There’s a wide variety of zero-calorie sugar substitutes available. But the field so far consists mostly of indigestible matter that can cause gastric discomfort in some people, so they’re still not quite a perfect solution for sweetening your life while on a diet.

So what if I told you there was a natural sugar that actually blocks the absorption of other types of sugars? And on top of that, it also actually boosts fat oxidation?

Sound interesting?

D-Xylose: Sugar From Wood?

The sugar in question is called D-xylose, and while it was first extracted from rainforest wood in Brazil, it can be found in a number of other sources: coconut husks, corn cobs, seed hulls and many other natural items that are indigestible to humans.[1] It’s found in the embryos of a number of edible plants, but they lose it as they grow.

Though it mostly comes from inedible materials, D-xylose is normally digested very easily. In fact, it’s sometimes used as part of a medical test to determine if patients are having trouble digesting carbohydrates.[2]

How Does It Taste?

That’s kind of the bad news. It’s only about 40% as sweet as cane sugar, and it’s also much less energy dense. Once refined, the texture and the “mouth feel” of it is very similar to table sugar, however.

Low energy density is a good thing for dieters, but the lack of sweetness doesn’t really help its cause as a miracle food. There is some promise in it being mixed with standard sweeteners, however, limiting the calories they add without restricting their flavor.

Blocking Glucose and Oxidizing Fats

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D-xylose has been studied since the 1950s, and it’s long been known that it can reduce glucose levels in the body once ingested. It simply prevents sucrose from being metabolized into glucose and fructose when present.[3]

Research on xylose and lipid oxidation is much more recent, however. The most interesting study yet was just published in February of this year. The study was done on rats who were fed a high-fat and high-carbohydrate diet, and showed that xylose improved lipid oxidation, which in turn led to significantly lower weight gain and body fat in the rat groups that were taking it.[4]

Of course, this is just one rat study, and a very recent one at that. Rat studies can never be directly equated to humans, but it’s particularly hard in this case as the diet the rats were fed was unrealistically dense in calories even for the most gluttonous people.

However, it does show a promising direction for future research.

How About The Digestive Difficulties?

Since it’s administered as a common test of digestive health, it’s expected that most people can process it with no trouble unless they have some sort of underlying health issue.

Unlike with most of the current zero-calorie sweeteners, the majority of xylose is taken up by the digestive system, rather than being packed off to the colon to be fermented by bacteria. It’s the raw amount of indigestible material combined with the uniqueness of individual gut flora that usually causes the digestive problems that people experience with other zero-cal sweeteners.[5]

Foods With D-Xylose

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A tasty dessert that can also be healthy! Image courtesy of @cristiberceanu

Xylose has been used as an additive in foods worldwide for decades. It’s mostly been used in food products intended for diabetics thus far, however.

Xylitol: A more familiar friend

The sugar substitute xylitol is actually a reduction of xylose, but xylose in its natural form is not a sugar alcohol as xylitol is, and is more digestible. Xylose also has to be processed in a number of ways to create xylitol.[6]

A Good Dietary Substitute?

Given all of its benefits, xylose would be a great sugar substitute… if you could actually find it in pure form!

Like high fructose corn syrup, despite being widely available as an ingredient in manufactured food products, almost nobody sells it directly at a retail level to consumers. If you can find a source to buy it from, you’ll likely have to buy it in bulk.

Given all the promise it has, we’d like to see more of it in all aspects — more widely available, more widely used, and more widely studied in humans. But for now, it’s mostly limited to a handful of products here and there.

As more research comes, though, don’t be surprised if you see more and more of it – perhaps even blended with stevia. Keep on the lookout, you just might like this one more than the others.

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