What are the best keto sweeteners and low carb sugar substitutes? Take a look at how stevia, monk fruit, erythritol, and others compare in this guide.
There are so many sugar alternatives to choose from! How do you pick the best sweetener to use for low carb desserts and adding sweetness to other keto foods? It really depends on your preferences and taste.
If you’re new to a ketogenic diet, keto approved sweeteners can help you break away from any sugar addiction. And still being able to enjoy sweet foods makes a low carb eating plan more appealing. However, I always caution people to use them in moderation.
Using a sugar replacement with an intense sweet taste and no calories can have a downside. There’s at least one study that showed that when sweetness and calories were not balanced, the brain tries to balance things out by stimulating the appetite to consume more calories.
The study mentioned above was based on a popular artificial sweetener. But I’ve found that sweet foods do tend to trigger me into overeating. So I recommend limiting keto sweeteners for occasional treats, especially for those who need to lose a lot of weight.
As one breaks away from sugar by moving to a keto diet, sweet foods tend to become less desirable. Therefore, the amount of sugar substitutes used tends to diminish when following a low carb lifestyle long term.
Natural based sweeteners
I find that the healthiest sweeteners are natural based. And with so many options, there’s no need to use artificial sweeteners. That’s why I use natural sweeteners for all my low carb recipes.
You may also notice that I like to use more than one sweetener. Blending sweeteners has a synergistic effect which gives a better taste allowing less sweetener to be used. And it’s the reason why the most popular brands like Swerve and Lakanto use a blend of sweeteners in their low carb sugar substitutes.
So let’s take a look at the natural based keto sweeteners available…
Sugar alcohols: good or bad sugar substitutes?
Sugar alcohols are all natural sweeteners. But they aren’t well tolerated by some people with food sensitivities to certain sugars. Erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, lactitol, and mannitol are some of the commonly used sugar alcohols.
Packaged foods using sugar alcohols don’t include them in the total net carb count. However, all sugar alcohols with the exception of erythritol, need to have at least half their carbs counted because there is some impact. Therefore, it’s much better to make your own keto peanut butter cups instead of buying ones pre-made in a package!
Because erythritol is such a popular low carb sweetener, I’ll provide additional information on this sugar alcohol. It’s regularly used in keto recipes because it’s been shown not to impact blood glucose or increase insulin. And it doesn’t have a laxative effect like other sugar alcohols.
Erythritol is only 70% as sweet as sugar and it has zero calories. But there’s a somewhat minty cool aftertaste to it. However, blending it with other sweetener can lessen the undesirable taste.
Since the digestive system can’t break it down, the carbohydrates in erythritol have no impact. But this may have a negative side effect where the body considers it a harmful substance. And if that happens, the body may trigger inflammation.
I tend to get gas and bloating as well as overeat if I consume too much erythritol. But I find it’s a great keto sweetener so I still use it in moderation.
Another popular sugar alcohol is xylitol but I don’t recommend it. The main reason is because some of the carbs do impact and it can stop or slow down ketone production. It can also cause gas and bloating for those sensitive to it. And it’s toxic to animals so it needs to kept away from pets like dogs and cats. However, some people do use it on low carb so it’s an option if you prefer it over other options.
Stevia comes from a plant and it’s many times sweeter than regular table sugar. In fact, stevia is about 250-300 times as sweet as sucrose (white table sugar).
It contains zero calories and will barely raise insulin and blood glucose levels. Therefore, stevia is one of the best low carb sweeteners for many people.
Baking with stevia can be an issue because it’s so much sweeter than sugar. That’s why products like Sukrin, Truvia, and Pyure are stevia and erythritol blends. Just watch out for any stevia products using maltodextrin because it can affect blood sugar and insulin.
Because stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, it’s difficult to measure the right amount needed. And more of it is used than needed, the taste can become undesirable. A common criticism of stevia is it possesses a metallic aftertaste, especially if too much is used. But some liquid stevia varieties are closer on the sweetness scale to sugar. Stevia glycerite is one example.
If you don’t like the taste of stevia or can’t tolerate it due to a sensitivity or allergy, monk fruit is an excellent alternative. Like stevia, monk fruit has zero carbs and zero calories. This makes it one of the best low carb sweeteners to use.
Monk fruit extracts are more than 100 times sweetener than white sugar. Some products have been shown to be as high as 250-300 times sweeter than sugar.
However, if controlling blood sugar and sweet cravings is important to you, it’s best to stick with pure monk fruit without other added low carb sweeteners.
The biggest benefit to monk fruit is that it’s very low on the glycemic index. And most people prefer it over stevia as it has a cleaner taste. But I like to combine the two sweeteners in most recipes like my sweet broccoli salad, zucchini blueberry muffins, and paleo chocolate mug cake.
Does monk fruit impact insulin?
There seems to be conflicting results on whether monk fruit extract can spike insulin. Since there is no sugar or carbs, the extract doesn’t raise blood sugar.
However, there is a study where monk fruit did impact insulin. In this study it was shown that mogrosides, the naturally sweet compounds in monk fruit, increased insulin secretion.
This increased insulin response may actually be beneficial, though. Stimulating insulin secretion benefits those with insulin resistance because it helps them to respond better to glucose.
What about allulose?
Allulose is the talk of the town right now in keto circles. Why? It’s a natural sugar that doesn’t raise blood sugar.
Since allulose behaves more like sugar it gives homemade keto ice cream a softer texture so it’s more scoopable when frozen. And, using it in baked goods like cookies also provides the softness that’s often missing without conventional sugar.
Like monk fruit, allulose scores a zero on the glycemic index. This is because it isn’t metabolized like other sugars.
It’s known as a rare sugar because it’s found in very few foods. There are trace amounts of it in figs, raisins, dragon fruit and maple syrup.
The calories in one gram of allulose are far less than regular table sugar. White sugar contains 4 calories per gram while allulose has only ⅓ of a calorie per gram.
There may even be benefits to consuming this rare sugar. One study shows that it can improve insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels.
However, because it’s still fairly new, allulose tends to be more expensive than other keto sweeteners. So, you may want to hold off until the price comes down.
Prebiotic fibers: Inulin & oligofructose
Prebiotics are the fiber that the probiotics in your gut snack on. Consider it food for your good bacteria. The two main prebiotics are inulin and oligofructose.
Inulin is often produced from chicory root. Oligofructose is a component of inulin that’s isolated by using an enzymatic process.
Fiber helps you feel full. Thus, if you’re using inulin (like chicory root) in your recipes, it might help with portion control.
Since inulin is only 35% as sweet as sugar, it’s often combined with another sweetener. The sweetener Swerve is probably the most popular keto sweetener containing prebiotic fiber. Swerve contains a blend of oligosaccharides and erythritol.
With a low glycemic index of only 3, tagatose may be an option. However, it does contain more carbohydrates than other low carb natural based sweeteners. There’s about 35 grams of net carbs in 100 grams of tagatose. It’s a simple sugar that’s usually isolated from the lactose in cow’s milk. And since it caramelizes like sugar it’s often added to keto brown sugar replacements like Sukrin Gold. Being 75-90% as sweet as sugar often allows it to be used as a one-for-one sugar replacement.
Pentose is a sweet component of the winter squash kabocha which is isolated to create a kabocha extract sweetener. It’s an ideal keto sweetener because it has zero calories and no impact on blood glucose.
Best keto sweeteners
If you’re on a ketogenic diet and need to stay in a state of ketosis, stevia or monk fruit extracts are your best bet. But stick to the pure extracts with no added erythritol or other bulk sweeteners.
The SweetLeaf Sweet Drops brand of liquid stevia is one of my favorites and it comes in a variety of flavors. Stevia in general contains about a handful of grams of carbs. But that’s not per serving (teaspoon). That’s per 100 grams, which is about 20 teaspoons. As long as you use a pure stevia extract with no maltodextrin or dextrose (another sugar from corn), stevia is keto-friendly.
When it comes to monk fruit, I like the Lakanto brand. But like stevia, stick to the ones that aren’t blended with erythritol or others bulk sweeteners. Blending the stevia with monk fruit often provides a better taste than using just one. I think it’s the perfect low carb sweetener blend!
The downside of sweetener extracts is that they can be difficult to measure accurately. However, with zero measurable carbs per serving, I find them to be the best for ketogenic diets.
Because they are hard to measure and they lack volume, pure extract sweeteners don’t work that well for baking. So I recommend using stevia and or monk fruit blended with erythritol when a bulk sweetener is needed. My favorites are Sukrin:1 and Lakanto Classic.
Are artificial sweeteners safe to use?
With so many natural based keto sweeteners to choose from, there’s no need to use artificial sweeteners. And many studies indicate that most artificial sweeteners can have some negative effects like stimulating the appetite resulting in overeating or altering gut bacteria. That’s why I recommend sticking to natural sweeteners. However, I’m providing information on popular synthetic sweeteners as they are used in some keto products.
Sucralose, often sold under the brand name Splenda, is an artificial sweetener that is created by chlorinating sugar to replace three hydroxyl groups with three chlorine atoms. Recent studies show that sucralose does break down when heated so it isn’t a good choice when baking as potentially toxic chemicals are released. It’s also been shown to increase appetite making which can result in overeating.
If you choose to use sucralose, stick to the concentrated liquid version instead of the powder. The powdered kind like Splenda adds dextrose and maltodextrin which aren’t keto friendly.
Once a popular sweetener, saccharin is rarely used these days after animal-based tested concluded that saccharin was potentially a cancer causing substance. Saccharin can also have an undesirable bitter taste, especially when cooked.
Acesulfame Potassium (K)
One benefit that Acesulfame K has over other artificial sweeteners is that it’s stable under heat. But it does have a bitter aftertaste which is why it’s often blended with another sweetener. It has been shown to affect the gut bacteria and body weight in animal studies (source) so it’s best to avoid.
Though popular in soft drinks, aspartame isn’t recommended for baking as it can break down and become bitter with an undesirable aftertaste. There’s a lot of reports linking the artificial sweetener to cancer, headaches, weight gain, and other potential ailments.
Now that you know more about low carb sweeteners, you may have chosen one or more as your favorites. But how do you replace one sugar substitute for another? I’ve come up with the following chart to help.
Since most of my recipes call for a one-for-one sugar replacement, I’ve added sugar at the top of the chart for reference.
|Sugar||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||¼ Cup||⅓ Cup||½ Cup||1 Cup|
|So Nourished Erythritol||11/4 tsp||1 Tbsp + 1 tsp||1/3 cup||1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp||2/3 cup||11/3 cup|
|Now Better Stevia||1/32 tsp||1/16 + 1/32 tsp||3/8 tsp||1/2 tsp||3/4 tsp||11/2 tsp|
|SweetLeaf Stevia Drops||5 drops||15 drops||1/2 tsp||2/3 tsp||1 tsp||2 tsp|
|NuNaturals Monk Fruit Extract||1/64 tsp||1/32 + 1/64 tsp||1/8 + 1/16 tsp||1/4 tsp||1/4 + 1/8 tsp||3/4 tsp|
|Lakanto 30% Monk Fruit Extract||1/32 tsp||1/16 + 1/32 tsp||3/8 tsp||1/2 tsp||3/4 tsp||11/2 tsp|
|Lakanto Liquid Monk Fruit Extract||4 drops||12 drops||3/8 tsp||1/2 tsp||3/4 tsp||11/2 tsp|
|NuNaturals Monk Fruit (liquid)||8 drops||24 drops||3/4 tsp||1 tsp||11/2 tsp||3 tsp|
|Lakanto Classic||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|Pyure All Purpose||1/2 tsp||11/2 tsp||2 Tbsp||2 Tbsp + 2 tsp||1/4 cup||1/2 cup|
|Truvia Spoonable||3/8 tsp||11/4 tsp||1 Tbsp + 2 tsp||2 Tbsp + 1 tsp||31/2 Tbsp||1/3 cup + 11/2 Tbsp|
|Hoosier Hill Farms Allulose||1 1/4 tsp||1 Tbsp + 1 tsp||1/3 cup||1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp||2/3 cup||11/3 cup|
|Micro Ingredients Inulin||1 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||3/4 cup||1 cup||11/2 cup||3 cups|
|Zint Xylitol||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|NuNaturals Tagatose||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|BochaSweet Kabocha Extract||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
NOTE: Conversion may vary by brand so check the single serving amount which is typically equivalent to the sweetness of 1 tsp sugar and adjust accordingly. For small measurements, use a mini mini measuring spoon set. A “pinch” measure can be used for 1/16 tsp and a “smidgen” measure can be used for 1/32 tsp. I also recommend buying a complete measuring spoon set that has a 1/3 tsp measure and a 1/16 tsp spoon.
Post updated in May 2019. Originally published July 2018.