What’s Swerve Sweetener Made Of: vs Stevia, Xylitol [Review]
If you have been searching for a sugar substitute which is healthy and natural, you may have stumbled across one called "Swerve Sweetener."
As you might guess, Swerve sweetener is produced by a company by the same name.
It has zero calories (in a sense - more on that later), making it an attractive option for those who are on a diet.
But what exactly is Swerve?
Is it really healthy, safe and natural?
Or does it have unwanted side effects like so many other sugar substitutes on the market?
In this article, we will explore Swerve sweetener in-depth, examining its ingredients in detail.
By the end, you should feel comfortable making an informed decision about whether or not you want to use Swerve sweetener in your cooking.
Let’s get started.
First Of All, Do You Really Need a Sugar Substitute?
Before you learn all about Swerve, you might be wondering, "Do I really need a sugar alternative? And does it have to be natural?"
Well … yes.
Sugar is extremely bad for you.
Foods and beverages which contain sugar are associated with increased chances of developing a number of health conditions.
Indeed, even the risk of death from cardiovascular disease increases in conjunction with higher sugar intake.
So sugar is literally deadly.
Furthermore, the sugar industry itself has a history of longstanding corruption.
The New York Times (3) and other major publications reported in November 2017 that the Sugar Research Foundation in the 1960s suppressed information about the perils of sugar.
The organization funded animal research projects to determine whether sugar posed a threat to cardiovascular health, and found out that it might.
Furthermore, it was found that eating sugar could also potentially increase the risk of bladder cancer.
In response, the Sugar Research Foundation decided to shut down the research. The results were buried.
As a point of interest, the Sugar Research Foundation still exists today.
But now, it is known as the Sugar Association.
You can read more about this in PLOS (4).
There is also evidence that sugar can literally addict you (5).
So if you experience sugar cravings and wonder if you are imagining it, no, you are not - you may really be experiencing the symptoms of addiction.
This makes it extremely hard to give up once you get started.
The bottom line here is that sugar is terrible for your health, and has no positive value.
Trying to reduce your intake is difficult because of sugar’s addictive nature.
In some respects, this makes it simpler to quit altogether.
Once you completely replace sugar with a natural sweetener and you remove yourself from the addictive cycle, you will no longer be endangering your health unnecessarily.
KEY POINT: Sugar consumption can increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
You should give it up and switch to a natural sweetener.
Why Does a Sugar Substitute Need to Be Natural?
Next, you may be wondering why you need a natural sweetener like Swerve, and why you cannot choose an artificial alternative instead.
The reason is that artificial sweeteners, rather like sugar, have a horrible track record when it comes to health.
This is of course one of the sugar-related risks you are trying to get away from by switching to an alternative sweetener in the first place.
Since weight gain is associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, this puts you back in more or less the same boat you would be in with high sugar consumption.
So is it possible that concerns about artificial sweeteners are blown out of proportion?
Sure, but there was a time when people said that about sugar.
But what they really should have been concerned about were the corporate interests at stake, and how the sugar industry was in fact holding back important health information.
Corporate interests may be at work with regards to artificial sweeteners as well.
Plus, even if all parties involved in research into artificial sweeteners have been forthright so far, that does not mean that we can draw any solid conclusions at this point. We simply do not have enough data yet.
For this reason, it is wise to play it safe. Why take risks with artificial sweeteners when you can simply choose a healthy natural alternative?
KEY POINT: Artificial sweeteners, like sugar, have been implicated in obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.
While more research is needed in this area, it makes more sense to go with a safe natural alternative.
What Is In Swerve Sweetener?
There are exactly three ingredients listed in Swerve Sweetener:
- Natural Flavors
So to know whether Swerve sweetener is a healthy choice, we need to look into each of these.
KEY POINT: Swerve Sweetener is a sugar alternative which contains three ingredients in total: erythritol, oligosaccharides, and natural flavors.
What is Erythritol?
Let’s start with erythritol.
While the name "erythritol" may sound unusual, it is simply a type of sugar alcohol.
Erythritol comes from corn (16).
There are very few calories in this sugar alcohol.
Nonetheless, in appearance and flavor, it is pretty close to what you would expect from sugar.
The sweetness of erythritol is only around 60-70% of that of sugar (17).
It has no unpleasant aftertaste.
At this point, it should be mentioned that erythritol is natural in terms of its source (corn), but not its production.
To derive erythritol, manufacturers must do four things:
- Subject corn to a process of hydrolysis. This is done in order to extract the glucose.
- Ferment the glucose using yeast.
- Filter the resulting substance in order to ensure its purity.
- Wait for the substance to crystallize into the finished erythritol.
KEY POINT: Erythritol is a sugar alcohol which is slightly less sweet than sugar.
While it is natural in origin (it comes from corn), an industrial process involving hydrolysis and fermentation is used in its production.
Does Erythritol Have Any Benefits?
There are actually a few good things about erythritol.
- Erythritol contains a mere 0.24 calories per gram. That is quite a bit less than sugar, which contains 4 calories per gram.
- Patients suffering from diabetes or metabolic syndrome may actually experience some health benefits when they use erythritol instead of sugar in their foods. One study (20) concluded that "erythritol improves endothelial function and reduces central aortic stiffness." Further research is needed to confirm the result, but it is certainly promising. Another study (22) shows that erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar, and also has no adverse impact on triglycerides or cholesterol levels.
- Erythritol has antioxidant properties. This study (21) noted that it may "help protect against hyperglycemia-induced vascular damage."
- It is possible that erythritol is better for dental health than sugar. While study results have been mixed (23, 24, 25), some of the research is quite intriguing. This (26) study found that dental caries were lower among schoolchildren who ate erythritol than those who ate xylitol or sorbitol.
KEY POINT: Erythritol is low in calories compared to sugar, making it a great choice if you are on a diet.
It also is a healthier choice than sugar if you are diabetic or have metabolic syndrome, or simply are concerned about cardiovascular health.
It has antioxidant properties, and may also be less damaging to the teeth than other sweeteners.
Is Erythritol Safe?
Now that you know the benefits of erythritol, are there any drawbacks that you should be aware of?
Erythritol may cause digestive issues for some people.
The majority of erythritol is absorbed by your body, circulates, and then is flushed out of your body in your urine (27).
This happens before it reaches your colon.
The linked studies looked at erythritol use in amounts up to 1 gram per kg of body weight.
One study (30) which looked at 50 grams of erythritol found that eating high amounts could result in digestive issues including rumbling and nausea in the gut.
So the best course of action with erythritol is to avoid eating it in very large quantities.
You probably are not going to do that anyway - so chances are good you will not experience any digestive upset.
If you do, you may want to avoid Swerve sweetener. If not however, you can feel safe using this alternative to sugar based on current research.
KEY POINT: Erythritol has been shown to be safe and side-effect free in many research studies. In very high amounts however, it may cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
Avoid consuming it in these high amounts, and you probably will not experience these symptoms.
What are Oligosaccharides?
Moving forward, let’s take a look at the next ingredient listed in Swerve sweetener, oligosaccharides.
What are oligosaccharides? They are classified as a kind of prebiotic fiber (33), and are naturally occurring.
Sometimes, you may hear oligosaccharides referred to by the name "inulin."
There are a number of plants which contain inulin.
Some examples are garlic, onion, asparagus, artichokes, agave, bananas, and chicory root (34). For these plants, inulin serves as a source of energy.
Inulin shows up in a lot of different foods. Sometimes it is used in place of flour, while other times it is a substitute for fat.
Its sweetness is about a tenth of that of sugar.
KEY POINT: Oligosaccharides are a type of fiber which plants use for energy, and which are also referred to as "inulin." They are a natural ingredient.
Do Oligosaccharides Have Any Benefits?
Oligosaccharides (inulin) actually are quite healthy, so you should be pleased to see them listed as an ingredient in a sweetener.
- Inulin is a type of fiber. Fiber increases satiety, supports healthy microbes in your body, regulates digestion, reduces the risk of diabetes and more. You can learn about the benefits of fiber in-depth in my article 25+ High Fiber Foods (coming soon).
- Studies have also been done specifically on diabetes and inulin. This (35) one found that "inulin may have unique metabolic effects that are of particular benefit to people at risk of diabetes, which warrant further investigation."
- There is some evidence (36) which suggests that inulin may be able to reduce the risk of cancer or aid in cancer treatment. More research is needed to substantiate these results.
- With inulin, you may be able to counteract constipation. If you are looking for a form of fiber which is ideal for fighting constipation, inulin may be just what you need to get things moving again (37).
- Nourish healthy bacteria in your digestive tract with inulin (38). This not only can help you to digest more effectively, but can also boost the health of your immune system, help you maintain a healthy weight, and more.
- Help treat inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) while also reducing the risk of carcinogenesis of the colon (39).
- Improve satiety by eating more inulin, as in this study (40). If you are trying to lose or maintain weight, this can help you to achieve your goal.
- Fibers such as inulin can help to maintain healthy cardiovascular markers such as cholesterol and blood glucose levels (41).
- Increase the absorption of calcium (42). The linked study found that "Daily consumption of a combination of prebiotic short- and long-chain inulin-type fructans significantly increases calcium absorption and enhances bone mineralization during pubertal growth."
- Finally, another great benefit of inulin is that it can be used as a substitute in various recipes. It is the unique chemical composition of inulin which makes this possible. Since roughly a quarter to a third of inulin is made up of starches, it can pull in water and be used as a thickener. You can use it to make your baked goods healthier, and even substitute it for oil in some recipes.
Inulin is so good for you that it is possible to purchase it in supplement form.
Some people take around 3.1 grams daily, using either a capsule or powder.
Whether you opt to do this or not, you can enjoy knowing that using Swerve sweetener is one way in which you are augmenting the amount of inulin in your diet.
KEY POINT: Oligosaccharides, also known as "inulin," have quite a few different benefits for your health.
They can protect your cardiovascular health, fight diabetes, keep the beneficial gut bacteria in your body healthy, increase satiety, and more.
So this is actually an outstanding ingredient to find listed in Swerve sweetener.
Are Oligosaccharides Safe?
Oligosaccharides are safe and well-tolerated for most people.
For some people, they may cause digestive symptoms. For this reason, they are classified as a "FODMAP."
A FODMAP is simply a type of carb which your colon ferments very quickly.
The speed at which this takes place can result in digestive discomfort and extra gas.
Even on a low-FODMAP diet however, it is still recommended that you get some FODMAPs (43).
Since inulin is such a healthy one, it makes for a great option.
KEY POINT: The majority of people who consume inulin will find that it is well-tolerated and does not produce digestive upset.
Some people who have trouble with FODMAPs may experience some gas and discomfort with inulin, but are still not advised to avoid FODMAPs altogether.
Since inulin is so nutritious, it makes for a healthy choice.
What are Natural Flavors?
You now are familiar with two of the three ingredients which are listed in Swerve sweetener: erythritol and oligosaccharides.
Let’s take a look at the third ingredient which is listed on the label: natural flavors.
To say that a phrase like "natural flavors" is vague is an understatement. There is almost nothing to go off of when you read a phrase that generic.
Indeed, a lot of people are so leery of "natural" flavors that they essentially interpret the phrase in their mind to mean "artificial."
Actually, people who do that are not so far off. Natural flavors and artificial flavors are not all that dissimilar.
If something lists “artificial flavors,” it means that the flavors in question are 100% synthetic.
The ingredients used are synthesized in a laboratory setting, and the processes used are likewise unnatural.
If on the other hand a product lists "natural flavors" as Swerve does, that means that the original ingredients come from nature - but the processing takes place in an industrial setting.
During that processing, these natural ingredients can be modified considerably from their native state.
Solvents may be used during processing, and hundreds of ingredients might be blended together before a "natural flavor" is produced.
Suffice to say that when you see "natural flavors" on a label, it is something of a tossup what those flavors actually consist of.
KEY POINT: The third ingredient in Swerve is “natural flavors.” Natural flavors are derived from natural ingredients, but are heavily modified through processing.
Are Natural Flavors Safe?
Of all the ingredients in Swerve, "natural flavors" are the only ones that are dubious.
Being as natural flavors are heavily processed, you may be wondering whether they are safe to eat or not.
EWG states (44), 'The flavor industry argues that artificial flavors undergo stricter safety evaluations than natural flavors. The truth is that safety evaluations for all food additives and flavor additives are not as thorough as they should be … When you see the word "flavor" on a food label, you have no clue what chemicals, carrier solvents or preservatives have been added to the food.'
This could be a safety issue if you have allergies, and the allergens are not listed.
Thankfully, the FDA requires that the eight most common food allergens always be disclosed on packaging.
Being as Swerve has not listed any, this means that they are not present.
Ultimately, you will need to decide for yourself if you are comfortable purchasing and consuming products which list "natural flavors" among their ingredients.
KEY POINT: "Natural flavors" are among the ingredients listed in Swerve Sweetener. In reality, "natural" flavors are not much different from "artificial" flavors.
While natural ingredients are used to create them, they are modified in a lab, often with the use of solvents.
Manufacturers do need to disclose the presence of any of the eight most common allergens, but otherwise do not need to list the hundreds of chemicals which may have gone into creating their artificial flavors.
It is up to you whether you want to consume products with "natural" flavors or not.
Swerve vs. Xylitol
You may be curious how Swerve compares to some other natural sweeteners on the market.
One natural sweetener which is also a sugar alcohol like erythritol is xylitol.
Xylitol is present in produce. Interestingly enough, it also is produced in our bodies through natural processes.
Here are some facts about xylitol:
- In terms of sweetness, it is equivalent to sugar in the same volume ratio. This makes it easy to substitute while cooking or preparing beverages.
- There are 40% fewer calories in xylitol than there are in sugar.
- Xylitol has a protective effect on blood glucose and may be helpful in preventing or treating diabetes (49, 50).
- Xylitol has a protective effect on teeth and gums as well (51, 52, 53). Indeed, the California Dental Association actually suggests consuming xylitol 3-5 times a day to protect oral health.
- Xylitol can help to fight infections. In this study (54), xylitol helped to prevent the risk of developing ear infections.
- Xylitol is safe. It has received approval from the FDA and other government bodies.
One drawback of xylitol is that it can cause diarrhea in some people, especially if it is consumed in large amounts.
It is also worth noting that xylitol is toxic to canines.
So if you have a pet, make sure that you keep it away from xylitol or any foods or beverages which contain it.
All in all, xylitol has some similar benefits and drawbacks to Swerve.
Both may cause digestive issues in some, but are safe and side-effect free for most.
Both have some benefits for diabetes and oral health, and both contain fewer calories than sugar.
KEY POINT: In many respects, xylitol and Swerve are similar to one another.
Both have the potential to cause digestive issues, but most people will be able to consume either without a problem.
Both have health benefits for diabetes and more.
Swerve vs. Stevia
Another natural sweetener which you may want to think about trying out is stevia.
Stevia is an extract from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It has more than 1,500 years of use behind it.
Since stevia is 150 times as sweet as sugar, you only need a very small amount of it in order to sweeten a recipe or beverage.
Here are a few facts about stevia:
- Not only is stevia safe to use, but researchers have also found that it may have the effect of lowering blood pressure (55).
- Stevia is a rich source (56) of protein, ash and crude fiber. It also contains iron, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Like the other sweeteners discussed here, stevia may help diabetics by controlling blood sugar levels (57).
- With stevia, you may be able to reduce your cholesterol levels, which could help to prevent cardiovascular disease (58).
- There is evidence which suggests that stevia is an anti-inflammatory (59).
- There are even some indications that stevia may be useful in preventing or treating cancer (60).
I have written about stevia in-depth in the past. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Stevia to learn all about stevia’s health benefits as well as some tips for shopping for stevia and baking with it.
Are there any negatives? Some people do not like the taste of stevia, because it has a bitter edge to it.
In my experience, this is only a major problem if you are using too much of it. A little bit is all you need.
I also have discovered that you can adjust to the taste with time. Originally stevia seemed very bitter to me, but now I hardly notice it.
Another potential drawback with stevia is that it is hard to put into recipes.
Because you need a much smaller volume to achieve the same sweetness you would get with sugar, you need to substitute in other ingredients to make up for that lost volume.
It is notoriously difficult, but there are some good stevia recipes out there. You can find some in The Ultimate Guide to Stevia.
Does stevia have side effects? There is one study (61) which noted that stevia intake led to a drop in the fertility of rats.
Subsequent studies have not reproduced this result, and the amounts used in the study were ridiculously high.
So long as you are consuming normal amounts of stevia, there should be no side effects.
Some consumers do report gastrointestinal symptoms, but this is when consuming a product which contains a blend of stevia and other ingredients like inulin.
In those cases, it appears that the inulin is the culprit. It is already known that inulin can cause digestive discomfort in some people who are sensitive to it.
KEY POINT: Stevia is yet another natural, healthy choice for a natural sweetener which is side-effect free.
Stevia has benefits for regulating blood sugar, inflammation and more. It can be challenging to substitute into recipes, but a little bit goes a long way.
Conclusion: Swerve Is a Healthier Choice Than Sugar, But Not Your Only Option For a Natural Sweetener
You now should have a pretty solid grasp on what Swerve sweetener is. The only questionable ingredient is "natural flavors."
The inulin and erythritol actually have health benefits - and for most consumers, they will be side-effect free.
You also now know how Swerve compares to xylitol and stevia, two other natural sweeteners on the market.
Which should you go with? Since they are all roughly comparable, it really is up to you to choose based on your preference.
If you are interested in baking with a natural sweetener, Swerve is a better option than stevia, since it is easy to use as a substitute.
It also is a good option if you do not like the bitter edge of stevia.
If on the other hand you experience digestive side effects from Swerve or xylitol, stevia might suit you better.
I recommend experimenting and seeing what you like.
Regardless of which sweetener you choose, you are going with a far healthier option than table sugar.
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