Authors: Kristi Storoshuck, Beth Zupec-Kania, Dominic D’Agostino
Man-made sweeteners known as “non-nutritive sweeteners”, are commonly consumed as an alternative to sugar. Their use in baked goods, beverages, and other food products allow many people to be compliant to low-carbohydrate diets. However, not all sweeteners are recommended on a ketogenic diet. In this article we provide some information on each, including whether they are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive or if they have been designated as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). If a food ingredient is GRAS, it does not require FDA approval as a food additive. In addition, we want you to be cautious of your use of sweeteners. As you adapt to a low-carbohydrate diet, your taste for sweetness declines and you may even find that anything sweetened is too sweet.
The effect of non-nutritive sweeteners on our metabolism is not completely understood and new evidence in animals has shown that they can negatively affect the gut microbiome which can encourage insulin resistance. Perhaps the most profound evidence is from a 2017 metanalysis that reviewed use of sweeteners including aspartame, sucralose and steviosides. The authors concluded the following:
“Evidence from RCTs does not clearly support the intended benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners for weight management. In contrast, observational data suggest that routine consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with a long-term increase in Body Mass Index and elevated risk of cardiometabolic disease; however, these associations have not been confirmed in experimental studies and may be influenced by publication bias. New studies are needed to compare different types and formulations of nonnutritive sweeteners, and to evaluate the net effect of substituting nonnutritive sweeteners for sugar.”
Non-nutritive sweeteners are given their name because they contain zero or few calories.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener found under the brand names of Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin, Sugar Twin, and Necta Sweet. It was initially approved by the FDA in 1958, but was banned in 1977 until being reapproved again in 2000. Saccharin is not metabolized in the human body and goes through the human digestive system unchanged.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, commercially available as NutraSweet and Equal. It was approved by the FDA in 1981, and later reaffirmed its approval in 2007. Aspartame actually contains the same amount of calories as sugar, but because aspartame is magnitudes sweeter than sugar, the amounts used in food products is so negligible that it doesn’t contribute to calories.
Acesulfame-k (also seen as “ace-k”), is an artificial sweetener commercially available at Sunett, and Sweet One. It was approved by the FDA in 1988 for use in beverages, and in 2003 as a general sweetener. Ace-k does not have an effect on glucose, and is excreted in the urine unmetabolized.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, found on the market as Splenda and Nevella. It became FDA approved in 1998 and is approved for consumption in over 80 countries. The body does not recognize sucralose as sugar, and like saccharin it is excreted without being metabolized.
Neotame and Advantame
Both artificial sweeteners, neotame and advantame, are FDA approved, however are not commonly found in food products. Neotame was approved by the FDA in 2002, but is not available for purchase by consumers, rather it is only used in food manufacturing. Advantame was recently approved by the FDA in 2014 as a general purpose sweetener and as a food additive.
Other common low-glycemic sweeteners
Stevia is derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, and is found in the commercially available products Stevia, Truvia, Sun Crystals, PureVia, and Sweetleaf Sweetener. It was GRAS approved in 2008. We advise reading labels as stevia is commonly combined with bulking agents such as dextrose, which will spike glucose.
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener that also goes by the name of Luo Han Guo extract. The FDA approved monk fruit as GRAS in 2010 for general use.
Most other low-glycemic sweeteners are sugar alcohols, which are natural sweeteners that occur in very small amounts in fruits and vegetables, and produced for commercial use from sugars and starch. They have a sweet taste, and are not zero-calorie sweeteners, although they contain less than sugar. They are listed as carbohydrates on packaged foods however are not metabolized as a carbohydrate.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in the commercially available product XyloSweet, and was approved by the FDA in 1963. Interestingly, xylitol can benefit dental hygiene as it has been shown to reduce bacteria in the mouth.
Erythritol is a relatively recent non-caloric sugar alcohol, approved by the US FDA in 2001. The majority of erythritol ingested passes through the body undigested, and is excreted in the urine.
Allulose is a relatively new sugar substitute, that also goes by the name D-Psicose or Psicose. It was approved by the FDA in 2015, and is found in a growing number of keto-friendly foods.
Banned non-nutritive sweetener
Cyclamate is an artificial sweetener that was banned by the FDA in 1969 and remains banned, although in most other countries it is approved.
The Charlie Foundation has developed recipes that require no additional sweeteners, we encourage you to try them! We’ve used natural ingredients such as blueberries and pumpkin to provide the expected sweetness. We’ve also used small amounts of dates to provide sweetness in our chocolate candy recipe while keeping the recipe ketogenically balanced.
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