Keto as a Way of Life
55 Sweeteners Ranked Good, Bad or Ugly for Keto
I love sweets. Just every kind of sweet morsel. I want them all! And I’m pretty certain I’ve tried every sweetener and confection known on Earth and Heaven.
Of course… that’s part of the reason I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes the latter part of 2017.
That boat sails with many a passenger these days. The love of sweets has been proven to be a literal addiction. It’s an addiction that’s worth billions of dollars to food manufacturers.
They capitalize on that addition by putting sugar (in one form or another) in nearly everything that’s packaged and put on the grocery store shelves or handed out of a fast food drive thru window.
The good news is that Keto has been proven to mitigate the effects of and completely reverse Type 2 Diabetes. I’m living proof of that!
If you’re reading about Keto, you’re probably already aware of these things, so there’s no point in going into the details here.
The purpose of this post is to provide you a list that gives you a quick and dirty look at which sweeteners are good, which are bad, and which ones are down right ugly, especially when it comes to staying in Ketosis.
When Rebecca and I decided to go Keto, we pretty much said goodbye to ever enjoying sweets again. My heart was broken, but we were determined. And we had those whole Diabetes monster nipping at our heels for motivation.
As we learned more, however, we discovered that there are some sweeteners out there that are okay in MODERATION, on Keto.
We also discovered that there are sugar-like substances hiding in a TON of foods; even so-called “diet” foods. There are even Bad (and Ugly) sweeteners in some “so-called” Keto products!!!! <insert my angry face here>
At the bottom of this post, you will find a chart that gives you a pretty large list of sweeteners and several details about each.
I am going to attempt to define and describe to you how that chart is laid out and what some of the terms on it mean. Hopefully, that will make the chart easier to understand.
If you prefer to get right to the chart, just scroll down to the bottom of this post and grab the link.
DISCLAIMER: I did a lot of research to put this chart together, but it’s probably not an exhaustive list of sweeteners because there are a TON (probably literally) of them out there. It’s as accurate as I can make it. I’m not perfect, however, so there MAY be a mistake or two on there. There also MAY be some sweeteners missing. If you see those errors, please let me know. I want this chart to be correct and practical as a reference tool for anyone who wants to use it. So I welcome your input.
Without getting too deep into the chemical makeup and long, technical explanations for these, I will try to describe the categories on the chart and provide you with a little clarity on each one.
Actual sugar meets the chemical requirements of being sugar; the white granular stuff we’re all used to. It’s primarily made up of glucose. It simply gets digested and turned into glycogen in your body.
Mostly, refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets by converting their starches into sugar using enzymes. This category also includes sugars that have been cooked in some manner; caramel for example. Sugar cane and sugar beets are processed to extract the sugars inside. For the most part, modified/refined sugars add calories and carbs without really bringing any nutrients to the party. (aka empty calories)
These substances are often derived from fruits and vegetables like potatoes, tapioca, and GMO corn. They are typically used as thickeners and emulsifiers. Since they are technically considered a fiber, sometimes they are billed as “dietary fiber”. Whether are not they work like natural dietary fiber however is a matter of opinion and some discussion in the scientific community.
I found a number of studies on this and none of them provided any proof that convinced me that this processed sweetener was helpful in any way. In fact, most Sugar Fibers, like Maltodextrine, actually proved to interfere with healthy gut flora.
This sugar, known as fructose, generally occurs naturally. It is extracted from fruits and other plants by non chemical means.
These are completely man-made using all manner of black magic and chemistry. (ok, maybe not black magic…… maybe).
There has been a lot of controversy over the years whether artificial sweeteners are ok for humans consumption. The Sciency types have debated whether or not artificial sweeteners cause all manner of illness, including certain cancers. You’re probably familiar with Aspertame; one of the most popular Artificial Sweeteners.
If you’re going Keto, that means you’re trying to eat clean, so you’re best bet is to avoid these altogether.
These are carbohydrates that often occur naturally in small amounts in certain plants. While they are carbohydrates, the body can’t metabolize them at all or in part. That means, sugar alcohols don’t become glycogen in your body, so they’re often decent choices for sweeteners on Keto.
They also don’t cause tooth decay like other sugars, so that’s a plus. The downside of that is they often hang out in your intestines for a while. If you have too much at once, it can cause abdominal pain, gas, bloating and even diarrhea.
Another note one sugar alcohol is that your body will metabolize part of the substance. So even if you’re not absorbing 100% of the sweetener, some part of it is still becoming glycogen and can knock you out of Ketosis. I made notes on some of those in the chart.
Since everyone is different, however, some people will absorb more of certain sugar alcohols than others. That makes it very important to have a way to check your blood after you eat these and see how they affect your blood sugar. Keto Mojo (affiliate link) makes a good blood test monitor for that very purpose.
Typically, these sweeteners are blends of sweeteners. This happens for various reasons, usually associated with production costs and/or flavor. For example, the name brand “Truvia” is a blend of Stevia and Erythritol. The blend balances the sweet flavor, reduces the aftertaste and makes the product a bit cheaper to make, so it’s cheaper on the store shelf.
To make a very long explanation pretty short, Sweet Proteins (aka Glycoproteins) are amino acids that have a type of sugar (called oligosaccharides) attached to them on the molecular level. They are found naturally in different plants and fruits like berries. They don’t typically count as a carbohydrate and rate very low on the Glycemic Index. They’re great for Keto. The caveat is that they’re pretty rare and expensive at this point. So they’re either not available at all, or they are difficult and expensive to get for the consumer market in most cases.
Natural sugars are just that; natural. They are found in nature. Often found in fruits and dairy, they are made up of fructose. They’re easy to digest and get turned into glycogen in your body. They often contain good nutrients and are considered healthier than more processed sweeteners. They will raise your blood sugar, but for the most part, they won’t spike it quite as hard as more refined sugars. These tend to be slightly lower on the Glycemic Index, but they’re not great for Keto.
After we discovered Monk Fruit, it quickly become our favorite sweetener. It’s a small, gourd-like fruit that originated in Southeast Asia. The fruit grows on vines and has a number of uses. It’s been utilized for about a bazillion years by the people in that region, especially by the Monks who cultivated the fruit and gave it its name.
Monk Fruit and the liquid form, Monk Fruit Extract is quickly becoming one of the most popular natural sweeteners on the market because it has no calories and no carbs. No kidding!
Make sure you check out the ingredients! Read those labels!
Some brands put Dextrose or Maltodextrin in it for some reason. And that just defeats the purpose.
We discovered that most brands mix it with Erythritol, which isn’t terrible. Swerve (Erythritol) (affiliate link) is our second favorite Keto sweetener because, like Monk fruit, it doesn’t appear to affect blood sugar. The brand we like best, Lakanto (affiliate link) actually has Erythritol in it.
We also like Monk Fruit extract because we’ve had a lot of success cooking with it. It doesn’t seem to crystalize and mess up the smooth texture of finished baked goods and sauces.
Glycemic Index (aka GI)
You likely already know what this is, but for the potential newbie who stumbled onto this post…
According to Wikipedia, “The glycemic index or glycaemic index is a number associated with the carbohydrates in a particular type of food that indicates the effect of these carbohydrates on a person’s blood glucose level.”
We recommend getting a blood ketone meter like this one to keep an eye on how different foods/sweeteners affect your blood sugar and ketone levels. No matter what the GI of a food is, everyone is different, so something that doesn’t knock me out of Ketosis, might take you out of it. This is the best way to know for sure!
This low carb Guinness Beef Stew recipe has the traditional flavor of the Irish dish, but a fraction of the carbs. Celebrate a Keto St. Patrick’s Day!
This Keto Goat Cheese Cheesecake Recipe is Sweet, Creamy, & Savory. Inspired by a goat cheese tart we had in Ireland, this cheesecake is unique and amazing!
Chocolate Strawberry Cake. If you ask me, aside from “I love you” there aren’t three words that embody the same feeling better. We say “I Love You” in Keto
These Keto Maple Breakfast Sandwich Muffins are a yummy & easy way to make a low carb breakfast that you can take with you on the go.
Chicken salad is an easy, ‘make on the weekend’ dish that makes weekday lunches super easy. Our recipe is simple, low carb, and yummy with a bit of a twist.
Carbs per Tablespoon
For the folks who use the metric system and measure in Grams…. Sorry. I use tablespoons, so that’s what you get here. I found it interesting to compare some of these sweeteners’ carb loads versus their Glycemic Index. It made me curious why some of them had relative low carbs while having a higher GI. When I started reading about the chemical makeup of each sweetener and discovering how it interacts with our bodies, it started to make more sense.
It turns out that the Carbs in a sweetener alone isn’t the only indicator as to whether or not you should eat it…. especially on Keto.
Found in Name Brands/Products – Uses
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Some of these sweeteners are used so broadly, it would have been impossible to list all the brands that contain them. My goal here was to give you a good example of where these sweeteners are used.
That’s why it’s important to read labels. If you find an ingredient in something you’re thinking about eating, it’s always best to look it up and find out what it is. Sure, that takes a little extra time, but your health is worth it. Also, you’ll be happy you make the effort when you reach those health/fitness goals you’ve set for yourself!
This one was a little tricky. The baseline for sweetness is plain old table sugar. (In my world, of course, the baseline for sweetness is my wife, Rebecca. But since that has no real basis in science, we’ll go with white sugar for the purposes of this chart)
The reason it’s tricky because different sources report different numbers for several of these sweeteners. Don’t use the numbers in this column as a hard and fast rule. It’s meant to give you a general idea where the flavor of each sweetens falls on that scale.
Good, Bad, or Ugly for Keto
I didn’t use a specific formula for my rating here. I weighted each sweetener based on a few different criteria.
If the sweetener is considered a low glycemic food (55 or less) by the Glycemic Index Foundation then it gained points in favor of Good.
Having known beneficial health properties helped move the needle in the Good direction.
Being natural, raw, or having very little refinement, won the sweetener some points for Good as well.
In general, Good sweeteners are acceptable in moderation for Keto. I won’t go into all the reasons why it’s best to limit sweets altogether on Keto because that’s not the purpose of this post. Suffice to say, moderation is key, even for “Good” sweeteners.
If the sweetener was moderate or high on the Glycemic Index, then it got an automatic bad rating.
Some sweeteners were ok on the GI, but had known health risks or potential to cause digestive or other problems. Those were moved to the Bad column.
There are a few of these sweeteners that appear to be ok for Keto, but they are known to knock people out of Ketosis. Since Ketosis is one of the primary objectives of going Keto, these got moved down from “Good” to “Bad”.
I won’t tell you NEVER to have these “Bad” sweeteners, but I advise keeping these for special occasions and limit your consumption of these dramatically.
These sweeteners are the ones that Keto was designed to avoid. They dramatically affect blood sugar and build glycogen levels in the body. Having these in any amount is almost certain to knock you out of Ketosis and make it difficult to get back into Ketosis for a few days.
Many of these also have negative effects to human health and are even known to cause diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and some Cancers. These certainly contribute to inflammation and weight gain.
The verdict? Make every effort to stay completely away from them. For ever!
Get the 55 Sweetener Comparison Chart
Since the chart is pretty large, it wouldn’t fit on the blog page without being impossible to read, especially on mobile devices. It just breaks everything and looks really crazy.
So I’m making the chart available as a downloadable .PDF file. I tested it and it looks good on my iPhone, tablet and PC, but if you have any trouble with it, please let me know
Enter your name and email below, then grab your 55 Sweetener Comparison Chart.
Thanks for Reading
I’m excited to share this post and this Sweeteners Chart with you. This chart represents a few weeks of research and a lot of work. Rebecca and I agree that we wish we’d had something like this when we started Keto. I hope you find it useful and that it helps you answer some of your questions about which sweeteners to use on Keto.
If you like the Chart, have questions about it, or have ideas for how I might improve it, please drop us a line in the comments below, send us an email at email@example.com or join us on our Facebook Page where we share and discuss Keto recipes and topics like this all the time.