It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

Please note that the Ask Dr. Gourmet feature is restricted to questions regarding food and nutrition. Due to the many questions we receive, not all questions may be answered. For more specific questions about your individual health, please contact your doctor. About Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy


Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is xylitol safe?

In an effort to find a palatable sugar substitute, I recently tried Xylitol (Ideal Sweetener brand) and found that I like the taste. I've been using it now for a few months. I have read a few things about how it is manufactured that make me wonder if it's not actually worse for my body than sugar. Here is a link to a representative article at with the negative information.

It's so hard to know what to believe any more about what products are safe or not. Some things that I read say that xylitol is just a fruit sugar and perfectly safe for the body, no negative effects like with fructose, and others make me feel that I'm eating poison. Can you help? What would you recommend?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

several types of raw and refined brown and white sugars poured in small piles

Xylitol is an inert sugar that's commonly used in sugar free foods. Similar sweeteners like mannitol and sorbitol are used in everything from baked goods and drinks to gum and mints. There's no evidence that it is harmful to humans (although it is apparently quite harmful to dogs as the folks at Snopes point out). There are hundreds of web sites making claims about how horrible artificial sweeteners are for you. There's really no evidence that this is the case.

In many cases there's less need to use sugar substitutes than you might think. For instance, using a teaspoon of granulated sugar in your coffee or tea sugar adds only 16 calories. While I do use some artificial sweeteners in my recipes I don't use them very much. For baked goods stevia can be a good choice.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet