Sugar cravings are a common experience in the early stages of the keto diet. While they usually go away as your body adjusts to a lower carbohydrate intake, they can be difficult to control initially. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best keto-friendly sweeteners to help satisfy that sweet tooth, as well as those you may want to limit or avoid.
What to Look for in Keto Sweeteners
The ideal Keto-friendly sweetener should hit the following criteria:
- Have little to no known impact on blood sugar levels.
- Be low calorie and low in net carbs.
- Have undergone rigorous safety testing.
- Produce no adverse side effects.
- Can be heated safely.
Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant and can be used as a sugar substitute. It contains almost no calories or carbohydrates and also helps to lower blood sugar levels. This plant-based sugar has a high sweetening potential and is completely calorie-free. The use of stevia is widely promoted as the best alternative to natural sugar. Stevia can be considered medicinal because consuming stevia powder can lower your blood pressure, lower insulin levels in diabetics, and is claimed to fight inflammation.
2. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener derived from the monk fruit plant, which is native to Southeast Asia. It has been used for thousands of years as a tonic herb in traditional Chinese medicine.
Like stevia, it contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates, and does not appear to raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
Monk fruit is also rich in antioxidants called mogrosides. These components can be 100-250 times sweeter than sugar.
One drawback of monk fruit is that it can be very expensive. Since it is a relatively new product, there are also no studies on the long-term effects of regular use.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol – a class of naturally occurring compounds that stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue to mimic the taste of sugar.
It is up to 80% as sweet as regular sugar, but it contains only 5% of the calories and only 0.2 calories per gram. In addition, even though erythritol has 4 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon (4 grams), studies have shown that it may help lower blood sugar levels in your body. Moreover, because of its small molecular weight, it does not typically cause the digestive problems associated with other types of sugar alcohols.
Erythritol can be used in baking and cooking, and can replace sugar in a variety of recipes. Keep in mind that it tends to have a cooling texture and does not dissolve as easily as sugar, which can give foods a slightly gritty texture. For best results, exchange about 1/3 cup (267 grams) of erythritol for each cup (200 grams) of sugar.
Xylitol is another sugar alcohol that has a similar sweetness to regular sugar. It contains 2.4 kcal per gram – about two-thirds of what is found in standard table sugar.
Animal studies have shown that in diabetic rats, xylitol promotes a reduction in body weight and blood sugar, as well as a significant increase in serum insulin concentration and glucose tolerance compared to controls.
Yacon syrup comes from the roots of the yacon plant, a tuber that grows widely in South America.
The sweet syrup of the yacon plant is rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a soluble fiber that your body cannot digest.
It also contains several monosaccharides, including sucrose, fructose and glucose.
Because your body cannot digest a large portion of bacon syrup, it contains about one-third the calories of regular sugar, at only 20 calories per tablespoon (15 ml).
In addition, although there are about 11 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon (15 mL), studies have shown that the carbohydrates in bacon syrup do not affect blood sugar as much as regular sugar.
In fact, both human and animal studies have found that bacon syrup may help lower blood sugar and insulin levels and promote blood sugar control.
Bacon syrup is best used as a sweetener in place of sugar in coffee, tea, cereal or salad dressings.
However, cooking with bacon syrup is not recommended because fructooligosaccharides break down at high temperatures.
Replace other liquid sweeteners, such as molasses, corn syrup or sugar cane juice, with equal parts bacon syrup.
Sweeteners to Avoid on a Keto Diet
While there are many low-carb sweetener options that you can enjoy on a ketogenic diet, there are many other sweeteners that are not ideal.
Here are some high-carb sweeteners that can increase blood sugar levels and interfere with ketosis:
A FDA-approved food additive, maltodextrin, often derived from genetically modified corn, is added to a variety of foods to enhance taste and texture and to extend the shelf life of products.
However, this sweetener is not without controversy, especially when it comes to the keto diet.
Maltodextrin has a high GI (exceeding table sugar) and has the ability to quickly raise blood sugar – something we should avoid if we want to stay in ketosis. Studies have also shown that maltodextrin can adversely affect gut health and increase the growth of bad bacteria, making this sweetener one to avoid on a balanced keto diet.
2. Coconut & Brown Sugar
Popular white sugar substitutes, such as coconut sugar and brown sugar, are often used in place of traditional sweeteners in a variety of “healthy” dessert recipes.
While some trace minerals and B vitamins are found in these sweeteners, their small concentrations make these sweeteners only slightly healthier than the ultra-refined sugars they often replace. Not to mention, both still contain a high amount of net carbohydrates, which means these sweeteners are not conducive to a keto diet.
3.Naturally Derived Sugars
Dates, date syrup, honey, maple, agave, bacon and dark syrup are often considered healthy sweeteners. While they are naturally sourced and may have certain health properties, any of these sugars still have the potential to kick you out of ketosis.
With about 8 grams of net carbs per tablespoon of bacon syrup and up to 13 grams for the rest, it’s easy to see how these sweeteners can quickly eat away at your daily net carbohydrate content. While you can decide to include some of these naturally derived sugars in your diet, you’ll likely leave less room for more satiating, keto-friendly foods.
When it comes to choosing a keto-friendly sweetener, it’s best to stick with stevia or monk fruit listed above, as in most cases.
These sweeteners have zero net carbs, have little to no effect on blood sugar, and are ideal for satisfying sugar cravings with few, if any, side effects. However, a little goes a long way, and we recommend using these to help adjust your tastes to a low-carb diet rather than relying on them on a regular basis.
Finally, always remember to check the label of any sweeteners you buy to check for any hidden additives that may sneak up on the net carbohydrate count.