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Xylitol as a Functional Sugar Replacement in Foods

Katharine Baughman
N00978865
FOS 4041 Food Sciences and Composition
March 22, 2015

Introduction
The overconsumption of added sugars in food products within the US has contributed to a
dramatic increase in prevalence of numerous health issues, especially obesity and associated
diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Increase in
Body Mass Index (BMI), a tool in diagnosing obesity, has been found to positively correlate with
increased intake of added sugars in the diet.1 Not only does BMI increase, but a diet high in
added sugars has been associated with decreased essential micronutrient intake, possibly leading
to other health risks.2 Average estimated increase in added sugar consumption grew about 30%
within the past few decades from about 228 calories daily in the late 1970s to over 300 calories
more recently in 2004.3 A slight decline occurred after the peak of consumption in 2003, but the
decrease was not significant and still did not meet the dietary guidelines set by the United States
Department of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), which both recommend that
daily energy intake does not exceed 10% in added sugars.3,4,5 The steep incline in sugar intake
has been a concern for several decades, since about the 1950s, when more highly processed
foods became more available on the market. According to a cross-sectional study using data
obtained from four cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES),
the largest food source of added sugars is sweetened beverages including soda, accounting for
34.4% of added sugar intake, followed by grain desserts at 12.7%, candy at 6.7%, and dairy
desserts at 5.6%, with the remainder coming from other food groups, each contributing to less
than 0.3% of total added sugar intake.6 As of 2008, around a third of adult Americans and nearly
a fifth of youth qualified as obese, with estimated annual medical costs of obesity adding up to
about $147 billion dollars.7 One strategy currently being researched to aid in reducing the obesity
epidemic is to find suitable alternative low-calorie sweeteners to replace sugar in foods, which
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may help with maintaining a more equalized energy balance and healthier weight. Various nonnutritive (non-caloric) and nutritive (caloric) sweetening alternatives are currently available on
the market for consumer purchase and use due to the heightened demand for healthier food
products, but the challenge has been to find a sweetener that provides similar quality and
acceptability in baked goods as sucrose, or table sugar, which is the gold standard of nutritive
sweeteners. Sugar contributes to several functional factors of baked goods including volume,
texture, taste, Maillard browning and caramelization, and preservation, all of which must be
taken into consideration upon replacing sugar with another sweetener.7
Xylitol (C5H12O5) is a polyol, more commonly known as a sugar alcohol, with high
potential as an acceptable sugar replacement due to its functional similarities to sucrose. Emil
Herman Fisher discovered the substance in 1890, where its isolation was attained through
processing of wheat and oat straw by French chemist M. G. Bertrand.8 The common reference as
a sugar alcohol is somewhat misleading, as they are neither a sugar nor an alcohol. Xylitol is
essentially a hydrogenated form of the xylose carbohydrate in which the aldehyde has been
reduced to a primary hydroxyl group, leading to the inclusion of alcohol to its name.9 The focus
of this research will be to determine what properties of Xylitol contribute to its potential as a
functional food additive. Functional foods are foods that provide added health benefits beyond
basic nutrition, for example fruits and vegetables with high fiber content and phytochemicals.
Occurrence of Xylitol
This polyol is naturally occurring in nature in small quantities within fruits, vegetables,
and other plants such as plums, strawberries, raspberries, cauliflower, pumpkin and spinach, as
well as more abundantly in birch trees.10, 11 Xylitol may be produced through biotechnical means
to yield greater quantities needed to meet consumer demands. Methods include chemical
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reduction, microbial (including fermentation by yeasts, bacteria, and fungi), and enzymatic.
Chemical reduction is the most commonly used method for high yield industrial production, but
requires extensive machine processing and expensive chemicals, leading to a high market price
and lesser availability to consumers.8 More research is developing on the other production
methods with promising results worth further pursuing due to xylitols numerous health benefits
and properties that make it an acceptable sugar replacement. Xylitol is approved for use in more
than 50 countries and has been used the food industry for almost four decades.8
Physical Characteristics that make Xylitol an Ideal Functional Ingredient
One of the most obvious and notable contributions of sugar to dessert products is its
positive flavor profile and sweetness. Alternative sweeteners are often high intensity, at hundreds
of times the comparative sweetness of traditional sucrose. This means that less of the product is
needed, which may in turn affect other properties of the product including its overall volume and
texture. Polyols, in contrast tend to have a lower level of sweetness than sucrose. Xylitol,
however, stands out from other sweetener options due to its 1:1 ratio of sweetness compared to
sucrose while providing only 40% of the energy.12 Xylitol has been associated with a slight
aftertaste and cooling effect in the mouth, which has been a part of its popularity as an ingredient
in chewing gums to enhance mint flavors.13 Aftertaste has been noted to diminish throughout
storage of cookies made with Xylitol with flavor and texture integrity remaining intact, unlike
cookies with sucrose, which appear to lose crunch and tenderness.14 It is important to note that
Xylitol is considered a bulk sweetener, meaning it has similar weight to sucrose. Dramatic
differences in weight can result in altered texture, volume, viscosity, and temperature stability of
the polyol that may affect the outcome of the product. It also has similar solubility in water, but
higher hygroscopicity than sugar, promoting moisture retention that can be beneficial in products
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desiring softness, but may negatively impact those requiring crispness, such as cookies.14 Xylitol
is heat stable, but since it lacks an aldehyde, it is unable to interact with amino acids and
participate highly in a Maillard reaction resulting in low amounts of browning.14,15 This situation
can be beneficial in preventing over-browning, but where browning is desired, an addition of an
invert sugar may be necessary if attempting to substitute all sucrose in the recipe.15
Xylitol in Cookies
While research on Xylitol in various pharmaceuticals and gums are abundant, there is a
need for more research in food products where consumer demand has been rising for healthy
alternatives. However, several studies have emerged evaluating the quality of baked goods using
partial or whole substitution of sugar with Xylitol. Winkelhausan et. al reported on the sensory
evaluation of cookies made with Xyiltol as the sole sweetener compared to those made with
sucrose and glucose.14 The study compared microbiological quality of the products as well over
time and at different temperatures. All types of cookies studied were made using the same recipe
with the same proportion of equivalent ingredients by weight per 100g of dough. Immediately
following preparation, samples were stored for one and two weeks at two temperature regimes:
in a refrigerator at 46C and humidity 70% and at room temperature of 2022C and
humidity 75%. Under the latter conditions, samples were stored also for three and seven
months before samples were stored in a freezer, at 18C for eight months.14 Sensory
examination included flavor attributes of sweet, cool, and aftertaste and texture attributes of hard,
dry, crunchy, and soft and these attributes were ranked on a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 expressing the
attribute the most. A duo-trio test was involved in discrimination of the cookies, as well as a
sweetness scale, and a hedonic scale on overall acceptability of the product. Results of the
sensory evaluation showed that sucrose cookies were harder, drier, and crunchier than the other
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cookies, but had the same sweetness reported as xylitol. In other categories, xylitol was generally
close behind sucrose in crunchy and dryness, but had more softness and tenderness than sucrose,
yet less than glucose. There was a small but significant aftertaste reported fresh along with a
pronounced coolness not reported in the other two types. After a couple weeks of storage, none
of the samples had any change in flavor or texture qualities, showing that all cookies could be
stored short term at room temperature without noticeable change.14 After three months, the
sucrose cookies were reported to lose tenderness and crunchiness, while the xylitol cookies
remained acceptable, even improving the slight aftertaste over time. Nearly 50% of panelists
ranked xylitol as equally sweet to the reference sucrose, and 15% felt it was slightly sweeter.
Equal sweetness was not shown to be equivalent to overall acceptability, as a strong majority
preferred sucrose cookies. Still, some panelists reported liking it moderately and liking it a
lot, most liked it slightly and there were no outliers extremely disliking it. The researcher
summarized that xylitol was microbiologically safe and sensorially acceptable, and felt that
instinctual suspicion about a taste different from sucrose may have affected the results, and that
should children be introduced to more xylitol products, and the general public become more
educated on the health benefits of xylitol, that acceptability would further increase.
Another study by Mushtaq et. al. on physiochemical, sensory, and microbe effects of
sucrose replaced cookies using xylitol compared samples with different ratios of replacement.16
Ratios implemented for flour with sucrose and xylitol were 100:0, 75:25, 50:50, 25:75, and 0:100
and cookies were prepared using a standard method and left at room temperature for two months
before analysis of texture, color, water activity, and included a sensory evaluation for color, taste,
flavor, texture, and mouthfeel at storage intervals of every 15 days. Physical results were similar
to the previous experiment, with 100% sucrose samples describes as significantly harder, drier,
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and crunchier than those with xylitol substitution. Hardness is determined in part by gluten
formation, which requires water to develop. Xylitol is very soluble and more hygroscopic than
water, so it interferes with gluten formation more than sugar does, resulting in a softer cookie.16
While in some types of cookies, softness is acceptable, other cookies require hardness, therefore
xylitol may be more suitable to softer baked goods. Color results were as expected, with 100%
sucrose being the darkest colored cookies and 100% xylitol being the lightest, due to the polyols
aforementioned inability to participate in enzymatic browning. The sensory evaluation showed
that a partial substitution of xylitol had a much more favorable outcome that full substitution.
The 50:50 sample had the highest rating in all characteristics, with an especially favorable color,
while the 0:100 sample received the lowest scores. Microbial analysis was consistent with
Winkelhausens study as well, with the 100% sucrose containing the highest amount of microbe
growth, and the 100% xylitol sample displaying the least amount of growth due to the limited
amount of organisms able to metabolize xylitol.16
Xylitol in Cupcakes
Previously discussed is the likelihood that xylitol may be more acceptable in softer
doughs. Edelstein et al. evaluated substitution of multiple alternative sweeteners at ratios of 25%,
33%, 50%, and 100% in conventional method cupcakes with a control cupcake at 100%
sucrose.17 Each of 10 panelist judges evaluated the altered cupcakes comparing it to the control
cupcake on a scale of 1 to 7 with a score of 1 meaning the cupcake was much worse, 7 much
better, and a median score indicated it was at equal standard with the control. Similar the partial
substitution experiment with cookies, this experiment found that a 33% substitution of xylitol
yielded the best results, scoring as equal in quality in most categories, or slightly above.
Sweetness was found to be slightly higher in xylitol samples than in the control, but at the
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sacrifice of moisture and tenderness. The color of the product was noted to be the best in the 25%
xylitol product, with a golden brown appearance. The researchers determined the product to be
acceptable especially in appearance with good rise and color, especially if a few other
modifications were made to the recipe to compensate for moisture differences.17
Health Promoting Qualities of Xylitol
Xylitol is currently being researched to make more acceptable food products because of
its numerous health benefits. Xylitol has potential to prevent disease as well as manage
conditions. Most notable is xylitols low caloric value is only about 40% that of sucrose while
providing the same amount of sweetness.1 Xylitol is only a partially metabolized carbohydrate,
but is completely independent of insulin in this metabolism, resulting in a very low glycemic
index of 7 in comparison to sucrose at 87.1,10 This property may be beneficial in most individuals
trying to manage their weight, control blood sugar in the case of diabetes, and posttraumatic/operative states where hormone balances impair insulin sensitivity.10 Recent studies
have shown that xylitol can delay gastric emptying, promoting satiety and increase
gastrointestinal transit time while expediting nutrient transport.1,10,18 The half of xylitol that is not
absorbed remains in the large intestine to be fermented by natural microbiota, serving as a
prebiotic.18 While xylitol is fermentable in the human gut, most bacteria is unable to metabolize
it, leading to its popularity in pharmaceuticals, especially in preventative gums and products to
protect teeth from dental caries. Many studies have been proven to support its anticariogenic
nature, there are few microorganisms able to ferment xylitol in the mouth and can inhibit growth
of such organisms including mutans streptoccoi.10
Issues with Xylitol Consumption

Most research shows little to no negative side effects with consumption of xylitol. The
FDA approved its use as a food additive in 1986, and it is used in products in more than 36 other
countries, with no current ADI.10 Laxitive effects have been noted in some studies and must be
labeled on food products containing more than 10% sugar alcohol content in some countries.19 A
study did find irritable bowel movements associated with high intakes above 30g of xylitol, but
that the symptoms may not occur with an adjusted intake over time.20
Conculsion
High intake of sugar remains a problem in the US due to its association with many
prevalent chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and others. Increased
demand for low-sugar products has prompted further experimentation with alternative
sweeteners, especially ones that may add more functional health benefits to product. Challenges
include creating an acceptable product, since the removal of sugar can effect physical properties
of the product including texture, volume, and flavor. Xylitol has shown some success as a
replacement sweetener due to its similar physical properties, but remains less acceptable than
sucrose products. Substituting no more than half of the sugar required in a recipe with xylitol
may produce ideal physical and chemical results, while providing some of the health benefits
associated with the polyol, including weight management, blood sugar control, prebiotic
function, and more. More research is needed to determine if other recipe modifications along
with xylitol substitution can increase acceptability of products as well as on building of tolerance
and affinity for its taste and possible bloating effects.

Application to Dietetics

Use of xylitol in products is proven to be safe and seems to create acceptable products.
As dietitians, we will be working with populations who may benefit from products utilizing this
ingredient including the obese and diabetics. Due to its low energy contribution, I would
recommend this product to clients looking to manage their weight. However, processing of this
ingredient is currently expensive at industrial levels, resulting in higher prices and difficulty
finding it in stores, so it should be recommended with caution. Future research on this functional
food ingredient should include more effective production methods, higher quality baked goods
with other recipe modifications as necessary, and more research on gastrointestinal issues, since
evidence is contradictory. Since the product is not common, clients should be educated on its
benefits if the product seems like it would be of strong benefit.

References

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