What You’ll Learn
- What Are Sugar Alcohols?
- Sugar Alcohols and Blood Sugar Levels
- How Are Sugar Alcohols Processed by the Body?
- What Sugar Alcohols Are Commonly Used in Food?
- The Health Pros and Cons of Sugar Alcohols
- What Is the Healthiest Sugar Alcohol?
- Are Sugar Alcohols Keto-Friendly?
- Benefits of Low-Calorie Sweeteners?
- Low-Calorie Sweeteners List
- Are Alternative Sweeteners Healthy?
- What Are the Risks of Low-Calorie Sweeteners?
- What Are the Best Low-Calorie Sweeteners for Keto?
- The Verdict
The keto diet is all about reducing your carb intake and increasing healthy fats. The purpose behind this is to transition your body from using carbs to make glucose for your body’s energy to your body using the ketones in stored fats. To achieve ketosis, it is necessary to reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 30 grams a day and avoid foods that are high in sugar.
Naturally, people who want to maintain a low carb diet look to sugar substitutes for their foods. Sugar alcohols are one trend, and they are replacing sugar in many low-carb foods. This leads to the question, “Are sugar alcohols and other sweeteners healthy and keto-friendly?” Take a look as we examine what these sugar substitutes are, how they are used, and whether or not they are healthy and keto-friendly.
What Are Sugar Alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are sweet carbohydrate compounds. They are a hybrid of a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule, which is where they get their name. They are not sugar or alcohol, and they contain no ethanol, which is the compound in alcohol that causes impairment. In fact, sugar alcohols exist naturally in some fruits and vegetables. That being said, most sugar alcohols are processed from other sugars.
Sugar alcohols work as a sugar substitute because they are similar to sugar in their chemical structure, so they make food taste sweet. They are different from artificial sweeteners (which are discussed below) and low-calorie sweeteners, so they do contain calories. However, they contain fewer calories than sugar. In addition, manufacturers use sugar alcohols in conjunction with low-calorie or artificial sweeteners to sweeten food.
Sugar Alcohols and Blood Sugar Levels
Everyone has a glycemic response, which is how your blood sugar is affected by different foods. When you eat foods that have high sugar content, your glycemic response will send a large amount of sugar into your bloodstream. By the same token, food that is lower in sugar content will cause a lower glycemic response, which translates into less sugar entering your bloodstream.
Insulin is responsible for sending the sugar into the cells of your body for energy, and the more sugar that is in your bloodstream, the more insulin your body produces. This is very important for people who have diabetes because their bodies tend not to produce enough insulin to process large amounts of sugar, so it is important that they keep their sugar intake low. Sugar alcohols help to reduce the amount of glucose entering the body, and most of them have a low impact on blood sugar levels.
How Are Sugar Alcohols Processed by the Body?
Sugar is absorbed by your body; it becomes fuel for cells so that they can function. When you are on a low-carb diet, you are in effect telling your body to change its energy source. Instead of using the glucose in sugars, your body will begin burning ketones in stored fats.
Sugar alcohols, unlike sugars, are only partially absorbed by your body. They travel to your small intestine, but part is absorbed, and part moves to your large intestine. The part that is not absorbed in your small intestine never travels into your bloodstream.
Different sugar alcohols have different absorption rates, and each one generally has a lower glycemic index than glucose, fructose, or sucrose, which are the three primary sugars.
What Sugar Alcohols Are Commonly Used in Food?
There are different sugar alcohols that are commonly used in food, and they differ in calories and sweetness. Take a look at some of the most common sugar alcohols used today:
Erythritol: This sugar alcohol has close to 70% of the sweetness of sugar, and people find that it tastes good. Manufacturers produce it by fermenting glucose from cornstarch.
One positive aspect of this sugar alcohol is that it does not reach your large intestine in large amounts, as most of it is excreted in your urine. It has only 0.2 calories per gram, which makes it a good sugar substitute.
Isomalt: This sugar alcohol is made from beet sugar. It is often combined with artificial sweeteners because it is not as sweet as sugar. It has around two calories per gram, and it is used in foods such as baked goods, cough drops, chewing gum, and hard candies.
Maltitol: Maltitol feels and tastes a lot like sugar because it is made from the sugar maltose. With this sugar alcohol, your body will absorb some of the sugar, so it is more likely than others to bring about a glycemic response. It is often used in baked goods, chewing gum, ice cream, and chocolate. If you have diabetes, you might consider skipping low-carb foods with maltitol in them.
Mannitol: Mannitol is a sugar alcohol that is produced from plants. It has 1.6 calories in each gram, and it is sweet enough to be used as a sugar replacement in some foods, including ice cream. It is not usually used as a sweetener on its own because it isn’t sweet enough, but its glycemic index is low enough to make it useful in foods for diabetics.
Sorbitol: Sorbitol feels cool in the mouth and has no aftertaste. It has a low glycemic index, and it is used in jelly spreads, soft candies, and chewing gum. It has 2.6 calories in each gram, and in large amounts, it can be hard on the digestive system.
Xylitol: This sugar alcohol is the most well researched and widely used of all of them. It is just as sweet as sugar, and it has 2.4 calories in each gram. It is also thought to improve oral hygiene. It is commonly used in hard candy, gumdrops, chewing gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
The Health Pros and Cons of Sugar Alcohols
Now that you can see how sugar alcohols are made and used, the question remains, “Are they healthy?” As you might expect, they offer some health benefits, and they come with some cautions. Take a look at the following benefits and disadvantages of sugar alcohols.
- Pro: They Help to Prevent Cavities
It is well established that sugar is the leading cause of cavities. Sugar feeds bacteria that exist in your mouth, and the bacteria then produce acids that break down the protective enamel on your teeth. When the enamel breaks down, cavities form.
Xylitol is actually used in toothpaste and mouthwash and has been studied for its positive effects on oral health. When the bacteria feed on xylitol, they are not able to metabolize it, so it stops their growth. The acid cannot be released, so your teeth stay protected.
Erythritol has also been studied, although not as extensively as Xylitol. However, it has shown signs of protection against cavities in school-aged children.
- Pro: They Act as Prebiotics
Sugar alcohols are not fully absorbed in your digestive system, so they can act as prebiotics. Prebiotics are carbs that your body is unable to digest. They end up in your gut, where they can function as food for healthy bacteria. In addition, prebiotics can help reduce blood sugar spikes. Xylitol acts as a prebiotic.
- Pro: They May Protect Against Osteoporosis
Studies using rats suggest that Xylitol can increase bone mineral content and density. This is the new research and has not yet been done on humans, but it is promising.
- Pro: They May Promote Skin Health
Studies have shown that xylitol is able to increase collagen production in rats. Collagen is a protein that is abundant in your body and holds it together. It is found in the skin, connective tissues, muscles, and bones.
- Con: They Can Cause Digestive Issues
If you consume large amounts of sugar alcohols, they can lead to discomforts such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Sugar alcohols are not completely digested, and the part that is unabsorbed travels to your large intestine where it is metabolized. In large amounts, it can lead to discomfort, but it will depend on how much is consumed and the individual’s body.
- Con: Maltitol Can Raise Blood Sugar
Maltitol is made of sugars that are bonded together, and in the course of digestion, the bond is broken and glucose is released into your body. It can cause your blood sugar to spike when it is absorbed in the small intestine.
- Con: It Is Easy to Accidentally Consume Too Much
Knowing that food is “sugar-free” can lead to a person eating too much of it. The problem is that even though these sugar alcohols on their own have fewer calories and carbs than table sugar when you eat more of them, the end result may be the same. Don’t let the fact that something is labeled sugar-free leads you to eat more of it.
- Con: Xylitol Is Toxic to Dogs
It is important to note that dogs cannot consume xylitol. When they do, their bodies recognize it as sugar, and they produce too much insulin. Their body reacts by taking sugar from the bloodstream, which can lead to hypoglycemia. This condition can be fatal, so be sure to keep your dog away from xylitol.
What Is the Healthiest Sugar Alcohol?
The sugar alcohol that is considered the healthiest overall as erythritol. It has virtually no calories and does not affect blood sugar. In addition, it causes the fewest digestive problems because it is mostly excreted in urine.
Are Sugar Alcohols Keto-Friendly?
Finding ways to eat low carb is a big part of the keto diet, but keto is more than that. The reason for eating low carb is to promote health, and replacing carbs with quality foods is important. Sugar alcohols have shown that they can stand as substitutes for sugar in foods, but their long-term effects are not widely known.
In addition, they do not contain any essential nutrients, and they can cause digestive problems. You should make sure that you limit how much you consume. They can be keto-friendly in moderation, and there are other sugar substitutes and natural sweeteners out there, including Stevia, Truvia, Equal, Sweet’N Low, and Sucralose.
Benefits of Low-Calorie Sweeteners?
Sweeteners have been widely studied and tested for safety as substitutes for sugar in foods. They taste very similar to sugar, and they are much sweeter, so it is possible to use very small amounts. The benefit is that they add very few calories if any, to the food or drink, and they do not play a role in cavity development.
The FDA sets standards for the use of low-calorie sweeteners, and they require food and beverage manufacturers to use levels that eliminate any health risk to a person consuming the daily recommended amount over an entire life span. They set this level 100 times lower than the actual risk level, which ensures that these products are safe.
In addition, these products have been determined to be safe for all people with few exceptions. Studies have shown that they do not cause cancer or other health conditions. In addition, they can help with weight loss.
Low-Calorie Sweeteners List
Here are some of the most common low-calorie sweeteners that are used in place of sugar:
Monk Fruit: This low-cal sweetener comes from the Chinese monk fruit. It has no calories, and it is almost 200 times sweeter than sugar, so you can use very little. It is also a strong antioxidant, and it has a low glycemic index.
Stevia: Stevia comes from the leaves of the stevia plant in South America. It has no calories and can be up to 350 times sweeter than sugar. It has been tested and found to be one of the safest low-calorie sweeteners for humans.
Truvia: Truvia is a blend of three ingredients: the sugar alcohol erythritol, a sweet compound called Rebaudioside A, which is compounded from the stevia plant, and natural flavors. It is different from stevia, which is made from the leaves of the stevia plant. Although it is often marketed as a stevia-based sweetener, it does not use the parts of the stevia plant that lead to health benefits. This is somewhat misleading. Its main ingredient is a sugar alcohol, erythritol, which doesn’t cause digestive problems and is considered safe.
Equal: The primary ingredient in equal is aspartame. It has very low calories, and it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Sweet’N Low: Sweet’N Low is one of the first sweeteners that was made and used in foods. Its main ingredient is saccharin, and it is up to 400 times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories, and you don’t need to use much to sweeten your food or drink.
Sucralose: Sucralose is the ingredient in Splenda. It has no calories, and it is 400 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. It is made from sugar, and it tastes like sugar. Sucralose has a number of benefits, including the following:
- It is made from sugar
- It tastes great
- It is safe for everyone
- It is safe for Diabetics
- It doesn’t have any calories
- It is heat stable and can be used in baking
- It does not cause tooth decay
- It has a long shelf life
Are Alternative Sweeteners Healthy?
This question has been the subject of many debates over the years. The artificial sweeteners are chemicals that are added to food and beverages to make them taste sweet. Stevia is plant-based and considered to be natural, and monks fruit is derived from a fruit.
They add little to no calories to food and drinks, which is helpful for people who are trying to lose weight. Some people claim that these sweeteners actually cause hunger and cravings, but the studies have mixed results. Most recent studies show that people have lower cravings and reduced hunger when they use artificial sweeteners.
People who have diabetes can benefit from low-calorie sweeteners because they will have the sweet taste without the dangerous blood sugar levels. In addition, studies have found that artificially sweetened drinks are better for people than sugary drinks and may decrease the likelihood of developing different medical conditions.
Low-calorie sweeteners do not have many risks, and they help people control their blood sugar. They also promote dental health because they do not cause calories. They are healthy in that they decrease the amount of sugar in your diet. This can lead to weight loss as well. There are those who claim that artificial sweeteners have negative health effects, but the research is not conclusive, and the FDA has ruled them to be safe.
What Are the Risks of Low-Calorie Sweeteners?
Although the FDA has approved these sweeteners as safe for consumption, people have concerns over their safety. These risks are only potential risks because no definite link has been found between low-calorie sweeteners and the potential risks.
Some people claim that instead of helping with weight loss, low-calorie sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity. They say that the sweetener does not activate the mechanism inside your body that makes you feel full. They also say that the lack of calories is confusing to the brain and makes it still feel hungry. Finally, people claim that the sweeteners cause cravings for sugar.
Recent studies suggest that the opposite is true and that replacing food and drinks with high sugar content with low calorie sweetened food and drinks actually reduces caloric intake and hunger.
Observational studies claim to find a link between drinks with sweeteners and obesity. However, randomized controlled studies show that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight. They do note that if people switch to diet soda and increase their sugar intake in other foods, they will gain weight.
There are also studies that suggest that people who drink diet soda have an increased chance of metabolic syndrome, including conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess belly fat, and high blood sugar, which could lead to stroke or heart disease. However, recent studies have shown the opposite to be true.
There has also been debate on the potential for artificial sweeteners to cause cancer. But current evidence says that this is unlikely.
There are different claims of the risks of using artificial and low-calorie sweeteners, but it is important to note that these products have been determined to be safe by the FDA, and recent studies are showing that many of these claims are not accurate.
What Are the Best Low-Calorie Sweeteners for Keto?
Low-calorie sweeteners are a helpful way to get your sugar fix when you are cutting back carbs. Some foods and drinks just need to be sweet. The important things to consider for keto are the glycemic index, how much sugar they have, and how many carbs they have. Another important factor is the overall health. Although it is important to take sugar out of your diet, you shouldn’t replace it with something that might cause you discomfort or harm.
Stevia is considered to be the best overall low-calorie sweetener for keto. It is plant-based, and it has no calories and scores a zero on the glycemic index. It is much sweeter than sugar, so you do not need to use much. In addition, it has antioxidant properties, and it has been shown to have a positive impact on blood sugar levels after you eat.
Monks fruit is made from a fruit, and it also has antioxidant properties. It also scores a zero on the glycemic index, and it has no calories. The only negative is that it is hard to find and more expensive than other products.
Sugar alcohols and low-calorie sweeteners all function to replace sugar and make foods lower calorie. These products allow people to maintain the keto diet and still have food and drinks that taste sweet. The keto diet is more than just limiting sugar; it is a process of making the body function at a higher level and be healthier. As a result, some of these products are more keto-friendly than others.
Erythritol is the first choice of sugar alcohol for the keto diet because it is almost completely absorbed in the small intestine and excreted in the urine without affecting the large intestine as the others do. As far as low-calorie sweeteners go, Stevia and monks fruit are keto-friendly, and Sucralose has many benefits as well. All of these products are helpful to keep you in ketosis and allow you to get your fix of sweets, but it is a good idea to limit how much you consume.