Sugar Substitutes 101: What Sweeteners to Use & Which to Avoid on a Low Carb Diet

Did you know that physiologically, sugar is just as addictive as cocaine and other drugs?

It’s true.

The consumption of sugar actually releases one of our feel-good hormones, dopamine. And in case you didn’t know, Dopamine is the same hormone that is triggered by addictive substances and drugs like cocaine. So it is easy to see how we could easily become addicted to sugary foods and starchy carbs that turn into sugar in our systems, especially when we as a society are chronically stressed out.


According to The Addiction Center, about 75% of the US population (kids included) eat an overabundance of sugar, which in turn is directly correlated to nearly every single negative health condition in modern society, including weight gain, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and chronic inflammation (which can cause a domino effect of other health issues like heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, and autoimmune issues)—there is even new evidence linking excessive sugar consumption to Alzheimer’s disease.

We are literally addicted to the very thing that is killing us.

And yet, unlike cocaine, consuming sugar is still socially acceptable.

But that doesn’t make it any safer or better for you. If anything, it’s worse.

So next time you reach for that sugary starchy food to give you that quick dopamine boost (whether intentionally or subconsciously), rethink the long-term consequences of those short-term gains and maybe opt for something with a sugar alternative (and in the process maybe learn to develop some other healthier coping skills).

That said, when making better choices for your long-term health, it can also be hard to know what low carb sugar substitutes are safe and which ones are best to avoid—and research shows that some of those supposedly “safe” sugar alternatives can in fact have detrimental effects on our health as well. So which devil is worse? Sugar or the sugar alternatives?

Just because it says zero carbs on the label doesn’t mean it is safe, or Thinlicious™ approved.

Luckily for you, we have made it our mission to understand sugar alternatives and how they affect our bodies, so we have a few suggestions over which ones are Thinlicious approved and which ones you can (and should) avoid, and why.

Thinlicious-Approved Low -Carb Sugar Substitutes & Alternatives

Monk Fruit Sweetener

We absolutely love monk fruit sweetener. This zero-carb and zero-calorie sweetener is naturally occurring, so it is not sugar alcohol. It is so incredibly sweet that honestly a little goes a long way, and it doesn’t seem to have that weird aftertaste like other sweeteners do. When trying to break your sugar dependency, monk fruit is a great alternative because for most of us it doesn’t spike your blood sugar or your insulin levels (usually seen the next day after consumption).

Since our focus here at Thinlicious is to reverse insulin resistance to help you live your best life, we have found monk fruit sweeteners to be a great tool to still be able to satisfy those cravings without throwing yourself out of ketosis or undermining all your hard work.

Monk fruit is a newly developed sweetener and we also like it because it is derived from the fruit by the same name and as such, is believed to maintain some of the antioxidant properties of Monk Fruit in its raw form. An added dose of antioxidants can’t hurt when it comes to reducing inflammation.

And the coolest part is that you can get monk fruit sweetener granulated, powdered and in liquid form—so you can use it in just about everything. We love using monk fruit in baking recipes as a 1:1 replacement for sugar. Sometimes you will see it blended with erythritol, which is also Thinlicious-approved.

You will see this sweetener featured in a lot of our recipes such as our Low-Carb Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Bites, our Blueberry Cream Cheese Low-Carb Muffins, and our Sweet & Savory Low-Carb Breakfast Casserole.

Allulose

Allulose is a zero-carb sweetener that is relatively new but naturally occurring in figs, raisins, wheat, corn, etc. It is typically derived from corn in mass production though, and like monk fruit sweetener, does not cause a spike in your blood sugar or insulin levels, so we love it and approve its use in our program (and outside of our program of course!).

This sweetener is slightly less sweet than Monk Fruit sweetener, so we like to use it in recipes that don’t need to be as sweet, but mostly in baking. We love that it has no aftertaste and dissolves into liquids just like regular sugar would.

As an added bonus it helps with the browning effect on the crust of the bread so we use it for any recipe we would love to have that pretty brown around the edges—like our Magic Protein Bread or our Magic Protein Low-carb Hamburger Rolls.

Allulose is not a calorie-free sweetener, but it is low-calorie (usually 10 calories per serving) so if watching your caloric intake is necessary (like during our protein fast days) then be sure to use it in moderation.

Erythritol

Another sugar alternative we use is Erythritol, and it tastes just like sugar. Like Allulose and Monk fruit sweeteners, Erythritol will not cause blood sugar or insulin spikes so we encourage its use! It is zero-calorie and zero-net carbs, so we love it even more—since it is a sugar alcohol we actually subtract the carbs from your daily carb count resulting in zero carbs!

This sweetener is derived from a fermentation process with corn, so it is naturally occurring rather than lab cultivated. While erythritol can be found in other naturally occurring plants aside from corn, the sweeteners found on the consumer market are mostly derived from corn.

Since this sweetener tastes just like sugar it can be used as a substitute anywhere you would use granulated or powdered sugar.

You will find erythritol (or a blend using it) in some of our recipes like our S​​imple Vanilla Low-Carb Cheesecake Fluff, Low-Carb Chocolate Cheesecake Snack Bites, and our Low-Carb Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Bites

Stevia 

Stevia is the most widely available sugar alternative, but we advise that you be careful with using it—many report a bitter aftertaste and there is a higher potential for headaches in many. That said, Stevia does not cause headaches for everyone and the sometimes bitter flavor isn’t a problem for everyone either, and most importantly it hasn’t been shown to cause spikes in insulin or blood sugar for most—so we approve this sweetener as long as you use it in its pure form (or a blend with other Thinlicious approved sweeteners).

Stevia is a naturally derived sweetener alternative that has no calories or carbs and is great to use in baking or anywhere sugar is used. As long as you are not one of those people who are negatively affected by headaches or the aftertaste, this sugar substitute is a solid choice—just be sure that it is not blended with other unapproved sweeteners.

Recommended Sweeteners

A word of caution….

Each of us has a different experience with food and food products and as such we will all likely respond differently to sugar substitutes. Test out each of our recommendations above and find what works best for you. While Stevia might cause headaches for some and not others, sugar alcohols like erythritol might cause some GI upset for some and not others. Try what works for you so that you can be most successful!

With all the keto hype, many products are listed as keto-friendly but contain sugar alternatives that we would not recommend because they can sabotage your weight loss journey and path toward insulin resistance. To make this easier for you, we have listed those below.

Sweeteners We Recommend You Completely Avoid.

Sugar

For obvious reasons as explained above, but just in case—we wanted to reiterate that sugar should be completely avoided—even in small doses.

Sucralose

Sucralose is just chemically modified sugar and is most often known as Splenda. Some studies show this sugar alternative can cause a spike in your fasting glucose levels and regular use can lead to insulin resistance. We recommend you avoid this sweetener and save yourself the concern or hassle. 

Saccharin

Saccharin, popularly known as Sweet’n’Low, is a sugar we definitely don’t recommend. It has been linked to insulin spikes and resistance and has a checkered past with health concerns. While the FDA says it is safe for human consumption, other studies suggest that it may not be as safe as we think. We recommend avoiding this sweetener altogether. 

Aspartame

Aspartame has been on the market for a really long time and is most commonly known as Equal. While aspartame is FDA approved as a sugar alternative, it is not Thinlicious approved. Studies have shown that aspartame actually changes your gut microbiome which can cause inflammation. Inflammation is one of the key indicators of insulin resistance so while aspartame may not immediately spike your insulin, long-term effects would be counterintuitive and therefore it is best to avoid it.

Acesulfame Potassium

This sweetener is most often known as Sweet One, and is usually found in baked goods. This sneaky sweetener may not stand out as it is commonly combined with other sweeteners, but we recommend you avoid it. Like aspartame, this sugar alternative has been shown to cause changes to the gut biome that can lead to inflammation. Another one that is best to avoid. 

Xylitol

This is a relatively new sweetener, and as such, there is not a lot of research on it. It is most often found in gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. There are conflicting studies about whether xylitol causes spikes in blood sugar, so we think it is best to use other Thinlicious-approved sweeteners until there is more solid evidence.


So there you have it, our list of approved (and unapproved sweeteners). Be sure to read the labels and ingredients to watch out for those we do not approve, and if you haven’t already, check out our recipes!

PIN FOR LATER

Supposedly “safe” sugar alternatives can in fact have detrimental effects on our health. Find out which sugar substitutes are not only safe but work well on a low carb, keto friendly diet.

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One Comment

  1. Xylitol, aka: Birch Sugar, is incredibly toxic to dogs. It is best to not have it in the house at all if you have a dog, or cook anything for anyone else who has a dog.
    PS: It is also in gum, toothpaste, and other “non-food” “consumables.” READ all the labels of everything that you bring into your home.

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