Ultimate Guide to Sweeteners for Paleo and Ketogenic Diets
Choosing which sweetener to use can be a daunting task especially when the mainstream media disguises refined and processed sugars as natural, raw, low caloric, or organic. An organic sugar, while pesticide free, has no less of an impact on your blood sugar, carbohydrate load, or your waistline. I’ve come up with a list of my favorite low carb, Keto friendly, and Paleo approved sweeteners so that you can feel good about choosing a sweetener to use in your occasional baked Paleo and grain free dessert, bread, muffin, cookie, and Keto treats.
While there are a few more natural and less refined sweeteners out there, I still recommend the use of those (listed below) to be kept just for special occasion and never for ordinary use. These sweeteners by large offer no real nourishment and should never replace real food.
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, equal, NutraSweet, saccharin, splenda, sucralose, Sweet n’Low should never be consumed. These artificial sweeteners adversely affect glucose tolerance and gut health, they increase cravings while decreasing metabolism, they increase hunger and disrupt the balance of our hunger hormones, they increase fat storage and make it harder to lose weight, and they are actually addictive because your brain thinks you are eating sugar.
My Favorite Sweeteners
Erythritol is a naturally derived sugar that is broken down in the small intestine. Since it does not reach the colon there are no digestive problems that occur from other alcohol sugars such as maltitol and sorbitol. Erythritol is found in some fruits and vegetables and is made from fermenting plant sugars, mostly vegetables. Erythritol has no effect on blood glucose levels and will help you to stay in ketosis. It has zero calories and comes in both granulated and powdered form. Make sure you choose non-GMO sources. Try mixing it with another allowed sugar.
1 cup Erythritol = 1 cup sugar
Inulin is derived from chicory root. If you are sensitive to indigestible fibers and FODMAPS you may want to be careful with this one. Inulin can also have a laxative effect, so I would not recommend using it as a direct replacement for sugar. Combine it with other allowed sweeteners.
Monk fruit extract or lo han guo is often found at Asian markets. It is cultivated in mountains in China. The chemical compound extracted is over 100 times sweeter than table sugar, but has no bitter aftertaste. You can find monk fruit in a pure liquid or powdered form. Be careful of additives when choosing monk fruit and choose brands that don’t have maltodextrin.
1 tsp. Monk Fruit = 1 cup sugar
Raw honey makes the list because it has amazing health benefits with antibacterial and antiviral qualities. Raw honey contains antioxidants, enzymes, minerals, and many B vitamins, however, to keep it pure it cannot be heated over 120 degrees. Raw honey will cause a big spike in blood sugar and has more calories than table sugar per serving, so use it sparingly. It can be used in small quantities (1 tsp – 1 Tbsp.) for health benefits, applied topically, and to aid in sleep.
Stevia is an herb that you can grow in your garden that has beautiful white flowers. Stevia has no effect on blood sugar, has zero calories, and has been shown to have positive effects on lowering blood pressure.
Liquid Stevia Glycerite is better than the white powdered version, as it has less aftertaste and no additives (be careful of added maltodextrin). Liquid stevia is much more concentrated and will have the bitter aftertaste so it’s best to always mix it with another allowed sugar in baking or just keep the amount very low.
My favorite choice is powdered green leaf stevia, which is made just by grinding up the real stevia leaves. The green powdered form seems to be the best tasting and least bitter type.
1 teaspoon liquid Stevia = 1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. green powdered stevia = I cup sugar
Xylitol is another sugar alcohol like erythritol, digested in the small intestine, before it reaches the colon, so it does not cause any rise in blood sugar. Some people don’t have the active enzyme that breaks down xylitol, so it will cause them digestive pain at first. The best advice is to use just a small amount, until the enzymes become activated. Make sure you buy high-quality xylitol derived from birch or pumpkin, not from corn.
1 cup xylitol = 1 cup sugar
Yacon syrup is pressed from the Yacon root and has been used for hundreds of years in Peru. It has a similar consistency to molasses and has a high mineral content. Yacon syrup has a very low effect on blood sugar levels. However, it is quite expensive, so I suggest using it only on occasion to improve the taste and texture of sauces or baked goods.
2 cups Yacon syrup = 1 cup sugar
Use In Moderation
These next sweeteners are natural, and less refined, so are a better choice than regular table sugar, but they should be used only for special occasions. They will cause a quick blood sugar spike and rush of insulin. All glucose acts the same in your body, once in your bloodstream there is a big rise in blood glucose followed by a rush of insulin, which starts the cycle of imbalanced blood sugar levels and inflammation.
Coconut sugar has a little more sucrose than fructose, but it is very comparable to table sugar and will raise your blood sugar considerably. It will kick you out of ketosis. It is very high in nutrients, such as vitamin B’s, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. But, since it’s used in such small amounts, it’s better to get those nutrients from real whole foods. Use Coconut sugar sparingly. It’s best left for special occasions.
1 cup Coconut sugar = 1 cup sugar
Good quality maple syrup can be used occasionally and for special treats, not as a go-to sweetener. Maple syrup is low in fructose, high in sucrose and will cause a quick rise in blood sugar definitely kicking you out of ketosis.
¾ cup maple syrup = 1 cup sugar
Honey that is not raw has none of the amazing antimicrobial health benefits of raw. Once honey is heated to over 120 degrees it is no longer raw, and even though it is less refined than table sugar, it still high in calories and fructose. If you choose to bake with honey try mixing it with a sweetener that ranks higher on my favorites list, to lessen the glycemic response.
¾ cup honey = 1 cup sugar
Blackstrap molasses is what is left after cane sugar is processed and refined. It has all the minerals and B vitamins that are in the sugar cane plant. Molasses is very high in fructose though, about 70%, so it is not a good choice but can be used in very small quantities to obtain the rich flavor it offers.
¾ cup Molasses = 1 cup sugar
The date palm tree is one of mankind’s oldest cultivated plants. Dates are a whole food rich in B vitamins, fiber, magnesium, and potassium but by weight, they are 80% pure sugar. While the fiber content in dates may help in digesting them they can still and do raise blood sugar significantly. So, it is wise to limit your consumption of dates despite their nutritional profile.
5 dates have about 30 grams of carbohydrates and only 3-4 grams of fiber.
What To Avoid
There are also sweeteners to avoid at all costs. You’d be surprised how many of these are hiding in foods you eat, even foods that may seem to be healthy. Pay attention to food labels. You’ll see that most processed foods use super-refined and low-quality sweeteners. Also, there are tons of sweeteners disguised with names you would never recognize.
*These sweeteners – coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses and dates – should be used sparingly and infrequently. Like sugar, they affect your blood sugar, burden your liver, and are very addictive. I only use them for special occasions.
Keep this list handy. Print it out, keep it in your pantry, take it when you grocery shop. Most important, try a few, more than a few, and find your favorites. I have spent tons of time experimenting, creating new recipes, and recreating old ones. I only use allowed sweeteners, and am always trying to reduce sweet flavors as low as I can, while making sure my children will devour what I make. Browse my recipe section, enjoy my favorites, get inspired to create your own delicious good-sweetener recipes.
- Throw away your plain table sugar unless you have birds to feed.
- Go buy a couple new low carb, Paleo, and Keto friendly sweeteners.
- Refer to this guide to help you replace the amount of sugars in your recipes.
- Definitely experiment with reducing the amount of sweetener in the recipes you use, to help your taste buds and palate adjust to less sweet foods.