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Xylitol is a natural sugar found in plums, raspberries, strawberries, green vegetables, corncobs, mushrooms, bamboo grass, sugar cane, and even certain hardwoods such as birch and beech. It is used primarily in chewing gums and other processed food products, and also in some sweets and toothpastes.

Our bodies naturally make about 10 to 15 grams of xylitol daily as a part of normal metabolism, so we are able to metabolise it easily. 10 grams of xylitol contain 7 calories -- about 40% fewer than sucrose.

Xylitol is a 'sugar alcohol' chemically similar to the fruit sugar xylose. It tastes similar to sucrose but has a slight menthol-like cooling after-taste. It is often used in products for diabetics, because its consumption does not trigger insulin production in the body. Normal consumption may result in a slight diarrhoea, but the effect is usually temporary. However, exceeding 6 to 8 grams per day may cause stomach discomfort.

Xylitol has mild anti-bacterial effects and so is used in dental formulations (mainly toothpastes and mouthwashes). Research has confirmed that xylitol gums, toothpastes and mouthwashes reduce the incidence of dental cavities in children, and effectively reduce the levels of bacteria in plaque and saliva. A product called Xlear is available as a spray of xylitol solution, and is used to reduce the bacterial population in the Eustachian tubes and nose.

Other than the possibility of mild intestinal upset following excessive consumption, there do not appear to be any significant risks associated with its use, and a number of benefits.

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