How Sweet It Is: Sugar Substitutes

It’s no surprise that kicking the sugar habit is one of the toughest keto hurdles to clear. Over the past 40 years, added sugar has become so ingrained into the American diet, it’s tucked into practically all processed foods, even spaghetti sauce and salad dressing! Worse, it inspires our bodies to release dopamine, creating genuine addiction-like cravings that are hard to deny.

On the keto diet, you’re on a path to ridding yourself of sugar reliance, and we promise you’re going to feel better than you did before. But it doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle experience. Today, we introduce you to wonderful non-caloric sugar substitutes that allow you to enjoy sweet rewards without carbs, glucose spikes, addiction, or other adverse reactions, at least for most people. Like everything else, your reaction to sugar substitutes can be individual and we highly recommend you test some of the alternatives mentioned below to make sure you’re not having adverse glucose reactions to them. To learn more about how to test, see Week 2, Day 6. Oh! One more word of advice: don’t beat yourself up if you stumble during this transition. The point is to develop new habits that keep you healthy and in ketosis. Once you get in a groove, it will be much easier, and today’s info will help you get there!

Common Sugars to Avoid
Sugar in any form is off limits on the keto diet. That means it’s time to say goodbye to these sweeteners as well as any packaged foods that contain them. The chart below lists all the sugars you don’t want to eat.

So, what can you enjoy instead?

Alternative Sweeteners
Alternative sweeteners lend all the sweetness to foods without all the calories and carbs. But they’re not all created equal in flavor or benefits. Most of them fall into three categories: natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners. We’ve broken them down here so you know the difference, but if you just want to know what sweeteners we recommend, skip this section and go straight to our recommendations.

Natural Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are made from concentrated components of edible plants.

  • Monk Fruit: Monk fruit, known in China as lo han kuo, has been used as a natural sweetener for thousands of years. It has zero calories, zero carbs, and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. In powder form, it dissolves quickly and easily in liquids (perfect for tea or coffee!) Don’t use the granular form for marinades or other liquid recipes; it dissolves when heated, then reconstructs when it cools. Want to try a monk fruit sweetener? We like Lakanto brand, which makes substitutes for crystallized sugar, brown sugar, and even maple syrup.
  • Allulose: Allulose is a popular sugar-like low-calorie sweeteners. It’s made up of a monosaccharide (a simple sugar) that is found in small quantities in wheat, and certain fruits, such as jackfruit, figs, raisins. The reason that allulose has no glycemic index or net carb content is that the body doesn’t metabolize it. 

  • Stevia: Often called “sugar leaf,” and made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, stevia is more than 150 times sweeter than regular sugar and easy to find in grocers and even restaurants. If you’ve tried it, you already know it may have a bitter aftertaste. You can find it in powder form and liquid concentrate, the latter of which is great for sweetening beverages. If you use it in baking, you’ll want to slowly add up to half as much Stevia as sugar, tasting along the way to ensure you don’t add too much.

Sugar Alcohols
Ever heard of “sugar alcohols”? We hadn’t either before going keto. But they’re your new best friends for baking, morning coffee, and more, and they come in forms similar to the types of sugars you’re used to enjoying.

Several sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. However, some are processed from other sugars, such as from glucose in cornstarch. Some are be carb-free, and others contain about half the carbs of regular sugar. Available in granular, powdered, brown-sugar style, and even liquid form, all can be bought online, in specialty grocery stores, or on Amazon. (They’re what usually sweetens sugar-free or low-carb packaged foods.) Regardless, they tend to be extra sweet, so use them judiciously when learning to bake with them. We’ve divided the zero-carb and lower-carb options below. You’ll want to stick with the zero-carb sweeteners.

Sugar Alcohols with Zero Net Carb Count

  • Erythritol: Great tasting with the least digestive side effects; one of the ingredients in some popular sweeteners such as Truvia, Swerve and Stevia, among others

  • Xylitol: Commonly found in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and toothpaste, this sweetener has a similar sweetness to sugar with 60% of the calories; may cause digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea.when consumed in large amounts

  • Mannitol: Useful as a coating for hard candies, dried fruits, and chewing gums, it’s often included as an ingredient in candies and chewing gum; has a pleasant taste and mouthfeel

  • Lactitol: Used as a replacement bulk sweetener for low-calorie foods with approximately 40% of the sweetness of sugar; popular for baking

Sugar Alcohols with Some Carb Count (Thus We Recommend Avoiding Them)

  • Maltitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Isomalt

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, made from plants or even sugar, are exponentially sweeter than regular sugar and are generally combined with maltodextrin or dextrose — sugars— as a carrying agent. They’re controversial in the keto community because of concerns that, in some people, it stalls weight loss or can adversely affect ketosis. The following two artificial sweeteners are popular, but not recommended:

  • Sucralose
  • Aspartame

Sweeteners We Recommend You Use
Ideally, you want to use sweeteners that have little effect on insulin levels and blood sugar; contain virtually no calories, net carbs, or fillers with hidden carbs; are high-quality with proven track records; and don’t have any bitter flavor or aftertaste. For that reason, we are partial to erythritol, monkfruit, and Stevia (or a blend of the two). Bonus: when used in combination, they seem to cancel out any negative aftertaste.

Mojo On!
Ready to try out alternative sweeteners? Try any of these recipes:



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