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Keto Sweeteners: What Are the Best vs. Worst?

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Keto sweeteners - Dr. Axe

When it comes to sweetening your coffee, tea or keto-friendly dessert, it can be confusing to navigate the many sweeteners on the market. You’re probably wondering about what keto sweeteners make it to the keto diet food list and which ones should be avoided altogether.

Sweeteners play a very small role when you’re on the keto diet (check out our beginner’s guide to the keto diet). Even the best keto sweeteners should only be used sparingly and in moderation. But there are some good options that are low in net carbs and calories, and will keep you in ketosis.


The Role of Sweeteners on Keto (hint: small!)

It’s true that you need to be careful with sweeteners on keto because they can quickly raise your blood sugar levels and take you out of ketosis. That said, there are some natural, low carb sweeteners that you can use in moderation when you need to add a little sweetness to a meal or beverage.

Types

You may have noticed when you look at ingredient labels that there are a ton of types of sweeteners. Some of them go by long, hard-to-pronounce names and this only adds to the confusion when you are trying to find the best keto sweeteners.

Generally, there are three types of sweeteners you should be aware of — natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Here’s a breakdown of each one:

  • Natural sweeteners: Natural sweeteners are derived from plants and other natural sources. Some natural sweeteners include stevia, coconut sugar, raw honey, monk fruit and maple syrup. Although these sweeteners are derived from natural sources, they are not all low in carbohydrates, so many of them cannot be consumed if you want to stay in ketosis.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are made using synthetic methods. They were originally introduced to satisfy consumer’s sweet tooth with no calories. But over time we have learned that consuming artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, comes with a slew of side effects, including a greater risk of metabolic syndrome. Although artificial sweeteners are low in carbs and calories, and are even marketed as part of the keto diet, they come with too many dangers and aren’t recommended.
  • Sugar alcohols: Sugar alcohols are derived from sugar, but have about half the amount of calories of regular table sugar. They are known as sweet carbohydrates, and they are made up of sugar and alcohol molecules (but not the ones that get you tipsy). Sugar alcohols are also resistant to digestion and act like dietary fiber, but this can cause digestive issues for some people. The most commonly consumed types of sugar alcohols are erythritol, maltitol, sorbitol/glucitol, lactitol and glycerol.

Glycemic Index

Glycemic index is the measure of the blood glucose-raising potential of the carbohydrates in a food compared to pure glucose. We look at the glycemic index of a food to find out how quickly it’s converted into sugar once we’ve eaten it.

When you eat foods that are high on the glycemic index scale, you will experience a faster, more significant increase in your blood glucose level. And when you eat foods that are lower on the GI scale, the increase in blood sugar is much slower and more sustained.

Natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols all have a glycemic index that falls between zero and 100. On keto, you want to choose sweeteners that have a zero low glycemic index so that your blood sugar levels aren’t changed.

Net Carbs

When you’re reading about the ketogenic diet, you probably see the term “net carbs” often. Net carbs refers to the amount of carbs that are left when fiber grams are subtracted from total carbs. That means that you can eat high fiber foods, like non-starchy veggies, while still keeping your net carb intake per day very low.

To get to and remain in ketosis, it’s recommended that you aim to eat between 20–30 grams of net carbs a day. You can work your way to this and begin with 50–60 grams of net carbs per day as you transition into ketosis.


Best Keto Sweeteners

To be considered a keto sweetener, a few things need to be true. The sweetener needs to have very little or no calories and net carbs. It also can’t have any hidden sources of high-carb fillers, like maltodextrin or dextrose. And the sweetener can’t have a negative effect on insulin, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Finally, the sweetener cannot come with adverse side effects. So what’s left? Here’s a rundown of the top keto approved sweeteners:

1. Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that’s extracted from the plant’s leaves. Per 100 grams, it contains about 5 net carbs, 20 calories and measures at zero on the glycemic index scale. Plus, studies show that stevia may help to lower blood sugar levels.

You only need to use a very little bit of stevia because it’s about 200–400 times sweeter than table sugar. Something to keep in mind is that not all stevia products are created equal. Some are chemically altered blends of stevia and other sweeteners, so look for pure stevia extract and read the product label carefully. Some people find that stevia has a metabolic or bitter aftertaste, so combining it with erythritol, another keto sweetener, may help to balance the sweetness.

2. Erythritol

Erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol that contains about 5 grams of net carbs per 100 grams and measures as zero on the GI scale. It’s available as a granulated or powdered natural zero calorie sweetener.

You can use erythritol just like you would table sugar for cooking and baking. However, make sure to only purchase non-GMO erythritol and check the ingredient label for added artificial sweeteners. Non-GMO, pure forms of erythritol can be used in moderation on the keto diet, especially in combination with small amounts of stevia.

3. Inulin

Inulin is a soluble plant fiber that’s found in the chicory plant and other foods like asparagus, bananas and artichokes. Half cup of inulin contains about 1 net carb, 150 calories and measures as zero on the GI scale. It is not digested by enzymes in the body, so it passes through the digestive system and even helps to feed good bacteria in the gut.

Compared to table sugar, inulin is said to be about 10 times less sweet. It has a mild sweetness that makes it versatile in recipes. In recipes for baked goods, inulin can also replace flour because it absorbs water and works as a thickener.

4. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit sweetener or extract is another keto friendly sweetener that measures as zero on the GI scale. It’s said to be 300–400 times sweeter than cane sugar, but has zero calories and no effect on blood sugar levels.

You’ll be able to find monk fruit products in many Chinese markets or health food stores. Pieces of dried monk fruit are often used in teas to add sweetness, and monk fruit extract can be used to naturally sweeten smoothies and desserts.

5. Yacon Syrup

Yacon syrup is a natural sweetener derived from the yacon plant’s roots. It contains a high percentage of prebiotics that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels negatively. Plus, yacon syrup measures as 1 on the GI scale.

You can purchase pure yacon syrup in many health food stores and online. The recommended dose is about one teaspoon or less.


Natural and Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid on Keto

When it comes to choosing the right sweeteners when following a ketogenic diet, you need to watch out for those that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, and measure higher on GI scale.

Even natural sweeteners that provide antioxidants and health benefits, like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar, can knock you out of ketosis because of their carb content. And some artificial sweeteners that are commonly used and recommended as part of the keto diet, come with a host of side effects and dangers. Although they are low in calories and carbs, artificial sweeteners are never recommended because they can cause health concerns like headaches, weight gain, kidney damage and more.

While you are on the keto diet and want to stay in ketosis, avoid using these sweeteners:

  • Aspartame (AminoSweet, Neotame, Equal and NutraSweet)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Acesulfame (ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet ‘n Safe)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin)
  • Xylitol
  • Maltodextrin
  • Polydextrose
  • Truvia (a chemically processed form of stevia)
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Dates
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Agave nectar

Final Tips

  • When it comes to choosing the best sweeteners for keto, there are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Always go for natural sweeteners over artificial sweeteners that come with a range of health dangers.
    • Opt for sweeteners that have a low score on the GI scale.
    • Choose natural sweeteners or sugar alcohols that have little or no net carbs.
  • The best keto sweeteners that will keep you in ketosis and should be used only in moderation when needed include:
    • Stevia (your best option)
    • Non-GMO erythritol (your second best option that can be combined with stevia)
    • Inulin
    • Monk fruit
    • Yacon Syrup

Read Next: Keto Fruit: What You Can vs. Cannot Eat On the Ketogenic Diet


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