries. You can have more milk in your coffee and have a sweeter coffee without sugar," says Lambert-Lagacé.

Health Canada has approved xylitol as a natural health product. In an emailed statement to the CBC, Health Canada says, xylitol may cause stomach and digestive issues. But it says this may go away with repeated exposure. 

"Overall, the benefits of permitting the use of [xylitol and similar sweeteners] are greater than the potential for laxative effects that could result from excessive consumption of these substances," says the statement.

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