One of the first things that tend to cause confusion when switching to a keto diet is the choice of sweeteners. You end up in a situation where the "good-old" sugar is demonized, and you have to choose from a variety of different unknown items. Allulose, monk fruit sweetener, erythritol, stevia - the list goes on. Which of the many sweeteners is best for cakes or whipped cream? Are these natural or artificial sweeteners? Are these sweeteners safe? Can you substitute regular sugar with these sweeteners 1:1? You'll find answers to these and many other questions in this comprehensive guide to keto sweeteners.
Why is Sugar not Allowed on Keto?
We've gone through times when white sugar was announced evil and brown sugar was recommended instead of it. But at the end of the day, sugar is sugar, regardless of its color. If you're on a keto diet, you can't consume any type of sugar. Why is that?
The key to a keto diet is to achieve and maintain the state of ketosis when the glucose level in your body is low enough to motivate the body to use the stored fats as a source of energy through ketone bodies. It's primarily ensured by drastically reducing carb intake and increasing the consumption of healthy fats.
Sugar increases blood sugar levels very fast and causes the brain to release dopamine, which is responsible for the satisfaction and happiness that you might feel after consuming a sweet candy or a doughnut (before the feeling of guilt steps in, of course).
Sugar is a carbohydrate, and the intake of carbohydrates on a keto diet should be strictly limited to avoid spikes in blood sugar or insulin levels. It's best to avoid sugar completely, including white sugar, brown sugar, table sugar, or any syrups containing sugar. Limiting the intake of carbohydrates can help reduce sugar cravings and control your appetite.
Remember also that you might be consuming sugar even if you don't add it to any of your meals. There's plenty of hidden sugar in almost any product that you buy at a store unless it's clearly stated that the product contains no sugar. Be it ketchup, mayonnaise, yogurt, or breakfast cereals - if you don't look closely enough, you can end up with a substantial consumption of sugar.
Different Types of Keto-Friendly Sweeteners
These are our top 5 best keto-friendly sweeteners that have versatile application options. These sweeteners contain natural components and are safe to consume on a keto diet. Consider their properties, benefits, and limitations when choosing the best keto sweetener for your recipe.
Stevia is one of the natural sweeteners that are sweeter than sugar. When using stevia in a liquid form, a couple of droplets can be sufficient to reach the desired level of sweetness.
We recommend using stevia when cooking dishes that have rich-in-taste ingredients that can neutralize the after-taste of stevia. Due to this reason, we rarely use stevia, if at all.
To achieve the same level of sweetness as with sugar, a rather substantial amount of stevia is needed, consequently creating a strong after-taste. The liquid stevia extract has an even stronger after-taste.
Also note that, when used in cooking, stevia only acts as a sweetener and has no effect on the texture of the dish (e.g., it doesn't act as a binding agent, and it won't help caramelize nuts, onions, etc.).
Erythritol, which basically is a sugar alcohol with zero calories, is a bit more versatile than stevia. Although it does have an after-taste, it's less distinct. When using erythritol in cooking, it's recommended to first grind it finely into a powder-like texture. Otherwise, the texture is going to be slightly grainy and crunchy, as with unmelted sugar.
When substituting sugar with erythritol, 1.3 parts of erythritol equals approximately 1 part of sugar.
Based on our observations and experiments, we recommend using erythritol in cakes and other flour-based dishes because erythritol doesn't crystalize and usually won't give you a grainy texture (provided you grind it before using).
However, do note that erythritol basically only acts as a sweetener and has no impact on the texture of the dish.
Steviol is pretty much like erythritol; only the proportion used to achieve the sweetness of sugar is basically 1:1, meaning it's as sweet as sugar. Compared to erythritol, it has a slightly stronger after-taste. However, since the amount of steviol used is usually less than with erythritol (in proportion to sugar), which will make up for this disadvantage, and most probably, you won't feel the difference in the intensity of the after-taste.
When adding steviol or erythritol (or the grainy stevia) to mixtures to be whipped, you'll notice that the sweetener tends to crystalize. When heated, it turns into a watery fluid that won't caramelize. Later it turns into a crystalline texture that resembles powdered sugar poured with water (before it melts).
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Based on our experience, this is the optimal and the most versatile sweetener out of all that we've experimented with. After cooling or setting, it doesn't crystallize and doesn't regain its original texture, provided it's mixed early enough with the rest ingredients to be whisked or whipped (e.g., whipping cream, jam, etc.).
Monk fruit sweetener doesn't have an intense aftertaste. It's our recommended option for whipping cream, confectionary creams, jams, marmalades, or chocolate - basically, any recipe that doesn't include toasting the sweetener.
Allulose is a great choice for recipes where the sweetener needs to be heated or toasted. It can be used to toast and caramelize nuts or oats, for instance. It's also suitable for making granola or muesli, or condensed milk.
We've noticed, though, that when cooking confectionary creams, mixtures with allulose don't whip until stiff peaks, and the cream can become slightly watery if you add a hot ingredient to the mixture. We, therefore, don't use allulose as a sugar alternative when whipping cream or when the recipe prescribes adding hot ingredients.
You might have noticed that there are also blends of different natural sweeteners available on the market. For instance, erythritol is frequently combined with other sweeteners, like xylitol and stevia, and monk fruit is a popular choice to combine with allulose. Do consider the properties of each ingredient when selecting a sweetener for your purpose, and follow the dosage instructions indicated on the packaging.
Things to Consider When Choosing Keto Sweeteners
Impact on the Texture
As mentioned earlier in this article, depending on the sweetener used, it can impact the texture of the dish that you're cooking. For instance, allulose can become watery when combined with heated ingredients. On the other hand, erythritol can give a grainy texture if not ground finely. It all can make a huge difference, especially when cooking confectionery items.
Some sweeteners have a stronger aftertaste (e.g., stevia or steviol), while others tend to blend well and leave no aftertaste at all. Consider this when choosing a sweetener for your recipes, taking into account the intensity of flavor of the rest of the ingredients in your dish.
Are Keto Sweeteners Safe?
Natural and artificial sweeteners are frequently confused, thinking that any sweetener used to substitute sugar is artificial, which is not the case. Artificial sweeteners include but are not limited to sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, and acesulfame K. As a general guideline, to evaluate the safety of a particular artificial sweetener, it's best to check whether it's FDA-approved.
The top 5 sweeteners covered by this article are natural sweeteners. They are made using natural components and are safe to use.
Regardless of the chosen type of sweetener, it's always recommended to use it in moderation.
Sweeteners to Avoid on Keto and Low-Carb Diet
Apart from artificial and highly processed sweeteners like maltodextrin, on a ketogenic diet, it's also best to avoid sweeteners that are high in sugar and carbs. These include but are not limited to honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar, and dates.
Keto Sweetener Cheetsheet
This summary will help you make your daily choices when cooking keto recipes and selecting the best options for commercially available natural sugar replacements.
- There is no one best sweetener that fits all. Consider the properties of each sweetener and choose the one that best suits the purpose.
- Depending on the sweetener, volumes needed can vary substantially, from some droplets to several cups, to achieve the same level of sweetness. Sugar cannot always be replaced by an equal amount of any other sweetener.
- Always consider the cooking process, including any requirements to heat or whip the ingredients, since it will have an impact on your choice of sugar substitute.
- Monk fruit sweetener is one of the most versatile natural sweetener options, while allulose is a great choice for recipes that involves heating the ingredients. Both sweeteners are great for keto baking.
Recipes with Keto Sweeteners
Recipes with Allulose
- Keto Granola with Chocolate
- Keto Marmalade Jam
- Granola Cookies
- Red, White, and Blue Dessert
- Keto Lemon Cheesecake
- Keto Strawberry Candies
- Gluten-Free Strawberry Cheesecake
- Honey & Passion Fruit Marmalade Cake