When following a keto or low carb lifestyle, an essential part is reducing sugar intake. This is necessary for your body to enter a state of ketosis, allowing your body to burn fat rather than sugar for energy.
When beginning keto, many find they start to have sugar cravings – this is normal and shouldn’t discourage you! The cravings will go away eventually, however it takes time, and it may be tricky to give up the sweets right away. Sweeteners and sugar substitutes are a great place to start to keep the cravings at bay, but what’s the difference between them all?
Stevia is one of the most popular zero-carb sweeteners available on the market. Derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, it is 200-300 times sweeter than traditional sugar, making it a popular alternative in foods and beverages, especially for a plant-based sweetener alternative.
A non-nutritive sweetener is monk fruit. Extracted from the natural monk fruit called Lo Han Guo, this sweetener contains zero calories. As a natural product, it has unique antioxidants called mogrosides responsible for the intense sweetness that is 100-250 times sweeter than sugar. The added benefit is that monk fruit has no impact on blood glucose levels, nor does it leave an unpleasant aftertaste.
Allulose is a naturally occurring sugar that is found in plants. It is considered a rare sugar as it’s found in very small quantities in fruits and plants such as figs and raisins. With 90% fewer calories than sucrose, allulose is virtually calorie free, and the taste and texture is the closest of all sweeteners to traditional sugar – so if you want to make caramel or scoopable ice-cream, this is the one for you! Allulose is about 70% as sweet as sucrose, and it also has no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels making it a suitable diabetic alternative.
Erythritol is a type of carbohydrate know as sugar alcohol that is used as a low calorie sweetener in replacement of traditional sugar. As a zero calorie sweetener, erythritol is an active compound, meaning it passes into the urine without being used by the body – this causes less digestive distress and it doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
In its granulated form, erythritol is an easy replacement for sugar in baking and recipes.
Naturally occurring in some foods, Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that has a sweet taste comparable to sugar, and a lower glycemic index. With a lower GI, consuming xylitol won’t cause spikes in insulin levels either, making it a good sugar substitute for diabetic individuals. Unlike sugar, xylitol also doesn’t cause tooth decay which is why it is often found in “sugar-free” gum, mints and candy.
If you have a dog, please not xylitol can be toxic for them. If your dog eats a product containing xylitol, take them to a veterinarian to seek further advice.
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables; however, they can be artificially manufactured. Sugar alcohols are considered sweeteners with tastes and textures similar to that of sugar but with fewer calories and have little to no effect on blood sugar levels. Despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t alcoholic because they don’t contain ethanol found in alcoholic beverages. Given the less significant impact on blood sugar and fewer calories per gram, they are increasingly popular in keto-friendly products.
Sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol are considered acceptable, whereas isomalt, sorbitol and maltitol are not due to their glycemic index and it’s effect on blood glucose.
You’ll often find sugar alcohols in foods and beverages labelled as “sugar-free or reduced sugar”, and they can be a great sugar substitute. However, some sugar alcohols may spike blood sugar levels more than others, affecting the state of ketosis.
Some sugar alcohols have a higher glycemic index than others, meaning they may raise blood sugar, affecting the state of ketosis. Erythritol is the most keto-friendly sugar alcohol, with only 0.2 calories per gram and a glycemic index of 0. Similarly, xylitol is another keto-friendly sugar alcohol when consumed in moderation. (see chart below).
Other sugar alcohols such as are not as friendly, with many of them causing digestive side effects such as bloating and nausea when consumed in large amounts.
Shopping for keto-friendly sweeteners can be tricky, and it’s important to check the labels for any hidden carbs. For zero-carb sweeteners, stevia and monk fruit sweeteners seem to be the most popular, with the added health and plant-based benefits.