First, let’s orient ourselves visually:
On the left, in the green zone, are sweeteners with a very small amount of carbohydrates, which have little or no effect on body weight, blood sugar or insulin levels.
The figures next to each sweetener represent an estimate of the long-term effect that each product would have on blood and insulin levels, compared to the same amount of sugar sweetness, and give conditional guidance on which keto sweeteners can be considered. For the purposes of this “ranking”, pure white sugar is considered to have a score of 100.
The question marks next to the products with “zero” reflect only the currently known information about their effect on blood sugar and insulin response. These products are relatively new and their full effect on obesity, liver health, microbiome effects and the risk of metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease has not been studied in the long term.
The asterisk (*) reflects the fact that these products contain a certain amount of carbohydrates, in some cases as a filler (usually dextrose). For example, a packet of Splenda sweetener carries the same sweetness as two teaspoons (8g) of sugar. One sachet contains about 0.9 grams of carbohydrates such as glucose (dextrose). This is 0.9 / 8 = 0.11 of the effect of sugar (11%) for the same amount of sweetness. 100% pure dextrose has a score of 100, so Splenda has a score of 100 x 0.11 = 11.
Sweeteners can unlock a return to a high-carb diet.
- Even zero-calorie sweeteners in diet sodas can lead to weight gain and metabolic problems. (7) (8)
- Frequent consumption of high-carbohydrate and high-calorie sweets may have led to weight gain and metabolic disorders, but simply replacing them with low-carbohydrate, high-calorie temptations that are easy to overdo may not bring much benefit. (9) (10) (11)
- Every sweet taste, whether sugar or substitutes, affects the same neurological reward pathways in the brain that scientists say can continue the addiction to sweets and appetite. (12) However, this does not happen to everyone. (13)
- The effect on pregnant women and the developing fetus, as well as on young children, is unknown and there may be a long-term risk, so more research is needed. (14)
These are reasons why it is highly recommended that you carefully consider what sweeteners you want to include in your keto diet.
- On the other hand, moderate use of sugar-free sweeteners can make adhering to a ketogenic diet much easier for some people. It is better to avoid other people altogether. – Like a glass of wine with dinner, for some people a low-carb cookie or keto-cocoa after a meal is enough. Others can’t stop with just one.
- Fortunately, over time, the ketogenic diet reduces the appetite for sweets in most people – the appetite becomes easier to control and the desire for sweets decreases. (15)
- Many people find that they begin to taste sweet in products they have not noticed before. Taste receptors become more sensitive to the richness of different tastes and so the desire and need for sweeteners decreases.
If you want to regularly consume sweet products, this is the information you need to make the best choice for yourself.
Sugar as a sweetener
“Pure sugar” as a sweetener comes in many forms: white, brown, demerara, powder, crystal, maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, honey and others.
Sugar has a double molecule consisting of 1 molecule or 50% glucose and 1 molecule or 50% fructose. This makes 100% carbohydrates and all types of sugar have the same negative effect on weight gain, rising blood sugar and insulin response.
On a ketogenic diet, avoid all forms of sugar, as it will certainly affect your ketosis and progress.
Not many sweeteners have a score of exactly 100 – white or brown sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar and dates.
Worse than sugar: pure fructose
Which is the sweetener worse than sugar: Fructose. This is because it goes directly to the liver and can lead to its fattyness, insulin resistance, general obesity, unhealthy lipid profiles, especially if consumed in large quantities. The paradox is that fructose is added to products advertised “for diabetics” because they only aggravate their problems, but at twice the rate.
Unlike pure sugar, which is a combination of glucose and fructose, fructose raises blood sugar much more slowly and therefore has a low glycemic index. But don’t let the low glycemic index fool you! Fructose can cause many damage to the metabolism – probably more than pure sugar.
Sweeteners that contain large amounts of fructose, such as high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, molasses, agave syrup, are marked with a rating of 100+ on the image, due to the potentially severely damaging effect in the long run. We can call them super-sugars. Agave syrup has the highest fructose content – over 60%.
Agave syrup and other high-fructose “healthy” alternatives are marketed as having a “low glycemic index” because they do not raise blood sugar as much as sugar. But they are probably an even worse choice than regular sugar when it comes to weight and health because of the dangerous effects of fructose.
Avoid all fructose sweeteners if you are on a ketogenic diet, with insulin resistance, diabetes or overweight.
Top 3 of keto sweeteners
If you would prefer to eat sugary foods from time to time to stay on the keto regimen, here are the top 3 options:
- Monkfruit – The fruits of Luo Han Guo – a monastic fruit
Note: These are not the only “keto-approved” sweeteners. Below we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different types of sweeteners – natural and artificial.
Option # 1: Stevia
Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the South American plant Stevia rebaudiana, part of the sunflower family.
The commercial use and marketing of natural leaves is not allowed in the United States. The active ingredients, called steviol glucosides, are extracted and refined in many different steps to meet US and European regulatory requirements. The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not given its approval for unprocessed leaves, but defines the refined extract as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).
- There are zero calories and zero carbohydrates.
- It does not appear to raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
- It appears to be a safe sweetener, with little chance of toxicity.
- Stevia is very sweet and a very small amount is enough.
- Although it is very sweet, it does not taste the same as sugar and many people find it to have a bitter aftertaste.
- The challenge is to use it in foods and pastries, as it cannot be directly substituted for sugar and the exact amount for the desired result must be calculated.
- There are not enough long-term studies to indicate the exact effect of frequent, regular use.
Sweetness: 200-350 times sweeter than sugar.
Products: Stevia can be purchased in the form of a liquid sweetener, such as powder or granules. Note that some of the products with “granular stevia” contain dextrose, others are in combination with erythritol or fillers. Always check the label to make the right choice.
Option # 2: Erythritol
Produced by the fermentation of corn starch, erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is naturally present in small amounts in fruits such as grapes and melons and mushrooms. It is only partially absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Accepted safe by the FDA.
- There are negligibly small amounts of calories and carbohydrates.
- It does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
- The active ingredient is excreted in the urine without being used by the body.
- In granular form or as a powder it can easily replace sugar in recipes.
- Can prevent dental plaque and caries compared to other sweeteners.
- It does not taste the same as sugar and leaves a cooling sensation in the mouth.
- It can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea in some people (although not as much as other sugars).
- The passage of erythritol through the kidneys to be excreted in the urine may have adverse effects (to date, have not been reported).
I use erythritol in many of the desserts I make, usually in combination with stevia to balance the taste.
Sweetness: About 70% of the sweetness of ordinary sugar.
Products: Erythritol in granules or in the form of powder, as well as mixtures of erythritol and stevia. Check the label for dextrose, maltodextrin and other (unwanted) additives.
Option # 3: Monk fruit
Monastic fruit is a relatively new substitute for sugar. It is also called luo hang guo and was mainly used dried in herbal teas, soups and broths, part of Asian medicine. Cultivated by monks in northern Thailand and southern China, hence its name.
- Although the fruit contains fructose and sucrose, the strong sweetness of the monastic fruit comes from non-caloric ingredients called mogrosides, which can replace sugar. In 1995, Procter & Gamble patented a method for extracting mogrozids from the monastic fruit using a solvent.
- The FDA in the United States considers the monastic fruit safe. It has not yet been officially approved for sale in the EU, and is expected to do so in 2020 or 2021.
- Does not increase blood sugar and insulin levels.
- It has a better taste profile than stevia. In fact, it is often mixed with stevia to reduce the price and reduce the aftertaste of stevia.
- It is also mixed with erythritol to reduce the cost and to facilitate its use in cooking.
- Does not affect the stomach.
- Very sweet, a small amount is enough, which makes it economical.
- High price.
- It is often mixed with “fillers” such as inulin, prebiotic fiber and sometimes with undisclosed ingredients.
- Be especially careful with products labeled “propriety blend,” as they may contain very little monastic fruit extract.
Sweetness: 150-200 sweeter than sugar
Products: Granular blends with erythritol or stevia, pure extract of drops or drops with stevia, is also used as a substitute in imitation products such as sweetened with monastic fruit maple or chocolate syrup.
Below we look at the complete list of sweeteners, with information about their safety and their effect on health, as well as whether they are suitable for a ketogenic diet.
Sugar alcohols, also called polyols, have a sweet taste but do not actually contain alcohol (ethanol). The effects on blood sugar vary between different types of polyols. Sugar alcohols are considered safe by the FDA in the United States.
Good choice for keto mode, see above.
Maltitol is produced by hydrogenating maltose, a by-product of corn syrup production. Because it “behaves” almost like pure sugar during cooking, it is very popular in “sugar-free” products such as sweets, desserts and low-carb foods. It is cheaper to produce than erythritol, xylitol and other sugar alcohols.
- It is advisable to avoid maltitol in a ketogenic diet as it raises blood sugar and insulin response. For the same reason, it should not be consumed by diabetics and people with pre-diabetes. Additionally, it has 75% of the calories in sugar.
- Maltitol is a strong laxative (laxative). While 50% of the amounts consumed are absorbed in the small intestine, the other half is fermented in the large intestine. Studies show that maltitol can cause significant gastrointestinal upsets (gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc.), especially if consumed frequently and in large quantities.
Sweetness: about 80% of the sweetness of pure sugar
If you buy sugar-free gum, it is usually xylitol. This is the most commonly used sweetener in widely available chewing gums and mouthwashes.
- Like erythritol, xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from plants. It is produced industrially from fiber-like parts of cobs of corn or from birch trees in a multi-step process that uses chemicals to extract. The result is crystals or granules that taste like sugar but are not sugar.
- Xylitol is low in carbohydrates, but not zero. In a ketogenic diet it should be used in very small amounts.
- You should keep in mind that half of the xylitol is absorbed and the other half is fermented in the stomach, which can lead to gas, bloating and diarrhea, even when consumed in small amounts.
- And while erythritol is preferred for many recipes, xylitol is more suitable for ice cream because it freezes better.
Sweetness: Equivalent to sugar (1: 1).
Products: Pure granulated xylitol, made from corn cobs or birch.
Newer plant sweeteners
The following sweeteners are new and cannot be found everywhere. There is still little information about them about their long-term effect on health.
In 2015, allulose was approved for sale as a low-carbohydrate sweetener. It is classified as a “rare sugar” because it is naturally part of few foods such as wheat, raisins and figs.
- Although it has a molecular structure almost identical to that of fructose, the body cannot absorb allulose. Instead, this sweetener passes almost completely without being absorbed, thus having minimal carbohydrates and calories.
- Some animal studies show that consuming allulose can be beneficial, but human studies have shown conflicting results.
- The taste of allulose is like that of sugar and does not appear to cause side effects in small amounts. In large quantities, however, it can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and nausea.
- Additionally, allulose is significantly more expensive than other sweeteners and is not easily found. It has been declared safe by the FDA.
- Allulose is suitable for the keto regime – when baked and frozen it has the same properties as sugar, which makes it suitable for cakes and ice cream.
Sweetness: 70% of the sweetness of sugar
BochaSuit is one of the newest sweeteners on the market. It is made from cabocho extract, a type of Japanese pumpkin. It is said that this extract tastes the same as white sugar, but due to its different chemical structure it is not absorbed and does not carry carbohydrates and calories.
Unfortunately, although there are great reviews online, very little is known about its health effects because there are almost no published studies.
Sweetness: 100% of the sweetness of sugar
Inulin is part of the fructans family, which includes fibers called fructooligosaccharides. As a fiber, it has no digestible carbohydrates and is not processed in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Chicory is the main source of inulin for low carb products and sweeteners. It is usually combined with other sweeteners because it is not particularly sweet in itself.
- Because inulin ferments rapidly under the influence of gastrointestinal bacteria, it can cause gas, diarrhea and other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, especially at higher doses. Many people report symptoms after consuming inulin-based sweeteners.
- The FDA considers inulin safe, and in small amounts there are no strong side effects.
Sweetness: About 10% of the sweetness of sugar
Syrup from Yakon
The syrup is made from the South American plant yacon. This is a real “natural” sweetener, similar to maple syrup. Like inulin, however, yacon syrup contains fructooligosaccharides, which can cause stomach discomfort.
- It has a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners because a portion of the syrup is fiber. Still, 1 tablespoon of yakon syrup contains little digestible carbohydrates (sugar). And although the exact amounts may vary, approximately 100 grams of yacon root contain 9-13 grams of carbohydrates.
- However, yacon syrup is much more concentrated and the same amount of carbohydrates is in 2 tablespoons of syrup, which makes it unsuitable for the keto diet.
Sweetness: About 75% of the sweetness of sugar
Synthetic sweeteners, often called artificial sweeteners, are made in a laboratory from chemicals and other substances (such as sugar, in the case of sucralose).
The sweeteners below are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at acceptable intake limits.
Acesulfame K (E950)
Also known as acesulfame potassium, acesulfame K or AAce-K, this sweetener is one of the most commonly used sweeteners in fruit waters or sugar-free beverages. Sold in packets with the brands Sunett and Sweet One.
- Although it contains no calories or carbohydrates and generally does not raise blood sugar or insulin, according to most studies, one study showed that it can raise blood sugar in some people.
- Further studies on its safety are needed, as the current ones are mainly based on rodents.
Sweetness: 200 times sweeter than sugar
Aspartame is the most widely used sugar substitute, as well as the most controversial. In addition to being used in many “diet” foods and beverages, it is also sold as a sweetener under the Equal brand (formerly NutraSweet).
- A clean apartment has no calories or carbohydrates and no evidence of high blood sugar or insulin, according to most studies.
- Packets of aspartame as a sweetener contain nearly 1 gram of dextrose carbohydrates.
- And while the FDA considers aspartame to be safe in moderation, some scientists believe that further research is needed on its effect.
- Additionally, some people report side effects from aspartame consumption, such as headaches, dizziness, and more.
Sweetness: 200 sweeter than sugar
Discovered without 1878, saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener. Also available with Sweet’n Low and Sugar Twin brands.
- And while saccharin itself does not contain carbohydrates, the sweetener packets are filled with dextrose. Saccharin also leaves a bitter aftertaste.
- In the early 1970s, the FDA attempted to ban saccharin because a large percentage of rodents that received extremely high doses developed bladder cancer. However, the same relationship was not observed in humans.
- In general, studies of the effects of saccharin are mixed, with some reports showing that there may be adverse effects on the stomach and metabolic health of some people.
Sweetness: 300 times higher than that of sugar
Sucralose is a sweetener, also known as Splenda, and is marketed as a sugar substitute that “tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar.” It’s true, the sucrose (white sugar) molecule has been modified to no longer contain carbohydrates and calories and is much, much sweeter.
- Splenda sachets contain dextrose, which carries calories and carbohydrates.
- Like other synthetic sweeteners, sucralose studies are mixed. Most reports show that it has no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels when consumed alone, while other studies show that it raises blood glucose and insulin levels when consumed with fillers.
- The effects are different for different users, so more research is needed.
Sweetness: 600 times sweeter than sugar
Warning: misleading sweeteners
Did you know that some products labeled “zero-calorie sweetener” are almost 100% carbohydrate?
Be careful with packets: Stevia in the Raw, Equal, Sweet’n Low and Splenda. The label says they have zero calories, but they are not.
The US FDA allows products with less than 1 gram of carbohydrates and less than 4 calories to be labeled “zero calories”, so many manufacturers cleverly make a package with a sweetener that contains 0.9 grams of pure / net carbohydrates (glucose / dextrose or sometimes maltodextrin) mixed with a small dose of a stronger sweetener.
Are carbonated drinks allowed on a ketogenic diet?
- The recommendation is to avoid them and drink water, soda, tea or coffee.
- As we shared above, regular consumption of sweet foods, even without calories, can keep the appetite for sweets. Drinking diet drinks can make weight loss more difficult because of the hormonal effects and other effects of satiety signals, as well as because of the negative effects on the intestinal microbiota.
- Interestingly, a 2016 study shows that most studies that show no link between sweeteners and weight are sponsored by the sweetener industry and are fraught with conflicts of interest, biases and discoveries that have not been repeated. . (64)
- If you stick to the consumption of diet carbonated drinks, you will probably remain in ketosis. Standard sugary sugary fizzy drinks will immediately get you out of ketosis, however.
In conclusion about keto sweeteners
Whether you want to use sweeteners on a ketogenic diet or not is an individual choice. Their effect can vary from person to person – for some the best strategy for achieving optimal health and weight would be only natural, unsweetened foods. It may take time for taste buds to adapt, but over time you will begin to appreciate the delicate sweetness of real, unrefined and unprocessed foods.
On the other hand, some people may not lose their appetite for sweets. For them, the inclusion of keto sweeteners can make the ketogenic diet easier to follow, part of their new lifestyle, not just a temporary solution.
For your long-term success with a ketogenic and low-carb diet, you need to find what works best for you.