The war on sugar has been going strong for a while now, but there still seems to be a lack of information about what sugars you can ingest without getting off track of your health goals.
So, maybe you were scrolling through Instagram and got inspired by a gluten-free, low carb baked sweet treat? What’s next? You go to the store in hopes to find all the ingredients with ease to make your very own delicious baked good.
You head down the baking aisle for one of the main ingredients — sugar.
This is where it can get confusing. The aisle is filled with a multitude of different sugars but which sugar is the best for a low carb or ketogenic diet?
What is Sugar and Why Isn’t it Low Carb Friendly?
Do you shudder at just the thought of cups of sugar being a main ingredient in your favorite sweet treat? It is true that not all sugars are created equal — but how would one exactly define sugar?
Put simply, sugar is a natural ingredient that has been around for thousands of years. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate that provides the body with energy.
While some sugars are naturally found in food (like in fruit), others are used during processing, baking and cooking. If you’re looking for a low carb sugar substitute, it’s important to make sure there are no hidden carbs in your new sweetener.
So what is the difference between the sugars that are naturally found in food and the sugar found in your kitchen cupboard?
The most common kinds of sugars are sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose and maltose.
Sucrose is the main “table sugar.” Sucrose is actually made up of glucose and fructose. It can be extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet but it is also found in honey, fruits and some vegetables. Fructose and glucose are found in honey, fruits and vegetables. Lactose, also referred to as milk sugar, due to its abundant presence in dairy products. Maltose is the sugar found in beer and malted drinks.
However, the sugars we are concerned with are the ones found in the kitchen cupboard. The sugars used for baking or cooking are all some form of sucrose. Some of the sugars you may find include:
- Granulated sugar
- Caster sugar
- Icing sugar
One cup (or 200 grams) is a whopping total of 773 calories, including a shocking 200 grams of carbohydrates. Keep in mind, this contains no fiber, which means these 200 grams are the total net carb count as well.
That’s far above the 30 grams of carbs a day that you should be aiming for.
5 Low Carb Substitutes for Sugar
With these macronutrients, there’s no question that sugar is not low carb friendly. Luckily for individuals on a low carb or ketogenic diet, there are plenty of low carb sugar substitutes to choose from. These sugar alternatives include:
Stevia is one of the more popular substitutes for sugar, and for good reason.
While Americans may be more familiar with stevia coming in little packets, it’s actually an herb that belongs to the Asteraceae family, having an estimated 200 or more types of species of stevia that exist. Just take a look in the baking aisle of your local grocery store, there’s no shortage of stevia.
Who knew there was such a variety of stevia?
Stevia wasn’t always so sweet. In 1931, it was discovered that when two glycosides in particular are combined (stevioside and rebaudioside) to give stevia it’s perfectly sweet taste.
Stevia has been shown to help combat cancer cell growth, improves blood glucose levels, improves cholesterol and even lowers high blood pressure.
Still wondering if stevia is your go-to low carb sugar substitute? With its total of zero calories and zero sugar, you can guarantee you’ll stay on top of your health goals with these killer macronutrients and health benefits. It can be added into your baked treats or even into your bulletproof coffee for a little extra kick.
Erythritol can be a great low carb sugar substitute — if it’s a non GMO (genetically modified organism) erythritol. Erythritol is a natural zero calorie sweetener and one of the natural sugar alcohols out there today that you can find in the organic baking aisle at your local grocery store.
While your at the store, pick up the other ingredients you need to make these Keto Brownies using erythritol as the main sugar ingredient.
Can you say yum?
Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol and xylitol.
While erythritol is a naturally occuring sugar alcohol, it’s unfortunately starting to be produced as a man-made product by taking glucose and fermenting it with a yeast called Moniliella pollinis.
Foods such as watermelon, grapes, pears, mushrooms and a number of fermented foods naturally contain small amounts of erythritol.
The best erythritol you want to buy should be non GMO to make sure you avoid any GMO or non-organic ingredients that could do more harm to your body than good.
Individuals on a low carb or ketogenic diet love this sugar substitute in particular due to it’s complete and total lack of calories or carbs and the fact that it won’t even produce an insulin spike.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol similar to erythritol that also naturally occurs in some fibers of certain fruits and vegetables and can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.
Xylitol is a bit higher in carbohydrates than other low carb sweeteners with about eight grams of carbohydrates per serving (or two teaspoons). However, it does provide some benefits. Xylitol has been shown to improve oral health. This improvement is due mainly to its ability to prevent cavities.
Sugar substitutes can actually reduce an individual’s chance of getting cavities, who knew?
Monk fruit is a fruit native to China and Thailand. It has been discovered to be 300 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Unlike erythritol and xylitol, monk fruit powder is a low carb sugar substitute with some amazing health benefits.
The elements that give monk fruit it’s incredible sweetness are called mogrosides.
Magrosides are antioxidants that play an important role in fighting off free radicals and preventing inflammation. Another benefit is that this low carb sugar substitute doesn’t affect blood sugar the way natural sugars do.
However, the biggest benefit of all is that it has zero calories, meaning zero net carbs. That means you can make a variety of sweets, especially these Peaches and Cream Fat Bombs for the perfect treat for any time that hunger strikes.
Tagatose tastes similar to erythritol and table sugar, but it’s actually a monosaccharide. It is a sugar substitute naturally occurring in dairy products, fruits and cacao. It may even be the sweetness you taste when you’re biting into some yummy Keto Chocolate Bars.
Like some other low carb sugars, tagatose only has a small effect on blood sugar levels. Tagatose has some other nutritional benefits including increased HDL cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins). These benefits are especially important for individuals with type 2 diabetes or struggle with weight issues.
When it comes to low carb sugar substitutes, it’s great to find low calorie, low carb alternatives, but it’s also important to keep in mind how good they are for your overall health as well. While some options are better than others, all of these low carb sugar substitutes provide you with little carbs and the ultimate sweetness to replace any sugary sweets you plan on eating or baking yourself.
Is this getting you in the mood to bake some sweet treats or what?
There’s no shortage of recipes out there to try out some of these substitutes. In the mood for some chocolate or maybe want to try some sweet fat bombs? Give some of these recipes a go and see for yourself.
Steph is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods.