Pizza and burgers aside, one of the hardest things to give up on the ketogenic diet is sweets, and who doesn’t have the occasional sweet tooth?
For years we have been telling our brain that it needs glucose (or sugar) for energy and that if it doesn’t maintain steady blood sugar levels, it won’t run optimally.
The truth is, people over-consume highly processed sugars such as fructose and corn syrup which can lead to ugly results like diabetes and obesity .
On the ketogenic diet, sugary and starchy foods are the worst things to eat and will kick your right out of ketosis if you aren’t careful.
Fortunately, these sugar cravings will typically pass after a few weeks on a strict, low-carb diet, but if you do decide to indulge in some of that sweet sugar goodness, maybe for your tea or coffee, just remember to always opt for a natural sweetener that won’t affect your blood sugar levels.
The rule: always choose natural sweeteners over artificial sweeteners while on keto.
As its name might suggest, natural sweeteners are those that are completely natural and not processed, meaning zero unhealthy chemicals! They are only made up of natural ingredients.
When picking a keto-friendly sweetener, we look for:
- A sweetener that will have little to no impact on insulin and blood sugar levels.
- Has nutritional value.
- Provides healthy benefits.
- And is both low carb and glycemic of course!
Now that you know what a healthy sweetener should look like, let’s look at the top four that meet these criteria.
Top Four Keto-Friendly Sweeteners
1. Stevia / Stevia leaf extract
Stevia is a sweetener derived from the Stevia plant and has been used for thousands of years. It’s first documented use is by South American tribes who used this plant to sweeten their tea due to its wealth of health benefits.
This zero calorie sweetener is actually 300 times sweeter than sugar, with its sweetness derived from two primary sources that are isolated from the stevia plant: stevioside and rebaudioside compounds.
The stevioside compounds have a sweeter and more licorice-like taste, whereas rebaudioside compounds are isolated in highly-refined commercial stevia products due to their sweetness without the licorice taste.
Stevia is the perfect natural sweetener because it has no impact whatsoever on blood sugar levels and has even been found to have a trove of health benefits , such as blood sugar balance.
Another reason you should switch to stevia is that it has a nice blend of nutrients. Close studies on the stevia leaf extract has found that it contains a broad range of nutrients, such as carotenoids, amino acids, polyphenols, and chlorophyll compounds.
2. Monk fruit / Monk fruit extract
Also known as lo han or lo han guo, monk fruit is a small, melon-like fruit that hails from Southeast Asia. Similar to the stevia plant, monk fruit has been harvested and consumed for hundreds of years, and even has its roots in Eastern medicine.
Monk fruit is an excellent option as a sweetener because it has a positive impact on blood sugar levels and also comes with its fair share of nutritional value. Like stevia, this bold fruit has zero calories. It also contains amino acids, polysaccharides, flavonoids, and triterpenes.
While there is less research on monk fruit compared to stevia, preliminary studies have shown it has near identical immune-boosting and anti-microbial properties as stevia, amongst other health benefits.
*Note: When purchasing monk fruit or stevia, be sure to keep an eye out for the whole-food extract or the purest form available.
3. Erythritol / Sugar Alcohol
While not as well-known as stevia and monk fruit, erythritol is just as great an option. This white, powdery sweetener is technically categorized as a sugar alcohol, but can be found naturally in plenty of foods (typically fruits and vegetables). It delivers a sweet taste without the unpleasant effects of sugar and may even have antioxidant potential .
This healthy sweetener also happens to be very low in calories—roughly 0.24 calories per gram—and while not as sweet as sugar, it can still kick your sugar cravings to the curb.
Unlike other sugar alcohols like maltitol or sorbitol that can sometimes cause digestive distress, erythritol gets absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream before it is excreted through urine, and thus, does not affect the colon.
This low calorie sweetener can be found at most grocery stores. Look out for 100% pure erythritol as well as reputable brands that combine it with other quality ingredients. Make sure there are no additives included that can spike your carb count and affect your blood sugar levels.
4. Swerve / Combination of sweeteners
Swerve, like the other sweeteners on this list, is an all-natural, zero glycemic index sweetener, and is actually a combination of natural citrus flavor, erythritol, and oligosaccharides.
This sweetener is also great for baking, as it can be caramelized and browned like normal cane sugar, making it an excellent option for low-carb keto recipes and baking desserts. The prebiotics in the oligosaccharides in swerve can even help stimulate beneficial gut bacteria to boot!
Swerve has become more popular in recent years and is beginning to appear more and more in mainstream grocery stores, but if you have trouble finding it, try visiting a natural health food store.
Low-Down on Sugar
Even if you aren’t a sweets buff, sugar is everywhere and found in a huge number of food items. It can even pop up in surprising places you wouldn’t have thought, like cheese, low-fat yogurts, fruit juice, sports drinks, granola, and so much more.
But the fact of the matter remains, the stuff just isn’t good for you. Sugar consumption has long been linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including obesity and heart disease.
The biggest issue people face when dealing with sugar consumption is the understanding of food labels, which can often be misleading and difficult to comprehend. Since so many ingredients are created in a lab, it can be a struggle to recognize or even pronounce many of them.
A good rule of thumb is to look for labels that are straightforward and contain simple labels. If you’re buying peanut butter, for example, the only ingredients should be peanuts and sat; that’s all.
Keto and Sugar Cravings
The issue with your body and sugar is that your energy levels and overall health are invariably tied to your blood sugar. When your blood sugar levels are low, it’s common to experience fatigue, mood swings, and intense cravings.
Luckily, the keto diet is a lifestyle that puts an end to your body’s reliance on sugar. While it doesn’t happen overnight, your sugar cravings will go away. Similar to sugar, foods that are starchy and high in carbs have the same effects on your body.
By maintaining a proper balance of protein, fat, and fiber in your diet, you will keep your blood sugar from dipping, which is the culprit for your sugar cravings.
Don’t Fall for Artificial Sweeteners
We’ve all seen the ads; artificial sweeteners like Equal and Splenda and are often promoted as being low-calorie alternatives to sugar, and while they are technically low in calories and low glycemic, approach them with caution. These types of sweeteners can often lead to more cravings, have negative effects on blood sugar, and can even disrupt hormones and ketosis.
When it comes to indulging your sweet tooth, take the extra step and stick with natural alternatives to ensure the healthiest option.