Sweeteners and keto are simply two incompatible words. The moment you utter the word “sweet” you know it is nothing else but carbohydrates and simply put – keto diet is a diet very low on carbohydrates where the content of carbs is minimal if not zero. But if you are on a keto diet and have occasional sugar cravings, how do you deal with it? Well, the answer is sweeteners.
The sweeteners vary from natural to artificial and finally the sugar alcohols. How are these different and which of these are safe when on keto?
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are man-made sugar substitutes and being far sweeter as compared to sugar, these are used in very small quantities than sugar. The glycemic index of these artificial sweeteners is variable. But as these are used in minuscule amounts, hardly any significant change is shown in the blood sugar levels. A few of the artificial sweeteners are saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame.
Are artificial sweeteners safe for keto?
Artificial sweeteners do have their share of demerits.
Aspartame, for one, increases the possibility of being attacked by heart ailments, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, cancer and many more. But the keyword here is the “amount.” It is hazardous only when consumed in huge proportions. If had in controlled doses, it is safe enough.
What is the safe dosage? According to the FDA, a person can have 50 mg of Aspartame per kg body weight daily.
Sucralose is another artificial sweetener and the best part about it is that it passes through the body undigested, meaning it is not metabolized. As a result, hardly any carbs or calories are added to your body. It neither raises blood insulin nor sugar; also Incretin, the gut-signaling hormone, GLP-1. However, one thing to be cautious about – it produces toxic compounds if exposed to high temperatures.
What are Natural Sweeteners?
Natural Sweeteners quite naturally mean sweeteners obtained from the Mother Nature. And some of the favorable ones are Monk fruit, Inulin, Stevia, Allulose, and Tagatose.
Are natural sweeteners harmful for keto?
Here we will talk about some of the natural sweeteners which have a lesser bearing on a keto diet.
Stevia is obtained from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. It has no nutrition value and therefore adds no carbs or calories. Rather, studies have proved that it helps in lowering levels of blood sugar. But, being very sweet (300 times than regular sugar), it is effective even in small proportions. The FDA has designated the refined form “Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS).”
The only caution to be taken is to be definite that you are buying Stevia only or a mix of Stevia with Erythritol. The Stevia product should never contain maltodextrin or dextrose as is commonly found as these increase blood sugar.
Allulose is another natural sweetener found in some fruits and wheat and since our body is not able to metabolize it, it adds no calories. Moreover, it has a glycemic index of zero and hardly causes any digestive issues. It is considered to be GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA.
Monk Fruit is a Chinese fruit that is 300 times sweeter than regular sugar but has no calories or carbs and is thus perfect for the keto diet. Moreover, it stimulates the release of insulin and thus manages the levels of blood sugar. But always be careful that it is not mixed with molasses, sugar or other sweeteners before buying it.
Inulin belongs to the family of fructans and is found in chicory, Jerusalem artichokes and onions. Inulin does not affect your digestive health if had in small proportions. At higher temperatures, it decomposes into molecules of fructose and these can be metabolized. So it is better to have Inulin in cold foods and drinks only.
Yacon Syrup is taken out from the starchy, sweet, fruit-like roots (tubers) of the Yacon plants found in South America. It has 25% digestible carbs (simple sugars) but is less sweet than sugar. This is not considered keto-friendly due to its carb content and needs to be combined with other sweeteners to attain the sweetness. Moreover, being temperature-sensitive, you can have it in cold recipes only.
BochaSweet is obtained from a Japanese squash, kabocha which contains a pentose sugar. As the sugar is not digested it adds no carbs and thus has zero effect on levels of blood sugar and insulin. It has the same sweetness as sugar.
Tagatose is another natural sweetener nearly as sweet as sugar but having almost zero bearings on insulin and sugar levels. It is available in cacao, fruits, and dairy. When used in fewer amounts it is keto-friendly and behaves like regular sugar.
What are Sugar alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are similar to sugar chemically but being resistant to digestion to some extent, these do not increase sugar level to the same extent as glucose. Xylitol, Maltitol, Erythritol are some of the sugar alcohols.
Can you count on Sugar alcohols when on keto?
Sugar alcohols are again quite safe and effective, especially the first two we have discussed.
Erythritol cannot be digested easily and thus has very less effect on blood sugar and insulin. It is available in vegetables and fruits and is entirely safe for the keto diet. It is almost 80% as sweet as normal sugar but has a calorie content of 5%. Further, it has minimal digestive disturbances. The only demerit is it does not dissolve as well as sugar and can make foods gritty, but this problem can be solved by grinding before use.
Xylitol is similarly sweet as sugar but has only 1 gram of carbs and 3 calories every gram, is extracted from vegetables and fruits and is usually present in candies, sugar-free gum, and mints. Therefore it has a lesser effect on both blood sugar and insulin levels. Moreover, it is beneficial for your teeth. The flip side is its effect on your digestion. It is highly toxic for dogs too.
Maltitol is generally used in sugar-free items and has 80% sweetness of table sugar and is therefore needed in large amounts. As it breaks down to sugar it increases the glucose and insulin levels. It also causes digestive disorders. As is evident from these, Maltitol is best avoided.
There are many other sweeteners that have been left out of this discussion since they are not conducive to ketosis.
What should be the thumb rule while choosing the sweetener?
We have gone through an array of sweeteners. But what should be the attributes for choosing one?
- It should be low in carbs and calories
- It should be much sweeter than regular sugar, then small amounts will suffice
- Glycemic Index is quite misleading and should not be a point of concern
- For brand-name sweeteners, there should be a check for the fillers
- Have a realistic check once in a while to find the sugar and insulin levels
- Has least side-effects and is not hazardous even when had for long and in reasonable doses
But don’t get addicted to these sweeteners or else you will go on increasing the content and your keto diet will go for a toss!