Sugar is basically off limits on a ketogenic diet, but not all hope is lost — you CAN still enjoy sweetness while eating keto. All it takes is some education on the right types of sweeteners to use. Read on to find the top four sweeteners you can use for a low-carb keto diet and why we recommend them.
What Defines a Keto-Friendly Sweetener?
First, let’s start with what each of these top keto sweeteners have in common and how they follow our guidelines:
The glycemic index (GI) refers to how much a food raises blood sugar. It runs from zero to 100, zero representing no raise in blood sugar and insulin levels. The goal with the ketogenic diet is to remain in ketosis, so staying as close as possible to zero GI for sweeteners is the best choice.
Obviously, avoiding added sugars is a necessity on keto. We’re training the body to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates; therefore, carb intake should be kept very low. Even fruit should be severely limited, preferably eliminated, so it makes sense that anything with added sugars are a no-go.
Another obvious guideline when you’re keto: low- or no-carb sweeteners are a must if you want to stay in ketosis.
Top 4 Low-Carb Keto Diet Sweeteners
Now that we’ve established some guidelines, here are our top four recommendations for sweeteners on a low-carb ketogenic diet:
Stevia is from the extract of the herb Stevia rebaudiana. In its pure form, stevia contains no calories, no carbs and is zero on the glycemic index. Additionally, It is typically 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar, meaning you only need to use a little to get a sweet taste in foods.
Benefits and Using Stevia:
Besides not affecting blood sugar or contributing carbs or calories, stevia has also been shown to actually benefit blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal . It also contains compounds like apigenin and quercetin, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress .
Stevia is most commonly used in powder or liquid form (as Stevia drops). The earlier forms of stevia tended to have a bitter aftertaste, but that has been mostly improved in the most popular brands.
When buying stevia, especially the powdered versions, it’s a must that there aren’t any filler ingredients. Many commercial stevia-based sweeteners will add fillers like maltodextrin, dextrose, cane sugar, or even artificial sweeteners. These can all raise blood sugar, contain hidden carbs, and have other negative side effects we don’t need.
Try these keto recipes using Stevia as a sweetener:
Erythritol is a white, powdery sweetener. It’s categorized as a sugar alcohol, which can sound scary, but it’s actually found naturally in many foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, and does not appear to have negative side effects when used in moderation. The structure of its molecules gives it a sweet taste without the side effects of sugar.
Benefits and Using Erythritol:
Like stevia, erythritol has a glycemic index of zero. It’s also very low in calories (about 0.24 calories per gram, which is only 6% of the calories in sugar). Erythritol is not quite as sweet as sugar, so you might need to use a little more of it to get the same sweetness.
One caveat of sugar alcohols is that they can sometimes cause digestive distress, such as mild cramping or bloating. However, erythritol is different from other sugar alcohols like sorbitol, maltitol, or xylitol. That’s because almost all of it gets absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream before being excreted in the urine, not affecting the colon like the others.
You can find 100% pure erythritol at the store, as well as certain brands that combine erythritol is other ingredients. Just make sure the erythritol doesn’t contain additives that spike your carb count and affect blood sugar.
Try this keto recipe using erythritol as a sweetener: Macadamia Nut Fat Bombs
#3 Monk Fruit
Monk fruit sweetener is made naturally from the antioxidants in the fruit and provides a low-calorie sweetness without the insulin spikes of sugar. Monk fruit was originally grown and harvested in small amounts from family orchards in forested mountains. With it’s popularity growing, it’s now being grown and distributed all over the world.
Benefits and Using Monk Fruit:
Like stevia and erythritol, monk fruit scores a zero on the glycemic index and may even have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar. Unlike stevia, monk fruit never has a bitter aftertaste. It’s also much sweeter than sugar, around 300 times, so a little goes a long way!
In addition, the sweetness of monk fruit comes from compounds known as mogrosides, which research has shown may inhibit tumor growth in pancreatic cancer .
There are no known health concerns from using monk fruit, as long as you avoid any monk fruit-based products with added carbs of fillers. The only real downside of monk fruit is that it’s more costly than stevia or erythritol and is not as widely available.
Swerve is actually a combination of erythritol, natural citrus flavor, and oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates created by adding enzymes to starchy root vegetables. I know what you’re thinking here: Carbs? Starches? But don’t worry: the body doesn’t digest oligosaccharides; thus, they don’t affect blood sugar.
Swerve is found at most natural health food stores and is becoming more popular in mainstream grocery stores.
Benefits and Using Swerve:
Swerve is all-natural, no-calorie, has a zero glycemic index, and is great for baking because it can be browned and caramelized just like normal cane sugar. It’s become really useful for keto recipes, especially baking desserts. Plus, the prebiotics in the oligosaccharides of Swerve might even help stimulate beneficial gut bacteria.
The advantage of Swerve over pure erythritol is that it can be easier for using cup-for-cup when replacing sugar in a recipe and although it contains a small amount of carbs, they’re non-impact carbs.
A Note on Artificial Sweeteners
Many of the most common artificial sweeteners out there, such as aspartame, sucralose, and splenda, are technically low glycemic and low in calories, but we encourage approaching these with caution. In some people, they can affect blood sugar, lead to more cravings, and even disrupt hormones and ketosis. Basically, they’re better avoided on a ketogenic diet.
When it comes to sweeteners on a keto diet, stick with natural alternatives that allow you to enjoy treats here and there without worrying about the impact of sugar-filled cheats. Thankfully, the top four sweeteners for a low-carb keto diet listed above are great options for doing so!
Sources: Anton, Stephen D., Corby K. Martin, Hongmei Han, Sandra Coulon, William T. Cefalu, Paula Geiselman, and Donald A. Williamson. “Effects of Stevia, Aspartame, and Sucrose on Food Intake, Satiety, and Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels.” Appetite 55.1 (2010): 37-43. Web.  Ghanta, Srijani, Anindita Banerjee, Avijit Poddar, and Sharmila Chattopadhyay. “Oxidative DNA Damage Preventive Activity and Antioxidant Potential OfStevia Rebaudiana(Bertoni) Bertoni, a Natural Sweetener.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55.26 (2007): 10962-0967. Web.  Liu, C., L-H Dai, D-Q Dou, L-Q Ma, and Y-X Sun. “A Natural Food Sweetener with Anti-pancreatic Cancer Properties.” Oncogenesis 5.4 (2016): n. pag. Web.
Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.