The Top 3 Keto Sweeteners (Plus, Which Ones to Avoid)

The Top 3 Keto Sweeteners (Plus, Which Ones to Avoid)

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Embracing a low-carb diet like keto or paleo involves drastically limiting carbohydrates. That means bye-bye cookies, cakes, soda, candy, fruit, sweet sauces, and common sweeteners like table sugar, agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and honey.  

When sugar is suddenly nixed from the diet, many people find that their sugar cravings spike. Though these cravings usually recede as your body comfortably settles into low-carb living, managing them can be tricky in the beginning. Plus, even after the adjustment period is over, everyone gets a sweet tooth now and then! 

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of keto-friendly sweeteners to give you your sweet fix. Yet, knowledge is key, as some sugar substitutes are better than others. Read on to learn which keto sweeteners are best and which to avoid.  

Why Eliminate Sugar?

Eliminating sugar from your diet, a key aspect of the keto lifestyle, offers several health benefits:[*]

  • Aids in weight loss and management by reducing empty calories
  • Helps stabilize energy levels by avoiding blood sugar spikes and crashes
  • Reduces risks of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
  • Promotes better cognitive function and reduces risk of cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s
  • Supports better oral health

What to Look for in a Keto Sweetener

There are key characteristics to look for in your ideal keto-friendly sweetener. These include:

  • Sugar-free: An essential characteristic of a keto-friendly sweetener is being free of sugar. This ensures that the sweetener will not interfere with your state of ketosis.
  • Zero net carbs: Similarly, your chosen sweetener should boast zero net carbs, which are total carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols.
  • Minimal impact on blood sugar and insulin levels: Maintaining low blood sugar levels is essential to a keto diet. Thus, the perfect sweetener won’t trigger blood sugar or insulin spikes.
  • Excellent safety profile: Your sweetener of choice should have undergone extensive safety testing to ensure it’s safe for human consumption.
  • No adverse side effects: The best sweeteners are those that don’t cause unwanted side effects like headaches, digestive issues, or allergies.

The Best Keto Sweeteners

Navigating the world of sugar alternatives can be tricky, but when you’re well-informed, it’s easier to make decisions that align with your keto lifestyle. There are three keto-friendly sweeteners that we recommend that meet the criteria mentioned above. 

#1: Stevia

Derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, stevia is a natural sweetener that’s been used for more than 1,500 years.[*] As a non-nutritive sweetener, stevia contains zero calories, carbohydrates, or other nutrients, making it an excellent choice for keto dieters. 

The sweetness profile of stevia is quite potent, with active compounds ranging from 30 to 150 times sweeter than traditional sugar.[*] This intensity means that a little stevia goes a long way in satisfying your sweet cravings. While stevia imparts a pleasing sweet flavor, some varieties may present a slightly bitter aftertaste. 

One of the primary benefits of stevia is it doesn’t affect blood sugar response.[*] In fact, some research suggests that stevia may even lower blood sugar.[*] Other research suggests that stevia may also contribute to reduced blood pressure in some people.[*]

Out of all the keto sweeteners, the safety of stevia is the most well-established. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified steviol glycosides (the refined extracts from stevia) as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in food and beverages.[*] This classification means that the FDA considers stevia safe based on the available scientific data and consensus among qualified experts.

It’s worth noting that raw and whole leaf extracts of stevia currently don’t have GRAS certification, primarily due to insufficient toxicological information.[*]

#2: Monk Fruit 

Originating from Southeast Asia, monk fruit is a natural sweetener that’s been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. Similar to stevia, monk fruit sweetener provides zero calories and carbs and doesn’t appear to spike blood sugar or insulin levels.[*]

What makes monk fruit unique is its rich composition of antioxidants called mogrosides. These natural compounds are responsible for the sweetness of monk fruit, which can be 100 to 250 times sweeter than regular sugar.[*]

Monk fruit is classified as GRAS, but as a relatively new addition to the market, there are currently no studies investigating the potential long-term impacts of its regular use. This lack of information doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmful—just that more information is needed. 

One potential downside? Monk fruit is more expensive than other options.

#3: Allulose

Allulose is a naturally occurring sugar found in certain foods like raisins and jackfruit. Its molecular structure is very similar to fructose, but it has only about 10% of the calories as table sugar. Allulose is not as sweet as the other sweeteners on this list and is only about 70% as sweet as table sugar. 

Like other keto-friendly sweeteners, it has virtually no impact on blood sugar or insulin levels.[*] Even better, allulose behaves a lot like regular sugar in baking, making it a popular choice for keto recipes. 

Allulose is classified as GRAS, but like monk fruit, it has little long-term supporting data. 

What About Erythritol?

Erythritol is an indigestible carbohydrate called a sugar alcohol. It’s regularly featured on “best” lists for keto-friendly sweeteners, however, its safety has recently been called into question due to a study published in Nature Medicine in February 2023.[*]

The study followed 36,000 participants and found a correlation between high erythritol levels in the blood and an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Further investigation in a small human trial showed that consumption of erythritol elevated blood erythritol levels and increased platelet aggregation, which heightens the risk of blood clots. 

While these findings don’t definitively prove erythritol to be harmful, they warrant a cautious approach to its use. Until further research provides more clarity, limiting erythritol in your diet is a wise choice.

What About Other Sugar Alcohols?  

Like erythritol, the FDA currently recognizes other sugar alcohols (xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, etc.) as safe. However, our understanding of these molecules remains incomplete. 

One well-known side effect of sugar alcohols is their potential to cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Consumption can result in unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Given these effects, many individuals prefer to avoid sugar alcohols in their diet.

What About Artificial Sweeteners?

Classic artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame, are technically compatible with the keto diet due to their low carbohydrate content. However, there are concerns about the potential health impacts of these low-carb sweeteners. 

Some research indicates they may negatively impact gut health and blood glucose metabolism, though further research is needed.[*] For now, it’s best to stick to the natural sugar substitutes like stevia and monk fruit sweeteners.  

What Sweetener Does IQBAR Use?

At IQBAR, we place a high value on our ingredients’ quality, safety, and health effects. That’s why our products have no added sugar. Instead, we lightly sweeten IQBARs and IQMIX with non-GMO steviol glycosides. Stevia has the most robust safety profile of all keto-friendly sweeteners and has no impact on blood sugar levels, aligning with the goals of a keto diet.

Try IQBAR in delicious flavors like Chocolate Sea Salt, Almond Butter Chip, Wild Blueberry, and Matcha Chai, and IQMIX in Peach Mango, Lemon Lime, Blueberry Pomegranate, and Blood Orange!

 

Written by Katie Koschalk, a health and wellness writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and certified personal trainer based in California.