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Sweeteners are a sugar substitute. This allows you to enjoy a sweet taste without all the negative effects of sugar. There are many different types of sweeteners available today. However, not all of them are equally healthy or suitable for use in the keto diet.

In this article, I will explain everything about sweeteners. After reading this article, you will know exactly which sweeteners are suitable and which are not suitable for a keto diet. I will also explain which sweetener I prefer to use and why I find it so amazing.

Table of Contents:

The Effect of Sweeteners on Blood Sugar Levels

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But sweeteners don’t contain sugar, right? That’s correct! Sweeteners don’t contain sugar, but they can still have an effect on your blood sugar levels. For most sweeteners, this effect won’t be significantly high, but it’s something to be aware of. Despite the fact that sweeteners don’t contain actual sugar, they can influence your blood sugar levels. That’s why not all sweeteners are equally suitable.

The only two sweeteners that don’t have an effect on blood sugar levels are erythritol and stevia. This makes them the best choice for a ketogenic diet and safe for use by people with diabetes.

Differences in Sweeteners

Differences in Sweeteners

There are two different types of sweeteners: intensive sweeteners and extensive sweeteners.

Intensive sweeteners: These are 30 to 37,000 times sweeter than sugar, which is why you use very small amounts of these sweeteners.

Extensive sweeteners (polyols): These are often about 70% as sweet as regular sugar, so you use more of them in comparison to intensive sweeteners.

Intensive sweeteners:

  • Acesulfame-K
  • Aspartame
  • Aspartame-acesulfame salt
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Thaumatin
  • Neohesperidin-DC
  • Steviol glycosides (stevia)
  • Neotame
  • Cyclamates
  • Advantame

Extensive sweeteners (polyols):

  • Erythritol
  • Xylitol
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Polyglycitol syrup
  • Isomalt
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol

What Are Sweeteners Made Of?

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Erythritol and stevia are the only sweeteners that are naturally based, both in origin and in the way they are extracted. For this reason, they are preferred in a ketogenic diet. However, it’s important to note that products labeled as stevia or erythritol are often mixed with other sweeteners. So, it’s essential to check if the product consists of 100% erythritol or 100% stevia if you want to avoid additional additives.

The glycemic index (GI) indicates how much a sweetener affects blood sugar levels. This allows you to estimate the potential impact on ketosis if you decide to consume something with a sweetener other than erythritol or stevia.

Extensive sweeteners (polyols)

Erythritol has a glycemic index of 0 and provides 0 calories. It is a 100% natural sweetener obtained through a natural fermentation process from various vegetables and fruits. Erythritol is not absorbed by the body, so you can enjoy sweet dishes without any concerns.

Isomalt has a glycemic index of 9 and provides 2.4 calories per gram. This sweetener is synthetically derived from regular sugar and often contains sorbitol and maltitol. It is also frequently combined with sucralose to increase sweetness.

Tagatose has a glycemic index of 10 and provides 1.5 calories per gram. This sweetener is obtained from milk sugars and is often mixed with sucralose. Sucralose is synthetically derived from chlorine.

Xylitol has a glycemic index of 7 and provides 2.4 calories per gram. It is originally derived from the bark of birch trees but is also found in vegetables and fruits. For mass production, xylitol is artificially produced, primarily from corn cobs. It’s worth noting that research has shown that xylitol is partially absorbed by the body, so only half of its carbohydrates should be subtracted from the total.

Sorbitol has a glycemic index of 9 and provides 2.4 calories per gram. This sweetener is chemically extracted from fruits and is synthesized through various enzymatic processes.

Mannitol has a glycemic index of 0 but provides 2.4 calories per gram (unlike erythritol and stevia, which contain 0 calories). This sweetener is industrially produced through the hydrogenation of fructose, initially produced from starch using microorganisms.

Maltitol has a glycemic index of 35 and provides 2.4 calories per gram. It is synthetically derived from maltose (malt sugar), sourced from wheat and corn. Due to its high glycemic index and origin, only half of its carbohydrates should be subtracted from the total.

Lactitol has a glycemic index of 5 and provides 2.4 calories per gram. It is used both as an artificial sweetener and a laxative. Lactitol is obtained through the catalytic hydrogenation of lactose, a chemical process.

Polyglycitol syrup has a glycemic index of 39 and provides 3 calories per gram. It primarily consists of maltitol, sorbitol, and smaller amounts of hydrogenated oligo- and polysaccharides and maltotriitol. This sweetener is produced by hydrolyzing starch into a mixture of glucose, maltose, and higher glucose polymers, followed by catalytic hydrogenation, similar to maltitol syrup. Due to its high glycemic index and origin, only half of its carbohydrates should be subtracted from the total.

Intensive sweeteners

Acesulfame-K is a synthetic sweetener with a glycemic index of 0 that also contains 0 calories. This sweetener is produced artificially and is often used in combination with aspartame, sucralose, or xylitol, which do affect blood sugar levels.

Aspartame has a glycemic index of 0 and also provides 0 calories. It is a chemical sweetener composed of two amino acids, with a methylester on the phenylalanine residue. It is synthesized through a reaction between aspartame and 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde.

Aspartame-acesulfame salt is a combination of the sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame-K, often used together in various products.

Saccharin is an artificial sweetener with a glycemic index of 0 and also provides 0 calories. It is the oldest artificial sweetener and was discovered in 1879 during research on coal tar derivatives.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener with a glycemic index of 0 and also provides 0 calories. It was discovered by researchers working for a British sugar manufacturer in 1976. Sucralose is made by replacing 3 hydroxyl (OH) groups on a sugar molecule (sucrose) with 3 chlorine atoms. It is the only artificial sweetener derived from sugar that has the same taste as sugar. In terms of its effect on the body, sucralose is similar to erythritol and stevia, as it has no effect on blood sugar levels and contains no calories. However, sucralose is an artificially derived sweetener, which is something many people following a ketogenic diet prefer to avoid. Natural options are therefore preferred for a ketogenic lifestyle, as they involve minimal processing and additives.

Thaumatin is a sweetener about which very little is known. According to search results, it provides 4 calories per gram, but its glycemic index is unknown. Thaumatin is a sweet-tasting protein that can be isolated from the katemfe fruit (Thaumatococcus daniellii), a plant native to West Africa. It is used in confectionery and chewing gum. There is still uncertainty about the mechanism of thaumatin’s sweetness.

Neohesperidine-DC (also known as Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone) provides 2 calories per gram, and there is no information available about its glycemic index. This sweetener is made from neohesperidine, a natural product extracted from citrus fruits. Treating the peels with lye (hydrogenation) can convert neohesperidine into Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone. Lye (also known as sodium hydroxide) is a byproduct of the chlorine industry and is often used as a paint stripper.

Steviol glycosides (stevia) have a glycemic index of 0 and provide 0 calories. Sweeteners from the stevia plant are collectively referred to as steviol glycosides, with Stevioside and Rebaudioside A being the most common. Because stevia naturally has a bitter aftertaste, this sweetener is often blended with other sweeteners. The reason stevia is popular despite its bitter taste is that it is up to 200-300 times sweeter than regular sugar. This means you only need a small amount to sweeten a dish, making stevia a relatively inexpensive alternative. If you’d like to use stevia, be sure to check what other sweeteners it may be blended with to make the right choice. Preferably, choose a combination with erythritol. Keep in mind that stevia is not suitable for heating, as its bitter taste becomes more pronounced when heated.

Neotame contains 0 calories, and there is no information available about its glycemic index. Neotame is an intensive sweetener and a derivative of aspartame. Like aspartame, neotame is composed of amino acids. It is formed through a reaction of aspartame with 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde. 3-methylbutanal is a volatile, lightly flammable liquid that can irritate the eyes and skin. Its vapors can form an explosive mixture in the air.

Cyclamate has a glycemic index of 0 and also contains 0 calories. This sweetener is made from cyclamic acid, a chemical compound, and is considered a calcium salt. It is often used in combination with saccharin.

Advantame is a synthetic sweetener with a glycemic index of 0 that provides 0 calories. Its synthesis involves aspartame and a cinnamon aldehyde derivative, 3-hydroxy-4-methoxycinnamaldehyde (HMCA). Hydrogenation of this compound produces 3-(3-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl)propionaldehyde (HMPA). When combined with aspartame, this forms an imine, which is then selectively hydrogenated to produce advantame. Hydrogen and a catalyst based on palladium or platinum are required for hydrogenation. A small residue of these metals remains in the final product.

What Are Polyols?

Polyols, that sounds like a very complicated word… You always see it on the nutrition label (under carbohydrates-sugars-of which polyols) of the foods that are for sale, but what does it mean?

Polyols are a specific type of sweeteners made from hydrogenated sugars or sugar alcohols, which are extensive sweeteners (see the list earlier in this article). Of these polyols, erythritol is the only sweetener for which it has been proven to have no effect on blood sugar levels (stevia also has no effect on blood sugar, but it is not a polyol).

Should Polyols Be Deducted or Not?

Not all polyols are absorbed by your body, which is why polyols can be deducted (partially) from the total carbohydrates. The tricky thing about this is that it varies greatly from one polyol to another how much of it is or is not absorbed by your body, and every body reacts differently regarding the effect on blood sugar levels. The only sweeteners that can be 100% deducted are erythritol and stevia. These have no effect on blood sugar levels and are therefore the best choice for a keto diet.

How Much Sweetener Should You Use?

Each sweetener has different usage instructions. Given the significant difference in sweetness, it already varies from one product to another how much you need to achieve the desired sweetness of a product. It also comes in different forms (liquid/granules/tablets/powder). Therefore, check for yourself based on the product you are using how much you need. Not all sweeteners are suitable for heating; for example, stevia tends to give a bitter taste to dishes when heated. So, when you’re cooking a dish that needs to be heated, this is also something to consider when choosing the right sweetener. For example, it would be a shame if a cake turns out bitter…

My Favorite Sweetener

Erythritol is undoubtedly my favorite sweetener!

The benefits of erythritol:

  • 100% natural
  • No effect on blood sugar levels
  • No unpleasant aftertaste (although some people may experience a “cool mouth feeling”)
  • Does not become bitter when heated
  • Can be used in multiple forms, creating different texture outcomes in the dish you make
  • Obtained through a natural fermentation process from various types of vegetables and fruits
  • Naturally white in color, not refined

But there are still many carbohydrates listed in the nutritional values?
Erythritol is originally considered a carbohydrate (due to its origin), but it does not behave like a starch or sugar. It is not converted into energy in the body but is excreted unused in the urine. For this reason, it also has no effect on blood sugar levels. This 100% natural sweetener is therefore perfect and safe to use for people with diabetes. The carbohydrates are listed on the packaging but can be fully deducted, as mentioned earlier. You can see this in the number of polyols. In pure erythritol, the polyols are just as high as the number of carbohydrates and can be deducted one-to-one.

Safe to use:
Extensive research has been conducted on this sweetener. Studies show that it is safe to use, even when used daily and in large quantities. In 1999, the natural sweetener was approved by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. The Scientific Committee on Food for Human Consumption (SCF) decided in 2003 that erythritol can be safely used in food.

Good for dental health:
Another nice thing is that it is not harmful to your teeth. In fact, it can contribute to healthier and stronger teeth! By neutralizing the acidity in the mouth and reducing plaque, this product contributes to better oral health.

No bitter taste:
The advantage of erythritol, compared to stevia, is that stevia is known to potentially have a bitter aftertaste, which is not the case with erythritol.

Different forms:
Erythritol is available in granule and powdered sugar forms. I always buy the granules because you can easily grind them into powdered sugar yourself using a blender.

What do you use it for and how much do you use?
You can use erythritol in anything you would normally use sugar for. Erythritol has 70% of the sweetness compared to sugar, so to achieve the same level of sweetness as sugar, you need a slightly larger amount of erythritol. Add erythritol to baked goods such as cakes/pies/cookies, use it in coffee or tea, add it to sauces, etc. It’s also delicious in yogurt or, for example, to sprinkle on pancakes.

I’m a fan!

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