Pure, Sweet And Good For You

When I first heard about xylitol, I was deeply sceptical – as I am about any ‘sugar alternative’. I hunted for a downside and the more I searched, the more I became convinced that this entirely natural sugar is nothing short of a blessing.

An Amazing Discovery Xylitol was first discovered in the 1890s by scientists in France and Germany. But it wasn’t until after the Second World War – when Europe was experiencing a war-associated sugar shortage – that xylitol began to be used as an alternative sweetener. Researchers at the former Finnish Sugar Company developed a procedure to extract xylitol from birch trees. The result was a sweet-tasting granular substance that could be used in place of sugar. A scientist noted that something strange happened to those who consumed xylitol in place of sugar – their teeth looked clean and in excellent condition. The Finnish dental and medical professions became interested, and have been conducting research into the beneficial effects of xylitol since the 1970s. Then in the late 1990s, an American doctor called Lon Jones discovered the Finnish research.

Dr Jones mixed xylitol granules into a saline nasal spray to enhance delivery to the sinus tissues. In 2000, he founded a company to make his ‘Xlear’ nasal spray commercially available. The company now sells a range of xylitol products, including the excellent sugar substitute I mentioned earlier. But before I talk about that, let me explain more about how xylitol can help keep nasal cavities clean and clear. Clear Your Airways Xlear combines xylitol with a mild saline solution to wash, hydrate and moisturise the airways. Central heating reduces atmospheric humidity and can be very drying. This makes mucous thicker, drier and harder to clear.

Xlear’s cleansing and hydrating properties therefore come into their own during the colder months. It’s not just the winter sniffles that can be helped by Xlear. It also relieves irritation caused by pollutants and allergens. When I first discovered this product, I gave a sample to a colleague. “Just two sprays of Xlear in each nostril really made a difference,” she told me. “I was so impressed, I ordered a nasal spray for my mother, and she now swears by it as well.” An Aid to Weight Loss January brings resolutions to lose weight for many.

This is the other key benefit of xylitol – it contains 40 per cent less calories than conventional sugar, is sweeter than most other sugar substitutes but unlike artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin, it doesn’t contain any unnatural chemicals or have an unwanted aftertaste. One of the best sources of xylitol I’ve come across is ZyloSweet which even looks just like sugar crystals rather than other ‘powder in a packet’ sugar substitutes. However, unlike normal white sugar, xylitol is metabolised differently in your body and won’t raise your blood sugar levels in the same way. Its low glycemic load (GL)of 2 won’t give you those big highs and lows – which can cause weight gain and unstable energy that you get from sugar.

Satisfy a Sweet Tooth with Less Guilt
You can eat xylitol just as you would regular sugar. I sprinkle it over berries and add it to drinks. And unlike other sweeteners which break down with heat, Zylosweet can be used for cooking. Use it in almost any recipe that calls for sugar (the substitution is 1:1). It’s a great guilt-free sweetener for cereals, baking and puddings. But since yeast cannot metabolise it, it is not recommended for yeast bread recipes. Your body may also need a short while to get used to xylitol, so start slowly, substituting ZyloSweet for sugar over a two to three week period before making a complete switch. I also urge caution in having too much to encourage a sweet tooth, so don’t go overboard!

My cookery consultant Fiona McDonald Joyce swears by it; she uses it in all her pudding and baking recipes, saying that “ZyloSweet is an excellent way to enjoy the odd sweet treat without ruining your good intentions”. This is her favourite xylitol recipe: Apricot Amaretti Biscuits This soft macaroon style tray bake is seriously scrummy served as a pudding or just with afternoon tea. What’s more, it is free from wheat, gluten, sugar and dairy products, yet high in essential fats and low GL – for guilt-free nibbling. You could also substitute pears or plums for the apricots, or omit them entirely. Makes enough to fit one medium sized baking tray.

11oz (300g) ground almonds 7oz (200g) xylitol 4oz (100g) cornflour 6 tsp almond extract (not artificial almond flavour) 4 organic, free range eggs 1 can of apricot halves in unsweetened fruit juice (or fresh apricots in season), drained 3 good handfuls of flaked almonds

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and line a baking tray.

2. Combine the ground almonds, xylitol, cornflour, almond extract and eggs and mix thoroughly until smooth. Spoon into a lined baking tray and smooth out.

3. Lightly press the apricot halves evenly into the base then sprinkle the flaked almonds on top.

4. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, until the top is light golden (check after 20 minutes). For further information on Xylitol please click here.