Sweetening options are in no short supply, and the differences between all of them and their safety considerations during pregnancy can be downright confusing. Xylitol is a common sweetener that is used in a wide variety of foods and even in healthcare products.
According to both the US and Canadian food safety departments, xylitol is a safe sweetener option during pregnancy. Because some folks’ stomachs can be sensitive to xylitol, it is best used in moderation, especially if you have not yet tried this particular sweetener before.
With all of the sweetener options available, how does xylitol compare to the other options that we already know are safe? Are there any reasons to choose xylitol over other sweeteners? I’ll break down how to safely include xylitol in your diet, as well as xylitol’s health benefits.
Is Xylitol a Safe Artificial Sweetener During Pregnancy?
Much like erythritol, xylitol is another type of sweetener in the sugar alcohol family. It is also a naturally-occurring sweetener, and therefore can be found in products labeled as ‘naturally sweetened’ or with ‘no artificial sweeteners.’
Both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations have approved xylitol as a safe sweetener to use during pregnancy (source: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Canadian Family Physician).
Sugar alcohols have been found in samples from both mom and baby during healthy pregnancies, leading to their classification as safe when consumed in moderation (source: Canadian Family Physician).
Xylitol is typically found in foods and personal care products such as toothpaste, ‘meltaway’ tablet medications, certain peanut butters, powdered drink mixes, and sauces. Gum is perhaps one of the most common places to find xylitol, but I will cover xylitol-containing chewing gum in depth below.
Pet owners should be aware that xylitol is toxic to cats and dogs. If you choose to eat xylitol-containing foods, avoid sharing these foods with your furry family members (source: Southtowns Animal Hospital)
Are There Risks, Benefits, or Side Effects of Xylitol for Pregnant Women?
As a sugar alcohol, the body does absorb some nutrients from xylitol. Despite the somewhat misleading name, however, xylitol does not contain any sugar and will not have an effect on blood glucose levels (source: American Pregnancy Association). If you are managing gestational diabetes, xylitol can be helpful as a sugar replacement.
Another similarity xylitol shares with the other sugar alcohols are the possible effects on the gastrointestinal system. Though not specific to pregnancy, xylitol can cause diarrhea and/or an upset stomach and cramping in some folks.
This can happen for two reasons. The first is that gut bacteria may ferment the xylitol. The second reason for GI upset is that xylitol causes water to get pulled into the intestines, leading to diarrhea (source: International Journal of Dentistry).
If you are experiencing either of these symptoms related to pregnancy, eating xylitol-containing foods may make the feelings worse, not better.
Remember, not everyone feels poorly after eating xylitol and some people are able to tolerate the sweetener without difficulty. If you are not sure about how xylitol affects your body, it is best to start off eating only a small amount of xylitol-containing foods.
Can I Chew Gum Containing Xylitol When Pregnant?
Chewing gum is one of the most common ways pregnant women consume xylitol, as it is one of the most popular ways to sweeten sugar-free gums.
Though gum companies like to protect their recipe and do not typically disclose the exact amount of xylitol per serving, the amount per piece is thought to be less than 200 mg (source: Analytical Methods in Chemistry). Even if the gum isn’t swallowed, xylitol can still enter the GI system, albeit only a small amount.
Interestingly, chewing gum sweetened with xylitol during pregnancy may actually benefit your child’s oral health.
A small study showed that the children of mothers who chewed xylitol-containing gum during their pregnancy did not have certain cavity-causing bacteria until nearly 9 months later than children whose mothers did not chew gum (source: Journal of Dental Research).
If you struggle with dental cavities yourself, xylitol gums have been shown to prevent the growth of Streptococcus mutans, which causes cavities (source: California Dental Association). Erythritol-sweetened gum is another beneficial choice, as erythritol has also been shown to reduce cavity-causing bacteria for the gum-chewer.
If you are interested in learning more about the safety of chewing gum when pregnant (including if it is safe when swallowed), head over to our dedicated article.
Can I use Xylitol Nose Spray During Pregnancy?
Allergy sufferers might be familiar with nasal saline sprays, some of which include xylitol. In nasal sprays aimed at preventing or alleviating a dry and itchy nose, xylitol helps by increasing the moisture in the nostrils.
Though definitely not the same as eating xylitol-containing foods, according to the manufacturers of these products, they are also safe for topical use during pregnancy.
Xylitol and xylitol-containing foods are thought to be safe to enjoy in moderation, including while pregnant. If you would like more information on the other sweeteners available on the market, check out the following articles: