When it comes to low-carb baking recipes, most will recommend a specific sweetener and then tell you to use whatever sweetener you like. New research suggests you may want to steer clear of erythritol. A study linked it to strokes, heart attacks and death.
“The degree of risk was not modest,” said lead study author Dr. Stanley Hazen, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Diagnostics and Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic.
People at high risk of heart disease, like those with blood sugar concerns, were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke if they had a high concentration of erythritol in their blood. The research appeared to show that erythritol increases blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes. This finding goes against decades of research that found noncaloric sweeteners generally safe.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus explained one reason why erythritol might have such a significant impact on the body. “Most artificial sweeteners bind to your sweet receptors but aren’t absorbed. Erythritol is absorbed and has significant effects, as we see in the study.”
Erythritol is often added to stevia and monk fruit sweeteners. Stevia and monk fruit are much sweeter than sugar. To give them bulk, and an appearance closer to sugar, erythritol is added. If you bake with a stevia or monk fruit product, read the label and see what it is. And it’s added to many low-carb treats.
“Thirty grams was enough to make blood levels of erythritol go up a thousandfold,” Dr. Hazen said. “It remained elevated above the threshold necessary to trigger and heighten clotting risk for the following two to three days… If you look at nutrition labels on many keto ice creams, you’ll see ‘reducing sugar’ or ‘sugar alcohol,’ which are terms for erythritol. You’ll find a typical pint has somewhere between 26 and 45 grams in it.”
He went on to say, “I normally don’t get up on a pedestal and sound the alarm. But this is something that I think we need to be looking at carefully.”
Researchers weren’t studying erythritol when they made the discovery. They were looking for chemicals that could influence a person’s heart risks within three years. They spotted an unknown substance in blood samples that appeared to be impacting heart health. It turned out to be the common sweetener.
Dr. Hazen wants to perform follow-up studies to confirm the find. He also wants to study how the sweetener impacts the general population. Everyone in the study was at higher risk for a heart problem because of blood sugar concerns or another risk factor. Finally, he and his team admit that the study had limitations, including that it was observational, as they weren’t asking people to change their behavior. They could find a link but not prove cause and effect. A study where they have people change their diet may shed more light on the relationship between erythritol and heart health.