Sugar substitutes offer the sweetness you crave without the added calories and potential risks of sugar, but they may have their own health risks or side effects. In this side-by-side comparison of erythritol vs stevia, we take a closer look at their taste profiles, benefits, and drawbacks to determine which sweetener is a better choice for you.
What is Erythritol?
Erythritol is a low-calorie sweetener commonly used in chewing gum, candy, baked goods, ice cream, soft drinks, and even soy sauce.
A four-carbon sugar alcohol that is naturally found in some fruits and fermented foods, commercial erythritol is produced by fermenting glucose or other sugars. Erythritol typically does not contain any artificial chemicals or additives.
Similar in taste and texture to sugar, erythritol is 70% as sweet as table sugar and does not have the bitter aftertaste found in many sugar-free sweeteners.
Health Benefits of Erythritol
Low-calorie: Erythritol is very low in calories, containing just 0.2 calories per gram. Thus it may support weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake.
Low Glycemic Index: Erythritol does not cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels when consumed thanks to its low glycemic index. This makes it a good alternative for people with diabetes who need to limit their sugar consumption.
Does Not Cause Cavities: Unlike sugar, erythritol does not contribute to the development of cavities or tooth decay. In fact, it may even help prevent cavities by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth that contribute to tooth decay.
May Have Prebiotic Effects: Erythritol has been shown to have prebiotic effects, meaning that it can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This, consequently, can help improve digestive health and boost the immune system.
May Help Reduce Oxidative Stress: Erythritol has been shown to have antioxidant properties, which may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This, in turn, may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Less Likely to Cause Digestive Issues: Erythritol is generally well-tolerated and does not cause the same digestive issues as other sugar alcohols, like xylitol or sorbitol. However, some people may still experience gastrointestinal side effects.
While erythritol does have some potential health benefits, it’s important to use erythritol in moderation and to be aware of the potential side effects and health risks, especially when consumed in large amounts.
Health Risks of Erythritol
May Increase Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke: A recent study published in Nature Medicine found that those with higher blood erythritol levels were more likely to experience a major adverse cardiac event, such as a heart attack, stroke, or even death. The researchers also discovered that erythritol may make platelets more likely to clump together. This may cause increased risk of blood clotting and cardiovascular disease.
Digestive Issues: One of the most common side effects of erythritol is digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. This is because erythritol is not well absorbed in the small intestine and can ferment in the gut, having a laxative effect. It is best to start with small doses and increase slowly to avoid abdominal pain and stomach issues.
Allergies: Some people may have an allergic reaction to erythritol, which can cause symptoms such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing. If you experience allergic symptoms after consuming erythritol, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Headaches: Erythritol may cause headaches in some people, especially when consumed in large amounts.
Kidney Function: Some studies have suggested that consuming high amounts of erythritol may impair kidney function in certain individuals. However, more research is needed to confirm this.
It’s best to use erythritol in moderation and to follow the recommended serving sizes. If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, it’s important to talk to your doctor before incorporating erythritol into your diet.
Pro-tip: Read nutrition labels carefully. The food industry has been adding erythritol to more and more products. You may be surprised to see how much erythritol you are already consuming!
What is Stevia?
Stevia (also called stevia extract) is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, thanks to its steviol glycosides. Because it is so much sweeter than regular sugar, stevia is typically consumed in very small amounts and often in liquid form.
Similar to erythritol, stevia does not raise blood sugar levels and is low in calories, and may be a healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.
Stevia is known for having a sweet taste that is slightly different from the taste of sugar. Some people describe the taste of stevia as being slightly bitter or having a licorice-like aftertaste, while others find it to be very sweet and pleasant with no noticeable aftertaste.
Stevia can vary in taste depending on the brand and the way it is processed. Some brands of stevia may have a stronger taste than others, and some people may be more sensitive to the taste of stevia than others.
Health Benefits of Stevia
Low in Calories: Stevia contains almost zero calories, making it an excellent sugar substitute for people looking to manage their weight.
Blood Sugar Control: Stevia has been shown to lower blood glucose levels, making it a suitable sweetener for people with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes.
Does not Promote Tooth Decay: Unlike sugar, stevia does not contribute to tooth decay, making it an ideal choice for dental health.
Anti-inflammatory Properties: Stevia may have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its antioxidant effects.
Health Risks of Stevia
Gastrointestinal issues: Some people with a sensitive digestive system may experience gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, or diarrhea when consuming stevia in large quantities.
Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to the leaves of the stevia plant. If you develop symptoms like itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing after ingesting stevia, seek medical attention immediately.
Interaction with Medications: Stevia may interact with some medications, including medications for diabetes and blood pressure. People taking these medications should consult with their healthcare provider before consuming stevia.
Possible Impact on Fertility: Some studies suggest that high doses of stevia may impact fertility, but more research is needed to confirm this.
Pro-tip: Some stevia products contain additional ingredients, such as fillers or flavors. Always check the label to ensure you’re getting a pure stevia sweetener.
Erythritol vs Stevia
Both erythritol and stevia may be found in the grocery store alongside other alternative sweeteners, and both are low-calorie compared to table sugar.
Table sugar, also known as sucrose, contains about 4 calories per gram. In contrast, erythritol has about 0.2 calories per gram, making it about 95% lower in calories than table sugar. Stevia, on the other hand, has virtually no calories, as it is a non-nutritive sweetener.
Erythritol is low in calories and does not raise blood sugar levels, making it a popular choice for people with diabetes or those looking to manage their weight. Another advantage of erythritol is that it does not cause the same digestive issues as other sugar alcohols, like xylitol or sorbitol.
However, recent research demonstrated a higher risk of heart disease in those with a high blood level of erythritol. Furthermore, some people may still experience gastrointestinal issues like bloating or diarrhea if they consume too much erythritol.
Stevia, on the other hand, is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. With up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia will most certainly satisfy your sweet tooth. Stevia may lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and help neutralize free radicals.
Like erythritol, stevia does not raise blood sugar levels and is low in calories. Stevia is also safe for most people, with few reported side effects.
When it comes to taste, erythritol and stevia have different flavor profiles.
Erythritol has a clean, slightly refreshing sensation, while stevia has a more herbal, slightly bitter taste. Some people find the taste of stevia to be off-putting, while others prefer it over erythritol.
Erythritol vs Stevia: Which is Better?
Overall, stevia appears to be the better choice from a health perspective. If you’re looking for a natural sweetener with potential health benefits, stevia may help regulate blood sugar levels, have anti-inflammatory properties, and help control blood pressure. Stevia also has fewer potential health risks than erythritol.
However, If you prefer a sugar substitute with a similar taste and texture to sugar, you may opt for erythritol. Just be sure to consume it in moderation, especially if you have or are at high risk for heart disease.
Want to explore other alternative sweeteners? Check out our post on allulose and monk fruit!
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Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.