Keto sweeteners – the best and the worst

What sweeteners are good on keto and low-carb diets? Check out the visual guide below. The ones to the left have less of an impact on people’s weight and blood sugar, the ones to the right are worse.
 
Keto sweeteners

Numbers

The numbers above are based on the effect the sweetener has on blood sugar and insulin resistance, for an equal amount of sweetness compared to white sugar (100 percent pure sugar).1

If you’re aiming to stay in ketosis, try to avoid the sweeteners to the right in the picture above. The best options are to the left. We suggest primarily using or .

Negative effects of all sweeteners

Note that while the sweeteners to the left above have small or non-existent direct effects on blood sugar levels (and weight), they still have other potential negative effects.

All sweeteners maintain cravings for sweet foods. Also, when added to caloric foods – e.g. a muffin – they result in a significantly increased feeling of reward. So by adding sweeteners to your foods you’re significantly increasing the risk that you’ll end up eating more than you need. This can slow down weight loss, or cause weight gain.

There are scientific studies showing that even adding non-caloric sweeteners to diet beverages may make it harder to lose weight.2

This means that all sweeteners, including the non-caloric ones above, have potentially negative effects. If you’re able to, you may be better off just avoiding all of them. Note that on a keto diet, cravings for sugary foods tend to decrease over time, making it easier and easier to avoid them.

However, most people enjoy something sweet once in a while. If so, we suggest trying to have it only occasionally. Keep reading to learn more, and to be able to make better-informed choices.

Using sugar as a sweetener

Sugar

Note that many sweeteners – white or brown sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar and dates – have a number of exactly 100. This is because these sweeteners are made up of sugar. To get the same amount of sweetness as white sugar, you’ll get about the pretty much an identical effect of these sweeteners, on blood sugar, weight and insulin resistance.

Sugar is bad, no surprise, so these are bad options, especially if you’re on a keto diet. Avoid.

Even worse than sugar: fructose

Amazingly, there are sweeteners that are even worse than sugar. Regular sugar contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. These sweeteners contain more fructose than glucose. While these sweeteners are slower to raise blood glucose – resulting in a deceptively low GI3 – they have even more harmful effects. Fructose in excess can result in fatty liver and insulin resistance, which increases the long-term negative effects of carbohydrates you eat later.

Fructose

These sweeteners with excess fructose – high fructose corn syrup (soda), fruit juice concentrate, honey and agave syrup – can likely have a slightly worse long-term effect than pure sugar. Thus we give them a number of 100+. Worst of all, with the highest fructose content of all? Agave syrup.

This is not to say that sugar is good. Clearly sugar is potentially very bad. But these sugars are super sugars. They are not good options on a keto diet.

 

Our recommendations

As stated above, we see potential negative effects of all sweeteners. However, if you’re going to use one, there are worse and less bad choices. Here are our top 2 suggestions:

Not-too-bad option #1: Stevia

SteviaStevia comes from the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which is native to South America, where it has been used for several hundred years. Steviol glycosides extracted from the plant are responsible for its sweet taste.

Pros
  • Stevia doesn’t contain carbs or calories and does not raise blood sugar.
  • Stevia appears to be safe and nontoxic.
Cons
  • Stevia doesn’t really taste like sugar. It has a licorice-like flavor and an undeniable aftertaste when used in moderate to large mounts. Therefore, using it sparingly is recommended.
  • At least one study has indicated that large amounts of stevia might increase insulin secretion, possibly increasing fat storage and reducing stevia’s advantage over sugar.4

Sweetness: 200-350 times sweeter than table sugar.

Best choices: Liquid stevia or 100% pure powdered or granulated stevia. Note that packets of granulated stevia such as Stevia in the Raw contain the sugar dextrose. The brand Truvia instead contains added erythritol (see below).

Not-too-bad option #2: Erythritol

ErythritolErythritol is a sugar alcohol, a compound that resembles sugar but is only partially digested and absorbed by the body. Erythritol occurs naturally in plants like grapes, melons, and mushrooms in small amounts. However, as a commercial sweetener, it is usually made from fermented corn or cornstarch.

Pros
  • Erythritol provides almost zero calories and is virtually carb free. After being absorbed, it passes into the urine without being used by the body.
  • Erythritol might be helpful in preventing dental plaque and cavities, compared to other sweeteners.5
Cons
  • Erythritol has a noticeable cooling sensation on the tongue, particularly when used in large amounts.
  • Although it causes fewer digestive issues than most sugar alcohols, some people have reported bloating, gas and loose stools after consuming erythritol.
  • While absorbing erythritol into our blood and excreting it into the urine appears to be safe, there is likely some potential for unknown health risks.

Sweetness: 70% as sweet as table sugar.

Best choices: Organic granulated erythritol or erythritol and stevia blends.

 

Slightly higher in carbs: Xylitol

XylitolLike erythritol, xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in fruits and vegetables in small amounts. It is produced commercially from corn cobs or birch trees. Xylitol is one of the most frequently used sweeteners in sugar-free chewing gum and mouthwash.

Note however, that xylitol is only low carb, not zero carb. So it’s not a perfect choice on a keto diet – the carbs quickly start to add up.

Pros
  • Xylitol has a low glycemic index of 13, and only 50% is absorbed in your small intestine. When used in small amounts, this results in a very minor impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Although its level of sweetness is identical to table sugar, xylitol contains 2.5 calories per gram, whereas sugar provides 4 calories per gram.
  • Like erythritol, it’s been shown to help prevent cavities, compared to other sweeteners.
Cons
  • Because 50% of xylitol is not absorbed but instead fermented by bacteria in your colon, it may cause digestive issues (gas, bloating etc.) when consumed in moderate to large amounts.
  • Although xylitol is safe for humans, it is toxic and potentially lethal for pets, like cats and dogs. If you use xylitol, make sure to keep it away from your animals.

Sweetness: Equivalent in sweetness to table sugar.

Best choices: Organic granulated xylitol made from birch.

 

The “zero-calorie” sweeteners that are almost 100% carbs

Artificial sweeteners

Packets of Stevia in the Raw, Equal, Sweet’n Low and Splenda are labeled “zero calories”, but this is just a trick. FDA rules allow servings under 1 gram of carbs and under 4 calories per serving to be labeled “zero calories”. So these manufacturers cleverly package about 0.9 grams of pure carbs (glucose/dextrose) – the filling agent that makes up almost 100% of the sweetener – mixed with a small dose of a more powerful artifical sweetener, for added sweetness.

Voilà, a package full of pure carbs, that can be labeled “zero” calories without risking a lawsuit.

The packages in fact contain almost 4 calories each, and almost a gram of carbs. While 0.9 grams of carbs may seem negligible for many people, on a keto diet it can matter. Especially if you use many packages a day. Ten packages equals almost half the daily carb limit on a keto diet.

So at least be aware of this. We don’t recommend these sweeteners because of the deceptive marketing. There are also lingering potential health concerns with many of these artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame, sucralose).

Why maltitol is not a good option

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol. It’s still the most common type used in “sugar-free” candy, desserts, and low-carb products because it’s considerably less expensive than erythritol, xylitol, and other sugar alcohols.

Maltitol is not a good choice for people on low-carb diets. About 40% of this sweetener is absorbed in the small intestine, raising blood sugar and insulin levels, especially in those with diabetes or prediabetes. It also provides about two-thirds as many calories as sugar, which is considerably more than most low-carb sweeteners.

In addition, the remaining 60% that’s not absorbed is fermented in the colon. Studies have shown that maltitol may cause significant gastrointestinal symptoms (gas, bloating, etc.), especially when consumed in amounts greater than 30 grams per day.6

Sweetness: About 80% of the sweetness of table sugar

Diet soft drinks – yes or no?

Diet sodasCan you drink diet soft drinks on keto? Well, ideally you may want to avoid them. There are some clear negative effects with regular consumption, including that you’ll maintain cravings for sweet foods, and not retrain your palate to enjoy the natural, less intense sweetness of keto foods.

There’s also science suggesting that diet beverages may make it harder to lose weight, despite containing no calories.7 This could be due to hormonal effects, other effects on satiety signals, or effects on gut microbiota.

There are also other suspected, but unproven, health concerns with many of the artificial sweeteners used, like aspartame, acesulfame K and sucralose .8

However, if you feel you absolutely need to drink diet sodas, at least they will allow you to stay in ketosis. Regular soda, sweetened with sugar or HFCS, will kick you right out of ketosis.

A final word on keto sweeteners

While some sweeteners seem to be better than others, the best strategy for achieving optimal health and weight loss may be learning to enjoy real foods in their unsweetened state.

Although it might take a little time for your tastebuds to adapt, over time, you may discover a whole new appreciation for the subtle sweetness of natural, unprocessed foods.

 

Sugar addiction

Do you find it almost impossible to consider giving up sweet foods? You can do it. Here’s something that may interest you, our course on sugar addiction and how to take back control.

 

Similar keto guides

Meal plans

Get lots of weekly keto meal plans, complete with shopping lists and everything, with our premium meal planner tool (free trial).
 

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More

A ketogenic diet for beginners
Ketogenic diet food list – what to eat
14-day keto diet plan

Comments

  1. Pure sugar gets a value of 100. Other sweeteners are ranked in relation to this.

    For example, a packet of Splenda provides about the same sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar = 8 grams of sugar. The packet contains about 0.9 grams of carbohydrate (dextrose). That’s 0.9 / 8 = 0.11 times the effect of sugar, for an equal amount of sweetness. Pure 100% sugar has a number of 100, so Splenda gets a number of 100 x 0.11 = 11.

  2. Study: Avoiding diet beverages helps women lose weight

  3. GI = glycemic index, i.e. how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food results in a blood sugar increase after eating it.

  4. Metabolism 2004: Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects.

  5. International Journal of Dentistry 2016: Erythritol Is More Effective Than Xylitol and Sorbitol in Managing Oral Health Endpoints

  6. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1996: Dose-related gastrointestinal response to the ingestion of either isomalt, lactitol or maltitol in milk chocolate.

  7. Study: Avoiding diet beverages helps women lose weight

40 Comments

  1. Maura
    What about Monk Fruit? That seems to be ever-more popular in keto recipes.

    I'm most interested in the insulin response from erythritol. I hear claimed everywhere that it has no insulin response, but I've only seen studies on glycemic response. Personally, I often have a significant weight gain after eating things sweetened with Swerve -- one or two pounds the following days, which makes me wonder if insulin spikes even if blood sugar does not. I'm not ready to let go of the occasional Swerve-sweetened treat, but I'm concerned that it has more of an insulin response than we're led to believe.

  2. Karen
    After the 1st month of being keto my life-long sweet tooth was gone. That is nothing short of miraculous! Now, treats like unsweetened whipped cream or macadamia nuts are satisfying to me. On a daily basis I eat nothing sweet. Mind you, simple fat bombs or chia puddings are everyday foods around here, but with just the natural richness of nutbutters, coconut oil or heavy cream they are delish the way they are, no need to add any sweetener at all. For rare special occasions like a major holiday or birthday I've made a few keto dessert recipes and used stevia or Swerve -- but halved the amount called for. Plenty sweet that way, even sweet enough for my non-keto kids. It comes down to giving your taste buds a chance to get re-educated. This is what good food tastes like. Besides, I am SO happy now -- this new "food freedom" is all the sweetness I need :)
  3. Owen
    Thanks so much for this guide! I have recently realized that I have an addictive personality and that sugar is my last holdout (and the most difficult for me). I have tried going sugar AND sweetener free, however I have never made it more than several days without falling off the wagon (hard). I find that using stevia cut with erythritol really helps me stay on course. I add it to black coffee throughout the day and a few low carb recipes. I wish I could go completely sugar free, but I'm just not sure I'm strong enough for that. FYI - I use the Pyure organic brand of stevia/erythritol packets. I lost 140 pounds using the info on your site in a year, am healthier now (almost 40) than I've been since grade school and have spent the last six months maintaining that loss and my health. Thanks again for all you do! :-)
  4. 1 comment removed
  5. Val
    Do you have info on liquid Splenda? I use very little and not everyday. I know the powdered is higher in carbs.
  6. Roleigh Martin
    Dr Jason Fung, M.D., one of your writers notes in his book, The Obesity Code a reference to this scientific study of Stevia on Insulin levels. Anton SD et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010 Aug; 55( 1): 37– 43. Fung, Jason. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss . Greystone Books. Kindle Edition.

    Fung summarizes the finding from this study: "This insulin-raising effect has also been shown for other artificial sweeteners, including the “natural” sweetener stevia. Despite having a minimal effect on blood sugars, both aspartame and stevia raised insulin levels higher even than table sugar."

    Fung, Jason. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss (p. 172). Greystone Books. Kindle Edition.

    Reply: #38
  7. Marion
    Can i ask, what about rice malt syrup...is this ,also high in carbs.
    Reply: #9
  8. Barb
    I’d also like to see where Sugar Twin falls on this index? Thanks!
    Reply: #32
  9. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Marion!

    Yes it's very high in carbs (a positive thing is that it lacks fructose).

    Can i ask, what about rice malt syrup...is this ,also high in carbs.

  10. Vicki
    How about yacon syrup?
  11. Brenda
    I’m interested in knowing about Monk Fruit Powder too. Where does it fall?
  12. Monique
    Interested in knowing about monk fruit, that tastes the most natural to me.
  13. MTL
    Great Information...thanks. One note: Stevia is a cousin to many plants and flowers and grasses. If you have allergies to these, especially to dandelions, you may have very uncomfortable symptoms with stevia. It would be great if dietdoctor included such a warning in the CONS section for stevia, siince plant allergies are not uncommon.
    I can't have even have a drop without severe nasal, respiratory, skin, muscle, and eye symptoms, just like I get with contact with dandelions & some other flowers & grasses. Thanks.
    http://www.newhealthguide.org/Stevia-Side-Effects.html
    http://www.3fatchicks.com/8-stevia-side-effects/
    http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/4-hea...
  14. Bruce Warwick
    What you failed to note in the above article is that Splenda (Aspartame) also comes in a liquid form that doesn't have the maltodextrin filler the packets have. As good as Stevia, without the horrible aftertaste.
    Reply: #17
  15. Lois Weinsaft
    I use liquid sucralose. It doesn't have the dextrose that's in the powdered version. It has virtually no aftertaste. It is very sweet, so I use it sparingly and I water it down, also. Can you give us information about its effects, as you have for other sweeteners? Thanks.
  16. Craig
    What about inulin? I understand it feeds the microbiome.
  17. Catherine
    Bruce Warwick: Splenda is sucralose, not aspartame. The name-brand aspartame sweetener is Equal.

    What you failed to note in the above article is that Splenda (Aspartame) also comes in a liquid form that doesn't have the maltodextrin filler the packets have. As good as Stevia, without the horrible aftertaste.

  18. julie
    What about Monk Fruit? How does that stack up as a sweetener?
    Reply: #20
  19. Joe Obrocki
    What i found intersting is that in one of the videos speaking of the rise of obesity didn't just coincide with the introduction of reduced fat products but rose one to one with the use of diet sodas... which no one commented on the apparent link..Is this another instance of big business crushing the truth?
  20. Rebecca
    I was wondering that too!
  21. Peter
    actually in controlled studies, they have not been able to measure an increase in hunger when using artificial sweeteners vs. natural ones. Those that had artificially sweetened drinks with the meals ate less food, and felt satisfied, than those that ate sugary drinks. they mesured both feelings of being satisfied, as well as the metabolic response, and the amount of calories consumed in both groups. Another study in mice did not find increase insulin output with artificial sweeteners vs sugars. So it seems that if you crave sugar, than artificial sweeteners are a good alternative than just going cold turkey.

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666310000826

  22. Kim
    I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that (like stevia), the artificial sweeteners sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin all have a glycemic index of 0 when used in a pure form (not mixed with dextrose/maltodextrin for bulk). I have used sucralose in both its pure powdered form (very sweet; you need about 1/16th teaspoon to equal about 2 cups' worth of sugar, though don't quote me on the specific amount--Google it) and its liquid form (EZSweetz, although there are other brands available).

    This works well if you can't make yourself give up sweet things and you find that stevia, saccharin, and aspartame all have aftertastes for you.

    Erythritol is also quite good and easier to use for baking, since it comes in a granulated form that measures closer to sugar than the others. I also like xylitol, but limit its use so my dog can lick the plate. :-)

  23. Margaret
    Can I ask about natural greek yoghurt, a yes or a no no? Thank you
  24. Kate
    I have been in ketosis for almost 2 years. I use monkfruit sweetner, available online. Many types are mixed with erythritol, that's the kind I DON'T use. I bought some about a year ago and still haven't put a dent in it. But I agree with the author that any sweetner creates cravings.
  25. Bob Heacox
    I have tested my fasting blood glucose many times at 15, 30, 45, 60, 75 and 90 minutes after consuming five packets of Splenda in an eight ounce glass of water and it has zero affect on my blood glucose. The reason I have done this test so many times, and still occasionally do it, is that Dr. Richard K. Bernstein also stated in his book that powdered Splenda raises blood glucose.
    Because of the above guide I may switch back to Truvia after testing it similarily again. The reason I switched from Truvia to Splenda several years ago is that Splenda disolves completely when stirred into my coffee while Truvia always leaves some crystline residue in the bottom of my cup.
    Reply: #35
  26. Dee
    I use monkfruit and erythritol sweetner. I see a few questions about monkfruit butno replies as yet.......
  27. 1 comment removed
  28. Cristi S
    This is one great page with amazing information. It just happens I bought this only one day before: https://www.walmart.ca/en/ip/great-value-stevia/6000195564629. Not sure if I made a good choice: is this one of those fake zero-calorie sweeteners or a right combination between Stevia and Erythritol?
  29. Dennis
    What about allulose?
  30. Audrey
    How about Monk Fruit???
  31. Tracy
    Yes after three days...this question should have been answered, yes?? Monk fruit?? Or have you no information on this as of yet?
  32. Jan
    Barb, Sugar Twin is saccharin and dextrose , so same as (or similar to) Sweet n Low.
  33. Jan
    Re Monk Fruit - this may help, the subject is addressed in a similar manner to the DD article here.

    https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/monk-fruit-vs-stevia

    Reply: #34
  34. Cristi S
    Jan, I also asked a question above, few days ago. Could you help?
  35. Bob Heacox
    Again, I very carefully and in a very controlled manner, tested my BG several times at, 30 , 45 and 60 minutes, using my Freestyle Lite meter and, again, I get zero increase in BG using four to five packets of powdered Splenda as well as zero BG increase testing the same # of packets of Truvia.

    I used to lighten my coffee with Silk brand, plain, unsweetened soy milk which contains four carbs per 8 oz but I have now switched to Ripple Brand Original, Unsweetened Pea milk which has zero carbs per 8 oz. Both have about eight grams of protein. Non-fat cows milk has 12 grams of carbs per 8 oz.

  36. Birgit
    I think, we should not only consider what we want to replace sugar with, but also what the quantity to be replaced is.
    It matters a lot, if it is about one teaspoon once a month, or 20g of sugar per day.
    If somebody can take that one 15g piece of fudge and not take another one for a month, does that person really need to look for replacement for that sugar?
    On the other hand, if another person needs a desert with every meal, the lowest calorie sweetener might be the only option.
    For myself, Stevia is no option due to its taste. Never ever has there been a non-caloric sweetener whose taste was even acceptable to me. Thus, it would have surprised me if Stevia was any different.
    So far I use up to 7g/day Xylitol but I'll also try Erythriol.
  37. 1 comment removed
  38. Lisa
    Thank you for that information on stevia's impact on insulin Roleigh Martin.
  39. TRISH
    Thank you so much for posting this article!! I've lost about 7 lbs since I first read it in early February and immediately switched the stevia I add to my coffee . I was using PureVia with added dextrose (2-4 packets per day) and switched to Now liquid stevia drops. I have been doing keto consistently since January 2017 and lost about 25 lbs within the first 3 months. Which was great, but then the weight loss stopped. No cheating, no snacking, no fruit, no desserts, I don't drink alcohol and I am allergic to most nuts so was only consuming peanuts once in a blue moon. Thought I was doing everything perfectly. Tried IF for 2 months. Might have lost 1 lb. Tried fasting longer hours, nothing. Monitored my protein and veggie intake. Gave up whipping cream for 2 weeks. Starting incorporating exercise. Tried egg fast, fat fast. Had my thyroid tested a couple of times. Ketostix always indicated I was in ketosis, but no weight loss. It became so frustrating that I ended up having 3 week-long breaks from keto between August and December. Each time I would gain 7-8lbs, then it would take sooo long to lose it again. Finally I decided to just accept that I wasn't going to lose any more weight (even though I had about 30 more lbs to lose) and stay on track so that at least I would not regain. Then I read the article and Hallelujah!!! Along with the stevia switch, I do 18 hr Intermittent Fasting from Mon- Thurs (have been doing this for about 6 weeks now) with lunch at 1 or 2 being a coffee with HWC/stevia drops and a quacamole cup or piece of cheese. Dinner is protein, low carb veggie and fat. Then I switch it up Fri-Sun. I have lunch (usually eggs) and dinner on these days, but breakfast is only a late morning coffee. My faith in Keto for weight loss has been restored!! :)
  40. Mo
    What about Pyure Organic Stevia?
  41. Jennifer
    I’m confused. If honey is so bad and not recommended why is it the ingredients lists of so many of the keto dessert recipes? Just trying to wrap my head around that.
  42. Jose
    Is 100% Raw unfiltered honey good on keto?
  43. Renee B
    I'm wondering about yacon syrup. There is not a lot of information out there on this.
    Thanks!

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