Following a ketogenic diet involves cutting back on high-carb foods like starches, desserts, and processed snacks.
This is essential to reaching a metabolic state called ketosis, which causes your body to begin breaking down fat stores instead of carbs to produce energy.
Ketosis also requires reducing sugar consumption, which can make it challenging to sweeten beverages, baked goods, sauces, and dressings.
Fortunately, there are various low-carb sweeteners that you can enjoy.
Here are the 6 best sweeteners for a low-carb keto diet — plus 6 you should avoid.
Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant.
It’s considered a nonnutritive sweetener, which means that it contains little to no calories or carbs.
Unlike regular sugar, animal and human studies have shown that stevia may help lower blood sugar levels.
Stevia is available in both liquid and powdered form and can be used to sweeten everything from drinks to desserts.
However, because it’s much sweeter than regular sugar, recipes require less stevia to achieve the same flavor.
For each cup (200 grams) of sugar, substitute only 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of powdered stevia.
Summary: Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant that contains little to no calories or carbs.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is not metabolized, meaning it passes through your body undigested and thus doesn’t provide calories or carbs.
Splenda is the most common sucralose-based sweetener on the market and is popular because it lacks the bitter taste found in many other artificial sweeteners.
While sucralose itself is calorie-free, Splenda contains maltodextrin and dextrose, two carbs that supply about 3 calories and 1 gram of carbs in each packet.
Unlike other types of sweeteners, sucralose is not a suitable substitute for sugar in recipes that require baking.
Some studies have found that sucralose could produce harmful compounds when exposed to high temperatures.
Instead, use sucralose as a low-carb way to sweeten drinks or foods like oatmeal and yogurt and stick to other sweeteners for baking.
Splenda can be substituted for sugar in a 1:1 ratio for most recipes.
However, pure sucralose is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you’ll only need to use a tiny amount in place of sugar for your favorite foods.
Summary: Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that’s free of calories and carbs. Splenda, a popular sucralose-based sweetener, provides a small number of calories and carbs.
Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol — a class of naturally occurring compounds that stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue to mimic the taste of sugar.
It’s up to 80% as sweet as regular sugar, yet it contains only 5% of the calories at just 0.2 calories per gram.
Additionally, though erythritol has 4 grams of carbs per teaspoon (4 grams), studies show that it may help lower blood sugar levels in your body.
Moreover, due to its smaller molecular weight, it typically doesn’t cause the digestive issues associated with other types of sugar alcohols.
Erythritol is used in both baking and cooking and can be substituted for sugar in a wide variety of recipes.
Keep in mind that it tends to have a cooling mouthfeel and doesn’t dissolve as well as sugar, which can leave foods with a slightly gritty texture.
For best results, swap about 1 1/3 cups (267 grams) of erythritol for each cup (200 grams) of sugar.
Suggested read: 5 natural sweeteners that are good for your health
Summary: Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol that’s 80% as sweet as regular sugar with just 5% of the calories. Studies show that the carbs in erythritol don’t affect blood sugar the same way as regular sugar.
Xylitol is another type of sugar alcohol commonly found in products like sugar-free gum, candies, and mints.
It’s as sweet as sugar but contains just 3 calories per gram and 4 grams of carbs per teaspoon (4 grams).
Yet, like other sugar alcohols, the carbs in xylitol don’t count as net carbs, as they don’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels to the extent sugar does.
Xylitol can be easily added to tea, coffee, shakes, or smoothies for a low-carb kick of flavor.
It also works well in baked goods but may require a bit of extra liquid in the recipe, as it tends to absorb moisture and increase dryness.
Because xylitol is as sweet as regular sugar, you can exchange it for sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
Note that xylitol has been associated with digestive problems when used in high doses, so scale back your intake if you notice any adverse effects.
Summary: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is as sweet as regular sugar. Because the carbs in xylitol don’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels the same way as sugar, they don’t count towards the total amount of net carbs.
5. Monk fruit sweetener
As its name implies, monk fruit sweetener is a natural sweetener extracted from the monk fruit, a plant native to southern China.
It contains natural sugars and compounds called mogrosides, which are antioxidants that account for much of the sweetness of the fruit.
Depending on the concentration of mogrosides, monk fruit sweetener can be anywhere between 100–250 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Suggested read: Stevia
Monk fruit extract contains no calories and no carbs, making it a great option for a ketogenic diet.
The mogrosides may also stimulate the release of insulin, which can improve the transportation of sugar out of the bloodstream to help manage blood sugar levels.
Be sure to check the ingredients label when buying monk fruit sweetener, as monk fruit extract is sometimes mixed with sugar, molasses, or other sweeteners that can alter the total calorie and carb content.
Monk fruit sweetener can be used anywhere you would use regular sugar.
The amount you use can vary between different brands based on what other ingredients may be included.
While some recommend substituting using an equal amount of monk fruit sweetener for sugar, others advise cutting the amount of sweetener in half.
Summary: Monk fruit sweetener is a natural sweetener that’s 100–250 times sweeter than sugar but contains no calories or carbs.
6. Yacon syrup
Yacon syrup comes from the roots of the yacon plant, a tuber widely grown in South America.
The sweet syrup of the yacon plant is rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of soluble fiber that your body is unable to digest.
It also contains several simple sugars, including sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
Since your body doesn’t digest a large portion of yacon syrup, it contains about one-third the calories of regular sugar, with just 20 calories per tablespoon (15 ml).
Additionally, though it has about 11 grams of carbs per tablespoon (15 ml), studies show that the carbs in yacon syrup don’t affect blood sugar the way regular sugar does.
Both human and animal studies have found that yacon syrup may help reduce blood sugar and insulin levels to promote blood sugar control.
Yacon syrup is best used as a sweetener in place of sugar in coffee, tea, cereal, or salad dressings.
However, cooking with yacon syrup is not recommended, as the fructooligosaccharides can break down when exposed to high temperatures.
Substitute yacon syrup using an equal amount in place of other liquid sweeteners like molasses, corn syrup, or cane juice.
Summary: Yacon syrup is a sweetener rich in fructooligosaccharides, a type of fiber that your body cannot digest. Human and animal studies suggest that yacon syrup may help lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
Sweeteners to avoid on a low-carb keto diet
While there are plenty of options for low-carb sweeteners you can enjoy on a ketogenic diet, there are many others that aren’t ideal.
Suggested read: Corn syrup substitutes: 5 healthier options
Here are a few sweeteners that are high in carbs, can increase blood sugar levels and interrupt ketosis:
- Maltodextrin: This highly processed sweetener is produced from starchy plants like rice, corn, or wheat and contains the same amount of calories and carbs as regular sugar.
- Honey: High-quality honey contains antioxidants and nutrients, making it a better choice than refined sugar. However, it’s still high in calories and carbs and may not be suitable for a keto diet.
- Coconut sugar: Made from the sap of the coconut palm, coconut sugar is absorbed more slowly than regular sugar. However, it’s also high in fructose, which can contribute to impaired blood sugar control.
- Maple syrup: Each serving of maple syrup packs a good amount of micronutrients like manganese and zinc but is also high in sugar and carbs.
- Agave nectar: Agave nectar is about 85% fructose, which can decrease your body’s sensitivity to insulin and contribute to metabolic syndrome, making it difficult for your body to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Dates: This dried fruit is often used to sweeten desserts naturally. Despite supplying a small amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, dates also contain a substantial amount of carbs.
Summary: Watch out for sweeteners that are high in sugar and carbs when following a ketogenic diet. These include maltodextrin, honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, and dates.
Following a ketogenic diet involves limiting your carb intake and reducing added sugar consumption to reach a state of ketosis.
Luckily, there are many sweeteners available that can still be used on a low-carb keto diet.
Use these sweeteners in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced keto diet to add flavor while remaining low-carb.