By Jill Levy
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 are considered “keto-friendly” and which ones should be avoided altogether.
Sweeteners play a very small role when you're on 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.
In our keto products, like the Keto Plant Protein powder, we use stevia as a natural zero calorie per serving and low carb sweetener. This allows us to enhance the taste, while keeping this keto-friendly plant-based powder an excellent source of protein while on the ketogenic diet.
So if you looking to add a little sweetness to your drink or treat while on keto, use these tips to choose the right one.
Why the Sweetener Matters
Why does your sweetener choice matter on the keto diet? This is a very high-fat, very low-carb diet that alters the source of energy that your body uses to function. When you follow the diet properly, your body will use fat for energy instead of glucose, its preferred energy source.
For this to happen, you have to be very careful about your sugar intake. Here’s where the sweeteners come into play. For your carb consumption to remain very low, which is required for your body to enter the metabolic state of ketosis, you’ll have to be picky about what sweeteners you use for your coffee, tea, smoothies and more.
Here are some factors to consider:
1. 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. At either phase, you’ll want to choose sweeteners that are very low in net carbs.
Related: How to Calculate Your Keto Macros
2. 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.
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 may have negative side effects. Although artificial sweeteners are low in carbs and calories, and are even marketed as part of the keto diet, they aren’t the healthiest options.
- 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.
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:
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. This keto-friendly sweetener is used in our Keto Matcha and Keto Cocoa elixirs that helps to support healthy energy, reduce fatigue and support mental clarity.
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 metallic or bitter aftertaste, so combining it with erythritol, another keto sweetener, may help to balance the sweetness.
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.
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 may help support healthy gut balance.
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 doesn’t impact 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, and it doesn't negatively impact blood sugar levels. 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 serving is about one teaspoon or less.
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 — like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar — that provide antioxidants and potential health benefits can knock you out of ketosis because of their carb content.
But keep in mind, even these keto-friendly sweeteners should be used sparingly in order to keep your carbohydrate intake very low.
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.
- 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 include stevia, non-GMO erythritol, inulin, monk fruit and yacon syrup.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.