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If you’re on a Keto or low-carb diet, sugar’s off the table. Artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame—linked with disruptions in gut bacteria, weight gain and potentially serious long-term effects—aren’t an option. But who can live without the occasional Keto-friendly fudge brownie or chocolate cake? Lucky for low-carb eaters, a handful of natural alternatives can tame any sweet tooth. Here’s the scoop on five Keto-approved sweeteners, with pros, cons and how to use them:
This white, crystalline powder naturally occurs in small amounts in raspberries, plums and other fruits and vegetables. It’s a type of sugar alcohol—a class of sweeteners that aren’t efficiently absorbed or digested—with 40 percent fewer calories than sugar and zero net carbs. Originally derived from birch bark (a highly concentrated natural source) most xylitol is now made from corn. You’ll find it as granulated or powdered xylitol, or blended with erythritol or other sweeteners.
Pros: xylitol has a neutral flavor, with a color and texture similar to sugar. It’s highly effective in preventing tooth decay and cavities, and some research suggests it may improve bone and tooth health, prevent ear infections and help control Candida.
Cons: like other sugar alcohols, xylitol can cause gas, bloating and loose stools in large quantities. Start with smaller amounts to see how well you tolerate it, and limit consumption to no more than 50 grams a day. It’s also toxic for dogs, so keep it away from pets in a pooch-proof container. Because it’s made from corn, it may contain GMOs; look for organic or GMO-free versions or (pricier) birch-derived xylitol.
Best for: xylitol is similar in color, texture and sweetness as cane sugar, dissolves easily in hot and cold liquids, and can be used instead of sugar in a 1 to 1 ratio. Because it can cause bloating and gas in larger quantities, it’s not ideal for baked goods or other high-sugar recipes; combine it with another option, like monk fruit or stevia.
Made from the luo han guo plant native to southwest China, monk fruit is intensely sweet, with zero calories or carbs. You’ll find it in a variety of forms, ranging from pure monk fruit concentrates to crystalline powders with added erythritol or other ingredients for bulk.
Pros: monk fruit has a mild flavor with little aftertaste, and has been safely used for thousands of years. Unlike xylitol and other sugar alcohols, it doesn’t cause digestive issues, and some research suggests monk fruit has anti-microbial properties, reduces inflammation and supports balanced blood sugar. All of which make it a great keto sweetener.
Cons: monk fruit is pricier than other Keto-friendly sweeteners, and some products are blended with maltodextrin or other cheap bulking agents; read labels, and choose non-GMO or organic versions. And while it’s relatively neutral in flavor, some people object to its mild aftertaste.
Best for: monk fruit dissolves easily and is intensely sweet; use it in small amounts in hot or cold beverages, smoothies, yogurt, ice cream or cereals. For pure monk fruit extract, about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon is as sweet as a cup of sugar. Because it lacks bulk, it’s harder to use in baking; combine it with erythritol or xylitol, or use a powdered form that has a GMO-free bulking ingredient.
This sugar alcohol occurs in small amounts in pears, grapes and other fruits and vegetables, and in some fermented foods like beer and cheese. It’s derived by fermenting glucose, usually from corn, and has zero calories and zero net carbs. You’ll find erythritol in powdered or granulated forms, or blended with monk fruit or other sweeteners.
Pros: erythritol has a neutral flavor and color, with little aftertaste. Unlike xylitol and other sugar alcohols, most is absorbed before it reaches the colon, so it’s less likely to cause digestive distress. Some research suggests it may protect against cavities even better than xylitol, blocking oral bacteria and enhancing remineralization of teeth.
Cons: though it’s less likely to cause digestive issues, people with sensitive stomachs or irritable bowel syndrome should limit erythritol to small amounts or avoid it altogether. Because it’s made from corn, it can contain GMOs; look for organic or non-GMO versions.
Best for: erythritol dissolves fairly well in hot or cold beverages, and can be used in baked goods or most other recipes; it’s less sweet than sugar, so use about 1 1/3 cups of erythritol for each cup of sugar. To minimize digestive issues in recipes with high amounts of sugar, combine it with other sweeteners like monk fruit or stevia.
From a small shrub native to South America, stevia is a highly concentrated sweetener that’s been safely used for centuries in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and other countries. It’s rich in compounds called steviosides and rebaudiosides that give it an intensely sweet flavor—about 300 times sweeter than sugar—with zero calories or net carbs. You’ll find it in a variety of forms, including pure stevia liquids and powders, combined with bulking agents, or as an ingredient in baking blends.
Pros: stevia doesn’t cause the digestive issues associated with sugar alcohols, and some suggest it lowers insulin and glucose levels and can normalize cholesterol and blood pressure.
Cons: some forms of stevia leave a bitter aftertaste, with undertones of licorice. Though early studies linking stevia with infertility and cancer have been debunked, some recent research suggests stevia may interfere with communication between gut bacteria and disrupt the microbiome.
Best for: stevia dissolves easily and is ideal for hot or cold beverages, cereals, yogurt, oatmeal, ice cream or smoothies. It’s intensely sweet; about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of powdered stevia is equivalent to a cup of sugar. Because it lacks bulk, it’s harder to use in baking; combine it with a bulkier sweetener, like erythritol or xylitol.
Newer to the Keto-sweeteners scene: allulose is an actual sugar, chemically similar to cane sugar and naturally found in small quantities in molasses, maple syrup, dried figs, raisins and other dried fruits. Sometimes called a “rare sugar,” it’s made by converting fructose, usually from corn, using an enzymatic process. Unlike sugar alcohols, allulose is digested and absorbed, but the body doesn’t metabolize it like sugar, so it’s virtually calorie-free with zero net carbs. You’ll find it in granulated or powdered forms, as pure allulose or blended with monk fruit or other ingredients.
Pros: allulose has a clean, neutral flavor with a mouthfeel similar to sugar and many of the same culinary properties. Some research suggests it can lower blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce body fat (including belly fat) and minimize fat storage in the liver.
Cons: allulose isn’t as well-researched as other sugar alternatives, so few long-term studies have been conducted. While it’s less likely than sugar alcohols to cause digestive distress, eating large quantities can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. Because it’s made from corn, it’s likely to contain GMOs. The enzymatic process also uses genetically engineered microbes; because they’re considered a processing aid, and not an ingredient in the final product, they don’t trigger disclosure as a bioengineered food.
Best for: because allulose has a similar chemical structure as sugar, it has many of the same properties, like browning and caramelization, and is ideal for baking, yielding a soft, moist texture to cookies, cakes and breads. It’s about 70 percent as sweet as cane sugar; use about 1 1/3 cups of pure allulose for every cup of sugar, or as a direct swap if you’re using a one-to-one blend.
Now that you’ve got the skinny on keto sweeteners, read on to learn more about this effective diet: