The ketogenic lifestyle is a high-fat, low-carb diet that keeps blood sugar levels balanced and allows your body to use fat for fuel, instead of glucose. Although the diet is low in carbs, you can still enjoy sweet treats now and then. There are plenty of keto sweeteners that do not raise blood glucose levels significantly. That being said, there are also plenty of sweeteners that claim to be keto but should be avoided. This article will go into detail about the best and worst sweeteners to use on the ketogenic diet.
Stevia is extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant as steviol glycosides. The plant is native to South America and has been used in herbal medicines for centuries. It is used as a non-nutritive sweetener (aka zero calories).
Stevia is 200-400x sweeter than sugar. This means that a very small amount is needed to sweeten foods or beverages. Some people notice a bitter aftertaste with stevia, especially if too much is used.
The sweetener has zero calories and does not have a blood glucose response. It is a great keto friendly sweetener to use in tea, coffee, smoothies, or other recipes. Most versions of stevia are liquid concentrate forms. You only need a few drops to sweeten your food or drink in this case. Some powder forms of stevia exist, and these are bulked up with either erythritol, dextrose, or maltodextrin.
What to Buy
Make sure to check the ingredients of the sweetener before purchasing. I would recommend avoiding the stevia products that contain dextrose or maltodextrin as these can cause a rise in blood glucose levels. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that does not get absorbed, so it is a better option. Below I have listed the brands of stevia that I use or would feel comfortable purchasing.
Better Now Stevia
This is the brand I use most often. I prefer the liquid stevia drops. They have plain and flavored options. I mostly use the plain drops to sweeten sauces, drinks, or desserts.
This is a liquid concentrate that can be used in small amounts to sweeten food or beverages.
This form of stevia is a powder concentrate. Similar to the liquid drops, you only need a small amount to sweeten food or drinks.
Truvia is a great option to use if you notice a bitter aftertaste from stevia. It is a combination of stevia and erythritol, so the sweetness from the stevia is less intense. Beware of some Truvia products that contain sugar, like the Truvia Cane Sugar Blend. Check the ingredients to ensure the product contains only erythritol and stevia.
These packets are great for traveling. Keep them on hand to sweeten your tea or coffee without the carbs.
This brand offers liquid, powder, and flavored liquid forms of stevia. Their products have more ingredients compared to other brands that offer liquid stevia. However, the fibers they add are undigested by the body and therefore will not interfere with blood glucose levels.
Use these packets on the go, or when you need something convenient to sweeten up a food or drink. They use inulin fiber, which is undigested by the body, but I would opt for a brand like Truvia for powdered stevia if this concerns you.
I think the flavored drops are more novelty. However, they certainly can be useful, especially when sweetening desserts that have a similar profile. SweetLeaf flavored drops come in vanilla, coconut, caramel, and chocolate.
Pyure offers liquid stevia, as well as powdered forms. The latter use a combination of stevia and erythritol which allow it to be better for baking because the sweetness of the stevia is not as intense. The conversion is 1tsp of Pyure to 1tsp of sugar for their All-Purpose Stevia Blend sweetener.
Pyure offers the liquid stevia drops in a plain and vanilla flavor. Either are great options for sweetening beverages like tea or coffee.
This is a blend of erythritol and stevia. It is approximately twice as sweet a sugar. This makes it a better baking substitute than plain stevia, which is 200-400x sweeter than sugar.
What Not to Buy
As with most products, some brands are better than others. There are stevia blends from companies that use fillers which spike blood glucose, like maltodextrin or dextrose. Similarly, some stevia blends are mixed with sugar, which defeats the purpose of using the alternative sweetener.
I am confident that there are more products than the ones I list below that are not optimal for keto. Be sure to read the label on each package before purchasing to make sure the ingredients are keto-friendly.
Brands to Avoid
Stevia in the Raw
Stevia in the Raw contains dextrose in addition to stevia. Dextrose is a form of sugar and can cause a blood glucose response when consumed in moderate amounts.
Don’t panic! Most of the Truvia products are keto-friendly. However, they do offer a “cane sugar blend”, which does have stevia, erythritol, and cane sugar. This product is basically sugar, so do not mistake it with their other keto-friendly blends of sweeteners.
Erythritol is a low-calorie sweetener that is approximately 70% as sweet as sugar. It is a sugar alcohol and it does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels because humans do not have the enzymes necessary to break it down.
Sugar alcohols like erythritol pass through the digestive system and end in the colon where bacteria ferment. As a result, consuming an excess of erythritol can cause bloating or gas. Most of the erythritol absorbs into the blood and excretes through the urine, so only a small amount will end in the color.
Erythritol usually derives from corn or wheat. If you are sensitive to either of these grains, erythritol will not be a good option for you.
Erythritol is one of the most common baking sugar-substitutes because of it can be subbed nearly 1:1 with sugar. Also, erythritol does not have a bitter aftertaste like stevia. However, most people notice a cooling effect in the back of the throat when consuming this sugar alcohol.
Many brands offer erythritol in a granular, powdered, and brown sugar form. Most options can be found on Amazon, but they are becoming more common to see in grocery stores.
What to Buy
Make sure to check the ingredients of the sweetener before purchasing. Avoid any erythritol products that contain anti-caking agents like maltodextrin. Most erythritol products will either be pure erythritol, or a blend of erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit. The blends will mitigate the cooling effect of erythritol, and possible GI distress.
Now Foods is the brand that I use personally for erythritol. The only ingredient is erythritol, so I feel comfortable consuming it when I need a sugar substitute.
I always have a bag of this in my pantry to use as a sugar replacement in keto baked goods. It measures almost 1:1 with sugar. I tend to use less than the recipe calls for because I prefer less sweet desserts.
I typically make my own powdered erythritol by blending up the granular erythritol mentioned above. However, this is a great option if you are looking only for a powdered sugar replacement.
Anthony’s offers several keto-friendly products, including granular erythritol. It is available on Amazon and does not use any additives or filler ingredients.
This brand does not use fillers, additives, or anti-caking agents. It is available in a 1-pound or 3-pound bag on Amazon and is one of the cheaper options.
Similar to other brands of granular erythritol, this easily substitutes sugar in any baked keto foods.
This is the most popular brand of erythritol. I can find it in my local grocery store, and online. They offer granular, powdered, and brown sugar forms. Their products contain oligosaccharides, which are starches not digested by the body and therefore will not have a blood glucose response. However, be aware that it may not be the most optimal sugar substitute compared to pure forms of erythritol.
Granular erythritol is one of my staple baking ingredients. It’s great to used in any baked keto dessert.
This is a great powdered sugar substitute. You can also easily make this at home by blending up granular erythritol until it becomes a powder.
The Swerve Brown Sweetener measures the same as regular brown sugar. It is a perfect replacement for recipes that call for brown sugar rather than regular sugar.
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener derived from the mogrosides in the luo han guo plant native to Southeast Asia. It is 150-200x sweeter than sugar. Unlike stevia, monk fruit does not have a bitter aftertaste.
Monk fruit is similar to stevia because it does not raise blood sugar levels. It is a great option for those who do not like the aftertaste of stevia, although some people claim that it has a “weird” taste. It can be used in tea, coffee, sauces, smoothies, or anything that you might normally use stevia for.
What to Buy
The plant luo han guo is difficult to grow and export, so monk fruit can be expensive and hard to find. It can also be produced poorly. Cheap monk fruit products are often not extracted properly and may contain contaminants.
This does not mean that all expensive monk fruit brands are well-sourced.
It is important to research the sourcing of the product before purchasing. The brands listed below are ones that I use and trust for quality monk fruit.
I personally purchase monk fruit from this brand. I believe they source their monk fruit well and offer high quality products. In addition to liquid monk fruit, Lakanto has other forms of sugar substitutes, sugar-free baking mixes and more.
Similar to liquid stevia, these drops are great for sweetening coffee, tea, or other beverages. In addition to an original version, they offer the liquid drops in several flavors in including vanilla, chocolate, and lemon.
Monk fruit is 150-200x sweeter than sugar, so this granular sugar 1:1 replacement is a mix of erythritol and monk fruit. It is great for baking keto desserts. With less erythritol, it may have a lower impact on the gut than a pure form of erythritol.
The Lakanto Golden Monkfruit measures the same as regular brown sugar. It is a perfect replacement for recipes that call for brown sugar rather than regular sugar. Similar to the granular form, this product is a combination of monk fruit extract and erythritol.
The Lakanto Powder Sugar substitute is a 2:1 confectioner’s sugar replacement. It is a combination of monk fruit extract and erythritol.
Now Foods offers a liquid form of monk fruit. I use several products from this brand and have always been satisfied with the quality.
Similar to liquid stevia, these drops are great for sweetening coffee, tea, or other beverages. The drops are organic and non-GMO.
What Not to Buy
As mentioned above, some forms of monk fruit are not extracted well. In addition, some monk fruit products contain fillers which spike blood glucose, like maltodextrin or dextrose. This is not an extensive list of monk fruit brands that are not optimal. Doing research before purchasing a monk fruit product is important to ensure you are getting one that is high quality and keto-friendly.
Brands to Avoid
Monk Fruit in the Raw
Dextrose is used in addition to the monk fruit. Dextrose is a form of sugar and can cause a blood glucose response when consumed in moderate amounts.
The company has been accused of removing negative reviews or changing them entirely. I would avoid all products from this company.
Sweeteners to Avoid
Some sweeteners are better than others. If you are looking for a sugar replacement that will not raise blood glucose levels or cause an insulin response, be sure to avoid the sweeteners listed below.
Several of the sweeteners listed below are marketed as healthy, but they are not good for keto because they will raise blood sugar levels.
Brands to Avoid
These little packets are usually found at restaurants on the tables. They may seem like a healthier alternative to sugar, but they contain aspartame, maltodextrin, dextrose, and acesulfame potassium. All of these ingredients are essentially different forms of sugar. Equal should be avoided because it is really just sugar.
Splenda contains sucralose and maltodextrin. The former is a non-caloric artificial sweetener. It does not raise blood sugar levels as significantly as sugar. However, it can cause water retention or other negative side effects. Maltodextrin is a bulking agent, but also contains maltose, which is a form of glucose. Although there may be minimal amounts of maltodextrin in Splenda, there are other non-caloric sweeteners that are more optimal for keto.
Ingredients to Avoid
Maltitol is a common ingredient found in sugar-free candies, bars, and other packaged products. It is a sugar alcohol that claims to have no impact on blood glucose. Unfortunately, many tests have shown that maltitol behaves almost the same as sugar in the body. For this reason, it should be avoided.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is used similarly to erythritol. It has approximately half the impact on blood glucose compared to sugar. This means that 10 grams of xylitol would behave like 5 grams of sugar in the body. Xylitol is also extremely toxic to dogs, even in small amounts. I would recommend avoiding xylitol and instead using erythritol because it has almost no impact on blood glucose.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is formed by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups with chlorine atoms. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that sucralose negatively impacts gut health. I see sucralose often in sugar-free drinks. These can be consumed occasionally, but having several sucralose-sweetened beverages a day could have negative side effects.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made from two amino acids aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. It is usually found in diet sodas and other sugar-free products. The artificial sweetener is very heavily studied and has a lot of controversy. Aspartame has many potential claimed side effects, and can potentially stall weight loss. As a result, I would recommend avoiding aspartame.
"Natural" Sweeteners to Avoid
Coconut sugar, also called palm sugar, is marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar. The claims are that it contains more nutrients that sugar because it is less processed, and it contains less fructose. Fructose is linked to metabolic syndrome and provides no value to the body because it cannot be used as fuel like glucose.
Instead of fructose, coconut sugar contains mostly sucrose, whereas table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. However, table sugar is sucrose, and since coconut sugar is 70% sucrose, it still contains a significant amount of fructose. The bottom line is that coconut sugar is not good for keto, and not significantly better than table sugar.
Agave syrup is another “natural” sweetener that claims to be healthier than sugar. However, it contains more fructose than table sugar. It will act nearly the same as sugar in the body and should be avoided on keto.
There are many health benefits to consuming local, raw honey. However, for someone following a strict keto diet, honey is not optimal. It will behave like sugar in the body and raise blood glucose and insulin levels.
Dates are a sweet fruit derived from the date palm tree. They are used in many recipes as an alternative to sugar, or eaten like normal fruit. Although they are technically a “whole food”, dates are very high in sugar and will raise blood glucose and insulin. On a keto diet, dates should be avoided.
There are many alternatives to table sugar. Most are not optimal for a keto diet. However, stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit are great options to use in place of sugar.
Sweet foods are not required on any diet. Arguably, the best option would be to eliminate all sweeteners. However, this is not sustainable or practical for most people. If you are in need of a sugar substitute, stick to the three options listed above to stay keto while satisfying your sweet tooth.