What Is Erythritol?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on September 26, 2023
4 min read

Erythritol, a type of carbohydrate called sugar alcohol, is one of the most common artificial sweeteners available. It's popular in foods marketed for weight loss and diabetes. But research suggests that erythritol, and other artificial sweeteners, may have serious health risks—and may be worse for you than table sugar.

Erythritol is found naturally in some foods. It's also made when things like wine, beer, and cheese ferment. Besides its natural form, erythritol has also been a man-made sweetener since 1990.

Calories in erythritol. Sugar has 4 calories per gram but erythritol has zero. That's because your small intestine absorbs it quickly and gets it out of your body through urine within 24 hours. This means erythritol doesn't have a chance to "metabolize"—turn into energy in your body.

Taste. Erythritol tastes sweet. It's similar to table sugar.

Appearance. It's in the form of white crystal granules or powder.

There's increasing scientific evidence that erythritol and other artificial sweeteners can be bad for your health. Recent research shows erythritol may be associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death.

But erythritol is on the list of "Generally Recognized as Safe" foods by the FDA. So, long-term safety studies of erythritol aren't required currently. It means food makers don't have to list erythritol on product nutrition labels.

Experts note that the FDA considers erythritol safe because it's naturally occurring. But they say the quantities of erythritol that are used in food are much higher than what is known to be safe for your body. More research is needed to further understand  possible health risks of erythritol.

Other side effects of erythritol

In addition to increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke, erythritol can cause mild to severe digestive issues if you consume large amounts of it. That includes bloating, cramping, excess gas, and diarrhea.

Benefits of erythritol. Erythritol has no effect on your glucose or insulin levels. It also tastes as lot like table sugar. For decades, it's been a favorite artificial sweetener for those with diabetes. 

OK for your teeth. In most cases, bacteria in your mouth break down regular sugars and starches and turn them into acid. This can wear down your enamel and cause cavities. But the FDA says erythritol is good for oral health because it slows the growth of one type of that bacteria and decreases the acid that bacteria make.

Erythritol is a common replacement for table sugar. It's found in many low-calorie and low-sugar products. It's also used to "bulk up" some other artificial sweeteners.

It's popular because it's low in calories, and it tastes and feels almost like table sugar. It's added to some sugar substitutes that are sold as "natural" alternatives to sugar. Sugar-free products that have erythritol might be recommended if you have obesity, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.

Erythritol is commonly added to sugar substitutes marketed as "natural" alternatives to sugar, including stevia and monk fruit sweeteners. That includes products like Truvia and Splenda Naturals Stevia. Sugar-free products that contain erythritol might not say on their nutrition labels whether they include erythritol or other sugar alcohols.

Erythritol is common in sugar-free varieties of ice cream, candy, gum, cookies, cakes, protein bars, and fruit spreads. You can find erythritol with other sugar substitutes in stores and online. It's also sold in bulk to companies that use it to sweeten or thicken products like reduced-calorie and sugar-free foods and drinks.

How do you know if your food contains erythritol?

While food labels aren't required to list erythritol as an ingredient, there are some hints it might be in your food. If the package has these words, it may mean your food contains erythritol:

  • Contains sugar alcohol
  • Keto-safe
  • Diabetes-safe
  • No sugar
  • Low sugar
  • Artificially sweetened
  • Naturally sweetened
  • Sweetened with natural compounds
  • Low calorie
  • No calories

Safe alternatives to erythritol

The best way to avoid erythritol is to focus on whole foods—those that are natural and nonpackaged, like fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want sweetener, experts say to stick with moderate amounts of table sugar or honey.

  • Erythritol is one of the most common artificial sweeteners available.
  • Research shows erythritol may have serious health risks.
  • Erythritol may be worse for you than table sugar.
  • Erythritol is popular because it's low in calories and tastes like table sugar.
  • Food companies aren't required to list erythritol on food labels.
  • Erythritol is common in sugar-free varieties of ice cream, candy, gum, cookies, cakes, protein bars, and fruit spreads.

Is erythritol good or bad for you?

While erythritol is popular in foods marketed for weight loss and diabetes, there's increasing research associating it with increased risks for serious health issues.

Is erythritol safer than sugar?

Experts say erythritol may be worse for you than table sugar.

Are stevia and erythritol the same thing?

They're not the same thing. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that tastes a lot like table sugar. Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that's 300 times sweeter than sugar.