The ketogenic diet is a higher fat, moderately low protein, and very low-carb diet, so it’s no surprise that sugar (the calorie-dense, least nutritious type of carb) is generally off limits on a ketogenic diet.
Some would argue that you could eat some sugar, if it falls within your daily macros (daily calories broken down into optimal amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, the latter of which usually tops out at around 20 grams per day). But to follow a clean, health-minded path, you’ll want to save the day’s allotted carbs for more nutritious options, such as keto-friendly vegetables, which will make you feel healthier and more satisfied, not to mention help you break your sugar addiction, which will in turn stop you from craving more sugar and maintaining a sweet tooth.
Breaking the Sugar Habit
So, yes, one of the great health benefits of the keto diet is ridding yourself of sugar cravings. But it doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle experience. There are wonderful non-caloric sugar substitutes that allow you to enjoy sweet rewards without carbs, blood-glucose spikes, addiction, or other adverse reactions, at least for most people. Like everything else, your reaction to sugar substitutes can be individual and we highly recommend you test some of the sugar alternatives mentioned below to make sure you’re not having adverse glucose reactions (i.e. spiked glucose levels) to them.
Common Sugars to Avoid
Like we said above, sugar in any form is off limits on the keto diet. That means it’s time to say goodbye to these sweeteners as well as any packaged foods that contain them:
- Agave syrup
- Cane sugar / table sugar
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Turbinado sugar
- Coconut sugar
So, what can you enjoy instead?
Alternative sweeteners, or sugar replacements, lend all the sweetness to foods without all the calories and carbs. But they’re not all created equal in flavor or benefits. Most of them fall into three categories: natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners. We’ve broken them down here so you know the difference, but if you just want to know what sweeteners we recommend, skip this section and go straight to our recommendations.
Natural sweeteners are made from concentrated components of edible plants.
- Monk Fruit Extract: Monk fruit, known in China as luo han guo, has been used as a natural sweetener for thousands of years. It has zero calories, zero carbs, and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. In powder form, it dissolves quickly and easily in liquids (perfect for tea or coffee!) Don’t use the granulated form for marinades or other liquid recipes; it dissolves when heated, then reconstructs when it cools. Want to try a monk fruit sweetener? We like Lakanto brand, which makes substitutes for crystallized sugar, brown sugar, and even maple syrup.
- Allulose: Allulose is a popular sugar-like low-calorie sweeteners. It’s made up of a monosaccharide (a simple sugar) that is found in small quantities in wheat, and certain fruits, such as jackfruit, figs, raisins. The reason that allulose has no glycemic index or net carb content is that the body doesn’t metabolize it. Try this Rare Sugar Sweetener made with Non-Metabolizing Allulose!
- Stevia: Often called “sugar leaf,” and made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, is more than 150 times sweeter than regular sugar and easy to find in grocers and even restaurants. If you’ve tried it, you already know it may have a bitter aftertaste. You can find it in powder form and liquid concentrate, the latter of which is great for sweetening beverages. If you use it in baking, you’ll want to slowly add up to half as much Stevia as sugar, tasting along the way to ensure you don’t add too much.
Ever heard of “sugar alcohols”? We hadn’t either before going keto. But they’re your new best friends for baking, morning coffee, and more, and they come in forms similar to the types of sugars you’re used to enjoying.
Several sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. However, some are processed from other sugars, such as from glucose in cornstarch. Some are carb-free, and others are low-carb sweeteners that contain about half the carbs of regular sugar. Available in granular, powdered, brown-sugar style, and even liquid form, all can be bought online, in specialty grocery stores, or on Amazon. (They have a sweet taste and are what usually sweetens sugar-free or low-carb packaged foods.) Regardless, they tend to be extra sweet, so use them judiciously when learning to bake with them. We’ve divided the zero-carb and lower-carb options below. You’ll want to stick with the zero-carb sweeteners.
Sugar Alcohols with Zero Net Carb Count
- Erythritol: Great tasting with the least digestive-issues side effects; one of the ingredients in some popular sweeteners such as Truvia, Swerve, and Stevia (including liquid Stevia), among others
- Xylitol: Commonly found in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and toothpaste, this sweetener has a similar sweetness to sugar with 60% of the calories; may cause digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea.when consumed in large amounts
- Mannitol: Useful as a coating for hard candies, dried fruits, and chewing gums, it’s often included as an ingredient in candies and chewing gum; has a pleasant taste and mouthfeel
- Lactitol: Used as a replacement bulk sweetener for low-calorie foods with approximately 40% of the sweetness of sugar; popular for baking
Sugar Alcohols with Some Carb Count (Thus We Recommend Avoiding Them)
Artificial sweeteners, made from plants or even sugar, are exponentially sweeter than regular sugar and are generally combined with maltodextrin or dextrose — sugars— as a carrying agent. They’re controversial in the keto community because of concerns that, in some people, it stalls weight loss or can raise blood sugar and adversely affect ketosis. The following two artificial sweeteners are popular, but not recommended:
- Sucralose (i.e. Splenda)
Sweeteners We Recommend
The best sweeteners are those that have little effect on insulin levels and blood sugar levels; contain virtually no calories, no carbs, or fillers with hidden carbs; are high-quality with proven track records; and don’t have any bitter flavor or aftertaste. For that reason, we consider the following the best keto-friendly sweeteners:
- Monk fruit
- Stevia (or a blend of the two).
Bonus: when used in combination, they seem to lessen any cooling sensation and cancel out any negative aftertaste.