How Alternative Sweeteners Affect your Keto Diet
If you’re like me, your sweet tooth didn’t go away when you started your keto diet and being able to satisfy that sweet tooth has been critical to my success in maintaining a keto lifestyle.
There’s a lot of confusion regarding alternative sweeteners and their effect on ketosis, so in this article, I will break down the types of sweeteners, how they affect ketosis and the pros and cons of each.
Check out my How to start a Keto diet post here for weekly keto meal plan outlines, for information on how to calculate macros, and other great keto tips.
First, what makes a good keto sweetener?
How can we decipher the difference between keto-friendly sweeteners and sugar-substitutes we should avoid? In general, the best alternative sweeteners for keto will:
- Contain virtually no calories and net carbs, including no hidden sources of carbs.
- Have no effect on insulin levels (measured by low Glycemic Index) and blood sugar levels.
- Have either no (or a positive) effect on other biomarkers like cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- Be safe to use and cause no side effects when consumed at reasonable doses.
- Have the ability to be exposed to high temperatures without becoming bitter, turning toxic, or degrading into simple sugars.
Breaking it all Down
There are three main categories of sweeteners to consider for a keto diet: Natural, Sugar Alcohols and Artificial so we will classify and decipher them for you.
1. Natural Sweeteners and Keto
Natural sweeteners, as their name implies come from nature and aren’t developed in a lab. There are 2 main natural sweeteners to consider for a Keto diet:
- Stevia is an extract from the Stevia plant and is approximately 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s gained popularity in the last few years and has become widely available at grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops around the world, but it’s been used as a sweetener in Paraguayan and Brazilian cultures for over a thousand years.
- Stevia has been linked to lower blood sugar levels.
- People with high blood pressure were happy to report lower levels after using Stevia.
- Additional studies have linked Stevia to reducing inflammation, diarrhea, and tumors and improving the regulation of the immune system.
- Truvia is an example of a Stevia Based sweetener and is in fact, one of my go-tos
- Monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo) is from Southeast Asia and looks like a lime or melon combination.
- The extract is about 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar and contains no calories as well.
- You can purchase the dried fruit at Chinese herbal stores, but if you want to put it in your coffee, you’ll probably want an extract powder or liquid form.
- Liquid monk fruit extract, monk fruit extract powder, and monk fruit sweetener blends (with stevia, xylitol, and/or erythritol) are your best options, and they can all be found online.
My Conclusion on Natural Keto Sweeteners:
Both Stevia and Monk Fruit have a glycemic index of 0, which means they should not affect your blood sugar (insulin) at all, but some forms of less expensive Stevia are mixed with other sweeteners or bulking agents (e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, and polydextrose) which could have an impact on your blood sugar levels. Note that Stevia packets, such as Stevia in the Raw, typically contain carb-ridden fillers like dextrose.
Some people think Stevia has an aftertaste but the liquid drops seem to have less of this. I wouldn’t use Stevia in chocolate recipes as many people get a severe and rather awful delayed flavor impression (especially when heated). So no hot chocolate, and no keto brownies with Stevia. Monk fruit, while a good keto option is harder to find and has to be mixed with other sweeteners for baking so it’s not at the top of my list.
2. Sugar Alcohols:
As the name implies, Sugar Alcohols are hybrids of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules, but don’t let the name scare you because these alcohol molecules will not get you drunk. The name “sugar alcohol” refers to a category of chemical compounds, not ethanol, which is the alcohol molecule that intoxicates us.
Because sugar alcohols have a similar chemical structure as sugar, they activate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue. Unlike most artificial and natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols contain calories and net carbs, but much less than plain table sugar.
- Erythritol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and is commonly extracted from corn.
- Of all the sugar alcohol sweeteners, erythritol contributes the least calories and net carbs to the diet and erythritol doesn’t change blood sugar or insulin which makes it very popular.
- Erythritol has also been found to act as an antioxidant and may improve blood vessel function in people with type 2 diabetes. These benefits may help reduce the risk of heart disease, but more studies are needed.
- The most commonly found erythritol on the market is Truvia. Many people confuse Truvia with Stevia, but while it’s a sweetener made from a compound found in the stevia plant its primary ingredient is erythritol.
- It does, however, tend to leave a cooling taste in a lot of people’s mouths–including mine. The sweetener also tends to crystallize if refrigerated so you have to watch out for that when baking or cooking with erythritol.
- Swerve is a Keto-friendly option, and is also an easy cup for cup substitute for sugar.
- It tastes great, has a very low GI rating, and can caramelize like sugar.
- It is a mix of erythritol and oligosaccharides.
- This is hands down, my favorite sweetener, especially for baking. I don’t get a cooling sensation with Swerve, and it is my go-to keto sweetener for baking.
Splenda isn’t exactly artificial since they start out with Sugar but turn it into something with zero to no carbs. It’s also not sugar alcohol per se. But hey, I needed to put it somewhere in this article so here you go!
Although you will find articles on the web talking about how it might raise blood sugar, I have yet to see a scientific article backing up this claim. I address this in
I do use small quantities of Splenda since
But that’s Not Keto!
I know the web is full of people telling you this or that sweetener is not keto. Here’s the thing.
Ketosis is a metabolic state. Food is a guideline for how to achieve that metabolic state. Few foods in an of themselves, are straight up Keto or not
A food is not helpful in achieving ketogenesis if it raises your blood sugar, and causes you to release insulin, while allowing itself to be used for instant glucose.
Potatoes, pasta, rice, sugar, and bread are squarely in this category.
I cover this in some detail in my Keto Fat Bombs, Sweets, and Treats book. But as you know, I am also a scientist and I look to the science to tell me what’s right.
Here are some facts. A recent meta-analysis on the Effects of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners on Blood Sugar was quite clear: Once you remove certain confounding factors, chiefly Obesity, and BMI, then there was little clear evidence that Stevia, Splenda, and Erythritol routinely raise blood sugar in everybody.
Meta-analyses are the gold standard for studies. It’s possible to find the odd study that says this or that. But science isn’t ONE study. Science is when there is a PREPONDERANCE of evidence, showing things are routinely one way or another.
A meta-analysis is when you take many different studies, and you use statistical analyses to combine the results. Then, you look at combined results.
The problem with most studies today on sweeteners
These studies are correlational studies. Two things occur together. But that doesn’t mean one causes the other. Night follows day. Night doesn’t cause day.
A third factor, which is the earth’s rotation around the sun, causes night and day. This is causation vs. correlation.
Additionally, let’s talk about random assignment. In most of these studies, they were looking at people who were overweight, or who had diabetes. In these instances, once you adjust for weight and diabetes, all the differences in blood sugar increases went away.
Now it is possible that the overweight and diabetics are more prone to blood sugar spikes after artificial sweeteners.
But again, we don’t have clear cut evidence on this.
So what should you do?
Use moderation. Check your own blood sugar, especially if you’re diabetic, and make sure a particular sweetener isn’t affecting you unfavorably.
So don’t sweat it too much–unless you’re guzzling a lot of these sweeteners. In which case stop it! 🙂
And remember that almost ALL these sweeteners are still better for you than sugar.
My Conclusion on Sugar Alcohols and Keto
If you’ve followed my dessert recipes you see that I use Truvia and Swerve for baking more than any other sweetener. Aside from the fact that it provides almost zero calories and is virtually carb free, I love the sugar-like consistency that it gives for baking.
Keep in mind, though, that they Truvia only
3. Artificial Sweeteners on Keto Diets
The last type of sweeteners are the artificial sweeteners such aspartame, which
I left this category for last because my recommendation on this category is to avoid as much as possible.
- For one, they are labeled “zero calories” but they are not. The FDA allows servings under 1 gram of carbs and under 4 calories per serving to be labeled “zero calories”, so manufacturers cleverly package about 0.9 grams of pure carbs (glucose/dextrose) mixed with a small dose of a more powerful artificial sweetener, but the little packages in fact contain almost 4 calories each, and almost a gram of carbs. On a keto diet that can quickly add up.
- Don’t be conned; consume as little as possible.
- Ditch them for their deceptive marketing alone. They also have lingering health concerns, and with better alternatives now widely available there’s just no reason to use these.
4. Sweeteners to Avoid
- There are also just some sweeteners you should outright avoid for a keto diet because they’re high in carbs, will increase your blood sugar levels and kick you out of ketosis.
- Maltodextrin is highly processed and derived from things like rice, wheat, and corn. Make sure this one isn’t hiding in other sugar alternatives.
- Maltitol, Sorbitol, and Mannitol raise blood sugar for many people and should be avoided
- Other sweeteners like agave nectar, honey, dates, coconut sugar, and maple syrup are naturally based and therefore some people mistakenly think they’re ok on keto, but they will absolutely increase your blood sugar levels and therefore should be avoided.