Birch Sugar (Xylitol), what is it and is it healthy?

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In my recipes I often replace the traditional white granulated sugar with birch sugar, Xylitol. I am regularly asked what this is exactly and whether it is healthier than regular sugars. Below I have listed a few things for you. In any case, there will be pros and contras, but at the moment I think it is a good alternative to the refined white granulated sugar.

When it comes to looking for alternatives to traditional refined sugar, birch sugar ranks high. It is a kind of natural sugar that offers many benefits and fewer calories (+/- 40% less) than regular sugars, therefore it can be considered a suitable sugar for diabetics.


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Birch Sugar (Xylitol), what is it and is it healthy? 3

Birch sugar is a natural sweetener, extracted from the bark of Finnish birch wood. (Xylitol can also be extracted from eg corncobs, but that is by a different process) However, some manufacturers mix the base product with artificial substances such as sweeteners, which can make you question the healthy benefits. When purchasing, it is therefore very important that you read the origin and composition.

Although birch sugar is a 100% natural sweetener and contains no synthetic additives, chemical procedures are used to extract the substance from the bark. The wood sugar is finely chopped and mixed with water. It is then purified, filtered and completely separated from other substances. In any other way, it is not possible to obtain the xylitol from birch wood.

As for the origin of birch sugar, it can be said that it is a sugar that has been present in our diet for many years. It was discovered in 1891 by Emil Fischer, but its widespread use was not realized until World War II.


  • Xylitol or birch sugar is an alcohol sugar (= name comes from OH compounds, their chemical compound, they do not consist of alcohol). Alcohol sugars are processed in our body in a different way than regular sugar (sucrose). As a result of this process, converting the substance does not produce sudden increases in blood glucose levels. Normal sugar (sucrose) has a high glycemic index, with a value of 70, which causes serious sugar peaks in our body. On the other hand, xylitol has a glycemic index of 7, so very low! This makes it a good sugar substitute for diabetics. In addition, you can replace the white sugar 1 on 1, the sweetening power is similar.
  • Birch sugar provides 40% less calories than regular white sugar.

100 gr white sugar = 402 kcal

100 gr birch sugar = 236 kcal

  • Birch sugar appears to have a positive effect on your teeth. The advantage is that caries-active bacteria cannot process it well. Some studies have even seen a decrease in caries in relation to xylitol. It is therefore logical that birch sugar is often used in chewing gum.


It is recommended not to consume more than about 35 g per day, otherwise you may experience problems with your intestines. The remainder of the product is broken down in the large intestine by the intestinal flora and gases are formed. The most common complaints are therefore flatulence and if you eat too much of it, it appears to have a laxative effect. Be careful because it can be very harmful to pets. (deadly)


As already mentioned, you do not have to convert and you can simply replace the indicated white sugar with the birch sugar. So 1 to 1 ratio.

Unfortunately, Xylitol does not mix or does not mix well with yeast. This is because yeast cannot metabolize the sugar substitute and so the dough would not rise properly.

You can just use birch sugar in cooking and baking without changing the taste. One advantage xylitol has over other sweeteners is its ability to caramelize, just like regular sugar.


Birch sugar is a good substitute for white refined sugar. It causes little or no blood sugar fluctuations, has 40% fewer calories and does not cause tooth decay. You can perfectly cook, bake (however, does not mix with yeast) and caramelize with it. Overuse can have a laxative effect and cause bloating. Do not use it in pet food as this can be harmful.

Other sweeteners that I use in my dishes are the natural local honey, agave syrup or sometimes cane sugar. In any case, I try to limit sugars because, no matter how healthy what you choose, the sweetening power ensures that your body will ask for more sugars … “in moderation” is therefore good advice!


9 responses to “Birch Sugar (Xylitol), what is it and is it healthy?”

  1. Grace Shaffer says:

    This is deceptive. Xylitol can often be DEADLY to pets. Changing the ingredient name to make it more “consumer friendly” is insensitive and wrong.

    • Avatar photo Patricia de Donder says:

      Hi Grace, you are right… That is why I wrote: “Be careful because it can be very harmful to pets.” And I have written it in bold! I also have pets of my own and it would be a nightmare if something happened to them…

  2. Christine Nimitz says:

    The disclaimer about how fatal xylitol is to dogs should be at the beginning of the article, in bold.

  3. Rene B says:

    Something may taste nice or similar to the original product and in this case we are discussing the “sweetener” sugar replacement.
    I will not touch the stuff. If you even mention that more than 35g per day may cause intestinal issues and it is deadly to dogs then we should be smart enough to question its very use.
    Who cares about less calories when it can harm in so many other ways? Rather have the authentic unrefined sugar and eat less of it, for less calories.
    We live in such a deceptive world, everything we see or hear or eat, begs to be questioned and researched.
    Thank you for at least being honest enough to publish these details. Though I have always known about xylitol and animals.
    But no thank you to birch sugar, xylitol or anything man made. Check every packaging of every food one buys. All contain poisons, sugars and trans fatty oils and all the E preservatives or flavour enhancers. Even salt has free running agents….poisons to the system.

    • Avatar photo Patricia de Donder says:

      Many thanks for your response! This is exactly why I publish these articles… to discuss and so people start thinking… Thanks, have a nice day!

  4. Henry Brown says:

    Xylitol can be a great help to children with ear aches (swimmers ear) and dental decay.
    It is toxic to S. mutans a decay causing bacteria.
    Diabetics can use to reduce spikes in blood sugar.
    xylitol has been shown to have antimicrobial effects against Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria that is commonly associated with the development of cavities and dental plaque.

    Studies have shown that xylitol can help reduce the growth and activity of S. mutans in the mouth, as well as decrease the adherence of the bacteria to the teeth. This can help prevent the development of cavities and promote oral health.

    In addition to its antimicrobial effects, xylitol has also been shown to increase the production of saliva, which can help neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth and promote a healthy oral environment.

    • Avatar photo Patricia de Donder says:

      Hi Henry,
      Thanks for you raction on the article. As shown there are pro’s and contra’s. But it is important to know what you use or eat in all his elements. Have a nice day, greetings Patricia

  5. Faith says:

    Have used Birch tree Xylitol for 20 years no issues at all would like to add WHY ARE WE FEEDING IT TO OUR PETS DUH!
    Plus need to add that 35 grams is Equal to 1/3 cup or 7 teaspoons thats a lot of sugar so i supose if you use a lot of sugar then do not use only Xylitol I also like to use organic Honey I do not give sugar to my Dogs or cats so thats just silly but I have been known to binge on cookies made with birch tree Xylitol with no adverse effects. Birtch Tree Xylitol is a wonderful product with many benifits anything truly from nature may indeed come with some do’s and dont’s but hardly questionable as in un- natural products like Xylitol and a million other products made from GMO corn and all the over the counter and prescribed pills we consume. Birch Tree Xylitol I is again a wonderful product with many benifits and since animals do not naturally eat sugar stop giving it to them.

    • Avatar photo Patricia de Donder says:

      Hi Faith,
      Thanks for you reaction on the article. The more info we have , the better. Have a nice day! Greetings Patricia

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