Most people that start a keto diet plan find that they have some intense cravings for sugar in the beginning, but will dissipate after a few weeks. Even the seasoned low carber will tell you that they have cravings every once in a while, sometimes burning inside them so deep they want to give up to temptation. That’s where sweeteners come in, where you can make or bake things you usually can’t eat.
Of course, you will have to watch out because most things that say “carb free” actually still contain carbs. Make sure you take the net carbs of any sweetener into consideration when writing out your ketogenic diet plan.
Types of Sweeteners
In general, there are a few classifications of sweeteners. There are natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and synthetic sweeteners (or artificial sweeteners). There are a few others that aren’t exactly classified in these categories (like glycerin based sweeteners) but they are quite uncommon and rarely used, so we’ll skip going over them.
For a ketogenic diet, I personally suggest sticking with erythritol and stevia (or a blend) because they are both naturally occurring, don’t cause blood sugar or insulin spikes, and sweeten just perfectly. When used in combination, they seem to cancel out the aftertaste that each has, and work like a charm.
When you purchase sweeteners, make sure to take a look at the ingredients on the packaging. You normally want the pure sweetener, rather than having fillers such as maltodextrin, dextrose, or polydextrose which can cause spikes in blood sugars. Fillers can also add unnecessary carbs to your sweeteners, so it’s best to stay away.
Below we’ll look at the most common of all the different types of sweeteners we encounter, and which are the best to choose.
What is GI?
Next to each sweetener’s name, you will see “GI” and then a number. This refers to the Glycemic Index, which measures how much your blood sugar is raised by a certain food. Many sweeteners are 0 GI, meaning they don’t raise blood sugar. The base-line is insulin, which measures up at 100. Typically you want to use the sweeteners that are lowest in GI, but may find it more beneficial (taste wise) to use a mixture.
Stevia – GI: 0
Stevia is an herb that is commonly known as the sugar leaf. The completely nutrient-free extract has grown tremendously in popularity over the last few years and is used very commonly now.
Stevia can be quite good for us. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure slightly, lower blood glucose and insulin levels in diabetics, and has had great results in animal testing for anti-inflammatory purposes.
When purchasing, go after liquid based stevia. Typically this is raw powdered stevia mixed with a solution that keeps it pure. If you purchase powdered stevia, it is commonly mixed with other sweeteners that can cause problems (like hidden carbs).
Recommendation: Use it! It’s a great additive sweetener on a keto diet for many occasions and can even have a positive health impact. If using in cooking, pair with other sweeteners as in liquid form it won’t give you the additional “bulking” you need.
Inulin – GI: 0
Not to be confused with insulin, inulin is a natural based sweetener that is commonly extracted from chicory root. According to studies, we can absorb some of the inulin we digest – so even though the packaging may tell you otherwise, it may not be true.
Inulin does a great job as a mixture with other sweeteners. It adds sweetness, can caramelize like sugar, and typically doesn’t add any after-taste like you may find with others.
Even though this shouldn’t cause any gastric distress within normal daily doses (studies show about 20 grams), it can have a laxative effect if over-consumed. Some studies have even shown it to have pre-biotic effects and can help our digestive systems in a normal manner.
Recommendation: Use sparingly to mix into other sweeteners (like erythritol) to reduce after-taste and to increase cooking ability. In terms of a ketogenic diet, some studies also show a slight absorption of it, so it may have more net carbs than thought.
Monk Fruit – GI: 0
Also known as Luo Han Guo, monk fruit is native to China. It’s extremely sweet (about 300 times as sweet as sugar) and has been used as a traditional medicine to treat obesity and diabetes.
It’s quite hard to find and can be quite expensive to purchase in its pure form. Usually in bulk, you are purchasing mixes with other sweeteners inside, many of which are high glycemic index and are not worth eating. In most cases, it’s best to avoid this.
Recommendation: Skip it. Although it’s a fantastic sweetener, it’s very hard to come by in the raw form and can be quite costly when found. Many of the common branded monk fruit will contain carbs.
Erythritol – GI: 0
Eryhthritol is typically found in fruits and vegetables, and it commonly extracted from corn. The great thing about it is that it does not affect blood sugar and has very few calories.
We can consume a good amount of it, at about 1 gram of the sweetener for 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of body-weight. Usually sugar alcohols can cause discomfort because our body does not have the enzymes to break them down, leaving the bacteria in the large intestine to excrete it. With erythritol, it only gets to the small intestine and is eventually excreted mostly in urine. That said, some studies have shown there to be slight stomach discomfort when consumed in large quantities.
Because of this, we really don’t see much of an effect when it comes to the keto diet. This is one of the primary sweeteners I use to make baked goods and to sweeten things with.
According to some recent studies, erythritol does not change blood sugar or insulin in healthy individuals. It has also been shown to not feed bacteria in the mouth, so is slowly becoming a good alternative to sugar for lack of cavities and tooth decay alone.
Recommendation: Use it! It’s almost completely excreted through urine and causes very little gastric distress. Although it can have a slight cooling aftertaste, when combined with other sweeteners it is not very noticeable.
Xylitol – GI: 13
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is usually found in fruits and vegetables. It’s not very nutrient dense (like stevia), and is relative low in glycemic index so it does not dramatically affect blood sugar levels. Many people enjoy this sweetener because it is very close to the sweetness of sugar and can easily be substituted.
Stomach discomfort is one of the biggest complaints from this sweetener, and has been shown that larger than 65 grams a day can cause diarrhea.
Note/Warning: Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs and can be lethal in just small doses. Make sure if you have animals and you are using this, be extremely careful to keep it out of reach.
Recommendation: Use sparingly. Although this is a great sweetener and can be used in almost an exact replacement of sugar, it can cause gastric distress when over-eaten. It is also extremely harmful to dogs, so if you’re an animal lover, it may not be best to have around.
Maltitol – GI: 36
Maltitiol is very commonly used in sugar free products as it is very similar to sugar. It cooks and tastes very much like the real thing, and is only half the calories of actual sugar. The downfall of this is that it has quite a large glycemic index – meaning it spikes blood sugars.
However, due to the current laws we have, many products are allowed to calculate these out of the net carb counts and many people are secretly consuming hidden carbs. This one is best to avoid.
Many also complain of the laxative effects maltitol has. It’s commonly associated with stomach issues including bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Recommendation: Skip it. Although it’s one of the most commonly consumed sugar alcohol, it has quite a high glycemic index and can cause a lot of gastric distress. Not to mention many people complain about it kicking them out of a ketogenic state.
Sucralose – GI: Variable
Before we talk about sucralose, there is a slight controversy about the glycemic index. There’s many sources claiming many different numbers, but on an average we see that it’s about 80 in powdered form. The bad part about this is that it’s higher than sugar and can cause big spikes in blood sugar – so you should try to avoid the powdered form for the keto diet.
The good part about it is that it typically can be found in liquid form too. This goes an extremely long way when it comes to sweetening things: it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar.
The glycemic index is unclear for the liquid version, but since you only have to use so little it shouldn’t have much of an effect on blood sugars.
The most commonly used brand of this product is Splenda (which is paired with other high GI sweeteners), and was extremely rampant in the low-carb communities in the early 2000’s. Definitely avoid using any powdered forms of this sweetener.
Recommendation: Use sparingly (in liquid form) and in combination with others. For cooking, liquid doesn’t do what you need it to do – add “bulk”. So add it to other sweeteners to spruce them up. If using by itself, it may be a better option to use stevia.
Aspartame – GI: 0
Aspartame is probably the most controversial sweetener of all. It’s been behind many stories of multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, methanol toxicity, and blindness among many other things. Even though this hasn’t been replicated in studies over the last 40 years (it’s one of the most thoroughly studied sweeteners), it may be best to stay away from this one as there are better alternatives.
At higher temperatures, aspartame can break down during baking and cause bitter and strange aftertastes.
Recommendation: Avoid it. Although there is much controversy around this (and nothing has definitively been proven), there are much better sources of sweet out there and it’s always best to be safe than sorry.
Saccharin – GI: Variable
First showcasing over 150 years ago, this synthetic sweeter is one of the oldest around. This is not very commonly found or used anymore, as the popularity for saccharin has gone down significantly. It is still in the top 3 synthetic sweeteners, which is why it is included, but is dwindling in usage.
In the 1970’s, all saccharin products had to place a warning label that it may induce cancer in man or animals. This was then removed during 2000, when the animal based testing couldn’t ethically be done on humans.
During the cooking process, it can cause an extremely bitter aftertaste that many would not enjoy.
Recommendation: Avoid it. Since its dwindling in popularity, it’s much easier to find other commonly sourced sweeteners around.
Overall, it’s always best to go with pure sucralose and stevia as your sugar alternatives – not only for the taste and versatility, but also the calorie counts and carb counts. Here’s a look at the nutrition info on the above sweeteners.
|Sweetener||Net Carbs (Per 100g)||Calories (Per 100g)|
|Monk Fruit||0 – 25||0 – 100|