- Written by Liz Ford (Keto Source Dietitian)
Although sugar, honey and maple syrup are classified as “natural sweeteners” they cause a rise in blood glucose levels and cause an insulin response very similar to Sugar. For this reason, it is important to avoid all of these sweeteners on a Keto or LCHF eating plan to ensure your body continues to be an efficient fat burner rather than an inefficient “sugar burner” that requires constant refuelling.
So...Are sweeteners ok to use on LCHF and Keto?
There are some positives and some negatives to using sweeteners so let’s explore further.
Using some artificial sweeteners can be helpful in the early stages of changing to a lower carb or keto way of eating. If you have been used to eating or drinking lots of sugar, replacing some of this with a sweetener can make this change easier.
For example, changing to a diet fizzy drink or adding a sweetener to hot drinks instead of sugar. Or if you have a special occasion meal or celebration you may want to serve desserts or cake, and using a sweetener in these recipes instead of sugar reduces the insulin and glucose response of eating these foods.
There is some evidence to suggest that the use of artificial sweeteners can still affect the appetite control centre in the brain and may in some cases increase hunger and increase sugar cravings. Also some people experience gut reactions to some sweeteners and it is thought that the use of some sweeteners may compromise the gut bacteria or microbiome.
The best sweeteners to use on a LCHF or Keto way of eating are the ones that occur naturally in plants and do not cause a rise in blood sugar levels.
Commonly available sweeteners in NZ
Stevia is made from the leaves of the stevia plant and is many times more sweet than sugar, gram for gram and has virtually no calories.
There is some evidence to show stevia can help reduce high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels in humans.
Stevia contains no carbs, no calories and does not cause a rise in blood glucose levels. It also contains potassium, magnesium and zinc. Some people notice an aftertaste with this sweetener but this probably depends on the amount used.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in certain fruits. It is very sweet but very low in calories. It does not cause an increase in blood glucose levels. However some people do experience some gut upset with using this sweetener so go cautiously.
Monkfruit sweetener is made from a fruit that is grown in many countries around the world. This sweetener is much sweeter than sugar and does not have a bitter aftertaste. It does not cause an insulin spike and so is suitable to use on LCHF and Keto diets.
Yacon is a another sweetener made from a plant. It is also high in anti-oxidants, potassium and high in fibre. It has been proven to improve insulin resistance. Due to the high fibre content it is best to use cautiously in those with sensitive digestion.
There are also some sweetener products that are made up of a blend of different sweeteners. Read the levels carefully to check what you are buying.
As far as we know all of these sweeteners are safe to use, however be cautioned that using any sweeteners at all may contribute to cravings for more sweet foods.
We suggest that you mostly avoid foods with added sweeteners and save them for occasional use.
Other ways to add slight sweetness to foods: lemon juice, lime juice, vanilla essence, cinnamon, coconut cream or butter.
When you change to eating LCHF and Keto you find that your taste perception changes and many foods that you previously did not think were sweet now taste much sweeter. So you may not need to use sweeteners at all, or may use only occasionally.