A Look at Naturally-Derived Sweeteners
A LOOK AT NATURALLY-DERIVED SWEETENERS
Marci Clow, MS, RDN
Erythritol belongs to a group of low-calorie sweeteners called sugar alcohols which occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables, as well as in some fermented foods like soy sauce. Erythritol provides minimal calories, is about 70% as sweet as table sugar and has the lowest effect on your blood sugar compared to other sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, xylitol and maltitol.
Erythritol isn’t fully digested and absorbed by the body, in fact one study suggested that roughly 90% of erythritol is absorbed into the bloodstream and small intestine before reaching the large intestine and eventually being excreted through the urine. Other sugar alcohols pass through the digestive system intact, which can cause digestive problems for some people.
On product labels erythritol, and other sugar alcohols, can be listed generically in the Nutrition Facts as “sugar alcohol” or by its specific name under the Total Carbohydrate section. When calculating net carbs, the total value of erythritol can be subtracted because it isn’t absorbed by the body like traditional sugar. The other sugar alcohols have a slight effect on blood sugar, so most Net Carb “experts” recommend dividing the total number of grams per serving in half and then subtracting that number from the total carbohydrates.
As far as flavor and functionality go, erythritol has no aftertaste and is easily combined with other sugar substitutes to create a flavor comparable to sugar. It’s a great option for baking but does have a shorter shelf life. It may be best combined with other sweeteners to preserve flavor and quality!
Monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo) is a green gourd that resembles a small melon and is grown in Southeast Asia. Buddhist monks in the 13th century apparently utilized this ingredient both as a sweetener and as a traditional remedy for various ailments, hence the unusual name. Monk fruit contains super sweet naturally occurring chemicals called mogrosides, which make the extract 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, but with no calories and minimal effect on blood sugar. So basically, it’s amazing. And guess what? Monk fruit is recognized by the FDA as generally safe.
Sometimes referred to as candy leaf, sweet leaf, or sugar leaf, stevia rebaudiana [JH3] is a plant native to Central and South America but is now grown in many locations throughout the world. Stevia extract naturally contains steviol glycosides [JH4] which make it 200 – 300 times sweeter than sugar and, like monk fruit, it has zero calories and does not spike blood sugar levels, as it can’t be digested by the human body. Stevia extract is widely available commercially, and the FDA has recognized highly refined stevia preparations as generally safe. Stevia has a bitter aftertaste and is often found blended with other sweeteners.
Allulose is the new kid on the block when it comes to natural sweeteners. It is a “low impact” sugar naturally present in small quantities in sweet foods like maple syrup, figs, raisins, and jackfruit. [MC5] The human body doesn’t recognize Allulose as a carbohydrate and it’s not digested for energy, it has approximately 5% of the calories of sugar with small effects on blood sugar. Allulose is about 70% as sweet as table sugar and has a similar, taste, texture and function, making it a great ingredient to use in recipes. Since allulose is technically a sugar, it counts towards grams of total carbohydrate on the label. However, because of the small impact on calories, the FDA allows removal from total and added sugar declarations on product labels. For those who calculate net carbs [MC6] (the carbs your body actually digests and absorbs), allulose can be subtracted from the total carbs per serving.
Is Erythritol Keto-Friendly?
When it comes to finding a sweetener that doesn't effect your blood sugar, that is not artificial, and that works in recipes like sugar – and more importantly tastes as yummy as sugar – you’re in luck!
“No added sugar/sugar reduction” was recently identified as one of 16 hot topics of interest to American consumers, so it is no wonder that low or zero-calorie sweeteners are increasing in popularity.
Previously, the only options for sugar substitutes involved chemically derived, synthetic tasting, artificial sweeteners that were notorious for grabbing media headlines due to concerns over safety. Thanks to some naturally-derived newcomers, sugar substitutes are no longer the bad guys, and if you are looking for options that can be successfully incorporated into your keto or low-carb lifestyle, you’ve come to the right spot.
In the end it all comes down to taste, effect on blood sugar and how you plan to use your sugar substitute. These natural sugar substitutes mimic table sugar and are suitable for those who choose a low-carb lifestyle. You can buy and try them all out to find your sweet spot.