Sweeteners are an excellent way to make nutrients palatable while sweet flavor has been a symbolism of happiness and festivity in human history. Many sweeteners have strong isolated science around them while most of the negative press or science around sweeteners is associative and based on epidemiology which shows no causatory relationship between sweeteners and any negative claims about them. In fact, some skepticicm should be drawn towards an individual or expert authority who utilizes such studies to demonize any ingredient, including sweeteners. Incorporating sweet foods into a diet can help with adherence while strategically providing a high "reward" per nutrient. As a side note, many over the counter tools used to measure ketones or glucose can be rather inaccurate with readings fluctuating throughout the day and provide a vague snapshot of what is going on within our body. This can lead to obsessive wild goose chases for many people while(wrongfully) blaming sweeteners for specific problems within their diet. With these disclaimers set aside, here are our favorite sweeteners, mostly based on their taste, accessibility and usage. They are all very low to "zero" glycemic. We'd say, find one that you enjoy and use it!
MONK FRUIT EXTRACT
Also known as "Luo Han Guo", this sweetener can be found in powdered form and is typically 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. It has a distinct fruity taste with no bitter after taste. On its own it can be rather empowering as a very tiny bit of it can go a long way. The "sweetness" is derived from mogroside IV and V which are concentrated antioxidants found in 1% of the fruit and overall don't have an impact on blood sugars. Monk fruit is found in eastern parts of Asia and the fruit itself contains carbohydrates in its natural fruit form but after drying, the amount of sugar components are drastically reduced to a negligible amount. It is considered a "natural" and "zero calorie" sweetener.
Normally monk fruit is added to other sweeteners such as rare sugars and sugar alcohols to add more weight or to dilute the potency of monk fruit. This dilution makes it more suitable to be added in a 1:1 ratio to replace sugars in order to "Ketofy" a dessert or sweet recipe that contains sugars.
Monk fruit has different grades depending on the concentration of the mogrosides and the percentage of mogrosides is proportional to how sweet and pure the extract is. This can be all the way from 20% to 90%. We prefer using at least 80% and from a lab tested source. Our Energy Pods contain the highest grade and concentration(90% or more) of Monk Fruit extract we can find globally.
STEVIA LEAVES OR EXTRACT
Stevia has been used in South America for more than 1500 years to sweeten teas and in medicines. Now, the extract is used globally to sweeten foods and beverages.
Stevia can either come in a powder, an extract or leaves. The stevia plant can also be grown locally depending on your climate and soil. Some people use it to brew a sweet stevia tea using the leaves on their own. The active compounds are steiol glycosides which can be 150-250 times as sweet as sugars which are heat stable. Due to this feature and its light weight, it can be diluted with other dense sweeteners such as sugar alcohols to be used in foods as a 1:1 replacement for sugars.
Much of the negative connotation around stevia revolves around studies that have shown associative risks and hence most claims hold little to no value in the general context of using it as a sweetener. We don't use it at Ketogeek due to its slightly bitter after taste but in the form of leaves, we've noticed that it doesn't have a pungent bitter after taste compared to the extract.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is a white water soluble compound. Unlike sugars that impact teeth health, Xylitol(and Erythritol) do not have a negative impact on teeth. It has a slight cooling effect when consumed and is about 60-70% as sweet as sugar. With an extremely low glycemic index of 7, it is an ideal sweetener replacement for sugars when it comes to weight management. It has no known toxicity to humans though anecdotes to exist on causing digestive issues when consumed in large amounts though no issues occur at doses up to 430g of Xylitol per day. Xylitol is, however, poisonous to certain animals including dogs and hence may not be ideal in places where pets are present. Xylitol is normally broken down by our gut bacteria
Erythritol is our favorite sweetener at Ketogeek and is used in our Energy Pods due to its sweet and cooling taste and rigorous science supporting its benefits. It is zero glycemic, doesn't raise insulin and has all the benefits of Xylitol except it's not toxic to dogs. It is a sweetener found naturally in fruits and produced within our own body as well. It doesn't attract moisture and is absorbed by the body before it enters the large intestines and hence doesn't have potential the laxative effects caused by other sugar alcohols such as Xylitol and maltitol. As erythtritol also can't be processed by bacteria, it also prevents tooth decay.
Other sweeteners we are open to and are worth mentioning are below:
Sweet foods have been part of human evolution and we have hence developed a strong propensity towards sweet foods. Hence, they can be enjoyed and strategically incorporated even on a Keto or low carb diet. Usually any problems that are blamed on the sweeteners are not because of the sweetener but because of the foods that contain the sweetener as sweeteners aren't usually ingested in isolation but as a recipe or a food product that has undergone several stages of processing. Isolated science surrounding sweeteners is usually indicates their inertness and relative safety towards the body. Now go and enjoy life!
Fahad is the founder of Ketogeek and hosts the Ketogeek Podcast, a world class health show about food, nutrition and health. He is into resistance training, Ashtanga yoga, calisthenics and various forms of training styles. Armed with a idealistic goals distilled in a world of realism, his goal is to help the world make a better place. He leads a life of extreme generalism or as he describes it, 'The Renaissance Lifestyle'.
“It never ceases to amaze me how prosaic, pedestrian, unimaginative people can persistently pontificate about classical grammatical structure as though it's fucking rocket science. These must be the same people who hate Picasso, because he couldn't keep the paint inside the lines and the colors never matched the numbers.”
― Abbe Diaz