If you’ve been following the keto diet for a while, you already know that sugar on keto is off-limits. But let’s face it: Sometimes, sweet cravings strike and we want nothing else than to have a bite of a dessert or a sweet hot or cold beverage.
Being able to completely crush sugar cravings means that you’ve reached a whole new level on keto. Congratulations if you’re on that stage in your journey now! But for a lot of people who are still struggling to make the diet work, keto-friendly sweeteners can make a big difference for long-term compliance.
There’s a ton of confusion surrounding sweeteners. Only a few are good and true, which means that they won’t affect your blood glucose and insulin levels.
Now, let’s explore the list of sweeteners for keto and those you should avoid at all costs.
Stevia comes from a plant that’s native to South America. As a natural keto sugar substitute, it has zero calories and is up to 400 times sweeter than sucrose(1)(2). Carb-free and calorie-free, research shows that stevia has health benefits such as lowering blood glucose in those with diabetes(3).
Other names for stevia include sugar leaf, candy leaf, or sweet honey leaf. You can choose between powdered or liquid form. Beware of brands that include fillers such as dextrose.
Stevia Pros: Natural, contains 0 calories, and has a glycemic index (GI) of 0.
Stevia Cons: Since stevia is much, much sweetener than sugar, it can increase your cravings if you don’t control your consumption. Stevia also has a signature bitter aftertaste.
Erythritol keto sweetener is a sugar alcohol often used for baking and replacing sugar in health food products. That includes keto-friendly desserts. Sugar that’s derived from corn is processed to produce erythritol.
A teaspoon of erythritol has 4 grams of total carbs and 0 grams of net carbs. It has zero calories and a GI of only 1.
The majority of erythritol cannot be metabolized by your body and exits through your urine. It will not affect your blood sugar and insulin, making it a desirable sweetener choice for ketoers. Study also shows that it acts as an antioxidant(4).
Erythritol Pros: Does not cause blood sugar spikes, is good for baking, has antioxidant properties.
Erythritol Cons: Can cause digestive upset and diarrhea. May trigger IBS symptoms.
3. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit keto sweetener is a new keto sugar substitute in the market. Also called lo han guo, monk fruit is a small green melon that’s cultivated in a province in China.
Compounds that have been identified from monk fruit include amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.
While monk fruit is at least 300 times sweeter than 5% sucrose, it does not give you extra calories(5). Because of this, monk fruit can be used as a sugar substitute for low-calorie products. Monk fruit has zero carbs, zero calories, and a GI of zero.
Monk Fruit Pros: Zero-calorie, available in powder and liquid forms. Compounds in monk fruit called mogrosides have antioxidant properties.
Monk Fruit Cons: Difficult to grow and expensive.
Sucralose is another keto sugar substitute. I’m sure you’ve heard about or used the sweetener Splenda, which is sucralose-based. Sucralose actually comes from regular sugar and is produced in a multi-step process. That having said, it’s not a natural sweetener.
But just because it isn’t, doesn’t mean you can’t have it on keto. It has zero calories and contains a tiny amount of carbs in each packet which is negligible. Take note that sucralose isn’t ideal for baking recipes. Studies show that it becomes unstable at high temperatures(6). Pure sucralose contains no carbs and no calories. Its GI is also 0.
Sucralose Pros: It’s 600 times sweeter than sugar – you’ll need only a small amount.
Sucralose Cons: Not ideal for baking, becomes unstable in heat.
Xylitol keto sweetener is a sugar alcohol, like erythritol. It’s naturally found in fruit, vegetables, and berries. Here’s an interesting fact: Xylitol prevents the growth of bacteria in plaque and saliva, and reduces their acid production. This makes xylitol effective against tooth decay(7).
This sugar alcohol may be keto-friendly, but it contains a low amount of carbs. 1 teaspoon of xylitol contains 4 grams of total carbs and 10 calories. Meanwhile, xylitol’s GI is only 7. However, we recommend not using it in higher doses since it can cause bloating and diarrhea.
Xylitol Pros: Protects your oral health.
Xylitol Cons: Has calories and carbs. You need to use it in small amounts.
Allulose keto sweetener, also called D-psicose, is considered to be a “rare sugar” since it’s present in a few foods. These include dried fruits, wheat, and figs.
It’s one of the best keto sugar replacements in the food industry since it’s like fructose in terms of solubility and viscosity. A study showed that a 60-kg adult can consume up to 54 grams of allulose without any side effects(8).
Aside from being a zero-calorie and zero-carb keto sugar substitute, allulose reduces lipid levels in the blood and has anti-inflammatory effects on fat cells(9). Furthermore its GI is zero.
Allulose Pros: Zero calories, helps prevent obesity and atherosclerosis.
Allulose Cons: May cause abdominal discomfort in excessive amounts.
Swerve is often marketed as the best sweetener for keto. It’s a combination of erythritol and oligosaccharides.
If you love baking, you’ll be glad to know that Swerve is a great option since it works like powdered sugar. The only difference is that you won’t need a lot of it to sweeten your recipes. It rests at zero on the glycemic index and has 4 grams of total carbs per teaspoon.
Swerve Pros: Ideal for baking, widely available, and has zero calories and net carbs.
Swerve Cons: May cause digestive issues in high amounts.
Worst Keto Sweeteners You Should Avoid
You already know the best sweeteners for the keto diet. Unfortunately, there are those sweeteners that you need to steer clear of. They’re high in carbs, raise your blood sugar levels, and disrupt or prevent you from reaching ketosis. Make sure you don’t use them.
While honey is known to possess antioxidant properties, unfortunately, it’s not keto-friendly. Carbohydrates make up for 95% to 97% of its dry weight(10). 1 tablespoon of honey has 17 grams of total carbs, according to the USDA. Meanwhile, its GI is at least 45.
Yacon syrup is sourced from the roots of the yacon plant. The syrup is dark-brown in color and tastes similar to caramel. It’s composed of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which are a type of carbohydrate(11). A tablespoon has about 11 grams of carbs. Even though yacon syrup has a GI of 1, which is low, it’s still high-carb.
Beware of this artificial food additive. Maltodextrin has a very high GI of at least 85, which means that it quickly raises your blood glucose levels. A lot of packaged foods contain maltodextrin to increase their shelf life. Although it has 4 grams of carbs per tablespoon, its high GI will quickly kick you out of ketosis.
Coconut sugar tastes like brown sugar and caramel. While there are many claims that coconut sugar is a healthy alternative to table sugar, it has a GI of 50 to 54 which is just slightly below table sugar. If you want to stay in ketosis, avoid coconut sugar. One tablespoon has 12 grams of carbs.
Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener that’s full of fructose. Your body is not meant to handle a high amount of fructose. Excessive fructose contributes to insulin resistance, leading to diabetes. Agave nectar has a GI of 17. One tablespoon has 15 grams of total carbs.
Dates are naturally high in sugar and have a GI of 44 to 53. Even though some people use dates as a substitute for white sugar, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re high in carbs. A cup of chopped dates contains as many as 110 grams of total carbs and 93 grams of sugar.
A common sweetener used for desserts, maple syrup contains amino acids as well as vitamins and minerals. However, it’s one of the worst non-keto sweeteners. Maple syrup is mostly sucrose and has 13 grams of total carbs per tablespoon. Its GI is at 54.
Corn syrup does not fit into a low-carb lifestyle. Dark corn syrup has 16 grams of total carbs per tablespoon. The majority of corn syrup is glucose. Just because it comes from maize, doesn’t mean it’s good for your health and blood glucose levels. Its GI value is 73 on average.
Maybe you’re curious and wondering, “Can you have sugar on keto?” Sugar is found in a lot of carb-rich foods, and on a keto diet, you’re supposed to limit your consumption of carbs. Blood sugar spikes are one thing to be avoided to reach and reap the benefits of nutritional ketosis. Therefore, you should only use keto sweeteners. They contain little to no carbs and calories.
Just keep in mind that when purchasing keto artificial sweeteners, check the ingredients list for hidden carbs.
What’s your best keto sweetener? Drop your answer in the comments section below.