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The Complete Guide to Sweeteners on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet

When you first begin the ketogenic diet, it's all about cutting out the carbs and upping your good fats. However, there is quite a bit more than just that. An essential part of a low-carb or ketogenic diet is the cutting back and/or the eventual elimination of sugar. Creating a low-sugar lifestyle is by no means an easy task, but it is crucial to the success of your low-carb health journey. Therefore, it's vital, to begin with a full understanding of the ketogenic diet.

What is Keto Diet?

A keto diet or ketogenic diet is a diet in which a person consumes an adequate amount of protein, high-fat, and low-carbohydrate. It has been proven in various studies that a keto diet plan can help you lose weight and significantly improve your health. It can help you avoid diseases like cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and Alzheimer's.

This diet has many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diet. In the keto, diet carbohydrates are replaced with fat. The replacement of sugars with fat puts your body in a metabolic state, which is termed as ketosis. 

During ketosis, the body becomes more efficient in burning fat to gain energy. The fat is converted into ketones in the liver, and they supply energy to the brain. A keto diet can lead to a massive reduction in insulin levels and blood sugar. As a result, the ketones are increased and provide numerous benefits.

When it comes down to it, adopting a ketogenic diet is all about cutting back and cutting out high-carb foods that are processed and filled with starch. This is because, in order to reach that metabolic state where the body is running on ketones and not glucose, you must eliminate all the elements that turn to glucose in the blood. Once you reach this state, it's called ketosis, and the body will be fueled on ketones. When this happens, the body is breaking down fat for fuel and energy instead of carbs. 

How does sugar affect ketosis?

Well, it's simple. Sugar knocks you out of ketosis. So, we need alternatives that can fit into the keto diet to satisfy that sweet tooth. Hopefully not for too long though! Ultimately, it should be about cutting back on sugar as much as possible and not just replacing that sweetness with something else. 

For some people, this can also mean reducing and sometimes even eliminating all sugar consumption. However, with sugar being present in almost 80% of the food we eat (specifically pre-packaged foods), this can be a tough challenge. Once you become familiar with the basics and you start cutting out your sugar consumption, you may want to look for some sugar alternatives that still adhere to the keto diet. 

A low-carb diet doesn't have to mean that you never satiate your sweet tooth. It's just about learning how to do it in a better way. There are plenty of sweeteners that fit into the keto diet. And the following is a comprehensive guide to using sweeteners on a low-carb ketogenic diet. 

First, let's begin with the top six sweeteners that are Ketogenic diet-approved.

  • Stevia
  • Erythritol
  • Sucralose
  • Xylitol
  • Monk Fruit Sweetener
  • Yacon Syrup

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the leaves of the stevia plant. It does not contain any calories or carbs, and it has been shown to even lower blood sugar levels. It can be used in liquid or powdered format and can be used to sweeten pretty much anything that you would otherwise put sugar on or bake into. The only thing to be careful of is that stevia is much sweeter than sugar-300 times sweeter actually! Depending on where your taste buds are in your sugar-free journey, you will require more or lesser amounts. The longer you go sugar-free, the more your taste buds can regenerate, and you will find that you become much more sensitive to sweetness in your food. In fact, too much stevia will make your food taste almost metallic! A general rule of thumb to substitute one cup of sugar for one teaspoon of stevia. 

Erythritol

Erythritol is a second type of sweetener, but this one is considered sugar alcohol. It is a mixture of naturally occurring compounds that stimulate the taste buds and mimic the taste of sugar. What's interesting about erythritol is that it is about 80% as sweet as sugar but only has 5% of the calories as compared to sugar. And, just like stevia, it has been shown to lower blood sugar levels due to its low carb levels. However, unlike stevia, which can literally be used in any and all ways as sugar can, erythritol is best for baking and cooking. It does not dissolve as well as stevia does in things like drinks, and it even has a cooling sensation in the mouth. 

Sucralose

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener. An advantage to this is that it does not get digested by the body and therefore, does not provide calories or carbs. It's recognized most often by commercial names such as Splenda. Splenda is by far the most common on the market, and it is most commonly used in things like drinks. It is not a good choice when baking and cooking as it can produce harmful compounds when heated very high. It's important to note that it is six hundred times sweeter than sugar, so only a tiny amount is needed to have the same effect.

Xylitol

This sweetener is most often found in sugar-free candy and gum. It tastes just as sweet as sugar but has minimal calories and carbs. Just like the other sugar alcohols, xylitol does not raise blood sugar. It can be used in drinks, especially and in baking, although it does tend to dry things out and might need a little bit of water to balance the moisture. 

Monk Fruit Sweetener

This is a natural sweetener that comes from the monk fruit plant, which grows in southern China. It does contain natural sugars and antioxidant compounds that make up the sweetness. Monk fruit has no calories or carbs, but it can be considerably sweeter than sugar. 

Yacon Syrup

Yacon syrup is a natural substance that comes from the roots of the yacon plant in South America. It contains simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose. It is also rich in a soluble fiber that is unable to be digested by the body. 

So now that we know which sweeteners to use on a low-carb Ketogenic diet, we should also take a moment to mention the ones that should not be used. The following can't be used while on this diet because they all increase blood sugar levels and can knock the body right out of ketosis. For these sweeteners, it's important to check the ingredient lists in foods to see what has been added in. Often these are hidden in the most unsuspecting of places.

  • Maltodextrin
  • Honey
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Maple Syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • Dates 

Despite this list of good vs. bad sweeteners, it's worth noting that are adverse effects of all sweeteners. Sweeteners keep those cravings for sweet food going and going and going! This actually tricks the body into eating more than it would have otherwise. This can lead to having a harder time losing weight. So, ideally, you would want to avoid sweeteners at all costs-especially when following a ketogenic diet. However, this is not always easy to do right off the bat. That's why, when following a low-carb diet, you can slowly taper off the sweets by using sweeteners instead of sugar. 

So, maybe you're asking why? Why should I cut out sugar from my diet? Why is it not enough to just follow a low-carb or keto diet? Won't I still lose weight? The answer is yes, and no. Yes, you may even see some changes, but the reality is that if you are consuming high amounts of sugar, you won't be able to stay in ketosis, and ultimately you won't see the most optimal results that you could have otherwise. 

Following the keto diet properly will result in loss of weight and much better overall health on a long-term basis. It is more than worth cutting back on sugar for this! Just look at these benefits!

Health Benefits of Keto:

Doctors often recommend a low-fat diet, but the ketogenic diet is far superior. A huge plus is that you will be able to see the health benefits without counting the calories. So, here are some proven benefits of the keto diet:

  • Lose Weight: Keto diet can help you lose weight 2.2 times faster than a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. The increased ketones, improved insulin, and lower blood sugar levels play a key role in it.
  • Prevention from Diabetes and Prediabetes: Diabetes is characterized by changes in insulin function, high blood sugar level, and metabolism. As keto helps you lose weight, it will have a positive impact on people suffering from type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 
  • Neurological Diseases: This is the main reason the ketogenic diet was invented. This diet significantly helps in curing neurological diseases like epilepsy and seizures.
  • Heart Diseases: It helps reduce the risk factors like body fat, HDL cholesterol level, blood sugar, and blood pressure, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Cancer: The diet has proven to help slow down the growth of several types of cancer cells.
  • Alzheimer's disease: It reduces the symptoms of Alzheimer's and slows its growth.

All of this leads us to the understanding that sugar needs to be eliminated. However, it's not just sugar. When avoiding sugar, there are other things to think about too. In fact, some substances are even worse than sugar. Fructose is one of them. Sugar contains half fructose and half glucose. Sadly, excess fructose can have some harmful effects on the body. It has been proven to contribute to a fatty liver and insulin resistance, which, in turn, raises the long-term impact of the carbs that you do ingest. 

Sweeteners with excess fructose are things like high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and even natural sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup. All are super sugars that really should be avoided when on a low-carb, ketogenic diet. 

The reality is that when you are following a diet such as a keto or any other low-carb diet, sugar, in general, is not a good option. However, stopping cold turkey may not be either. After a lifetime of overindulging on sugar, it's often too difficult to stop without slowly tapering off. So often, tips to help you cut down and eventually cut out sugar can be very useful. You can find tips like this and other helpful hints on how to cut out sugar in our article Ways to Cut Out Sugar. Read it HERE

Finally, keep in mind that slowly cutting down is the best way to maintain your low or no sugar lifestyle long term. So, use those tips and tricks to eliminate sugar from your diet slowly. After a while, you won't even know what's missing! Your taste buds will adapt, and your brand-new keto health will shine through!

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