Why Erythritol Makes a Great Sweetener on the Keto Diet
Whether you’re just embarking on the keto diet or you’ve been doing this for a while and are researching some new foods to try – this post should help! Erythritol makes an excellent sugar substitute for anyone on a keto diet, and today, we’ll break down everything you need to know about it.
What is erythritol?
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, also sometimes called a polyol. Don’t worry (or maybe worry?!) – this isn’t the kind of alcohol that will make you tipsy. Sugar alcohols are named as such because their chemical structure bears similarity to that of sugar and that of alcohol.
Instead, sugar alcohols are a naturally occurring type of carbohydrate that are not well utilized by the body, meaning that they have less calories compared to sugar. You’ll frequently notice sugar alcohols on food labels by their “-ol” ending. Some other examples besides erythritol include xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol.
There are small amounts of these sugar alcohols that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but most sugar alcohols are produced purposefully for the production of lower carbohydrate foods. In commercial production, they’re typically manufactured using corn or wheat. (Note – if you’re concerned about GMO corn, you’ll want to look for erythritol that’s specifically derived from non-GMO corn).
Of all the sugar alcohols, erythritol is the lowest in calories and net carbs.
Why use erythritol on the keto diet?
Erythritol is (in my opinion) an ideal sugar substitute when on the keto diet, thanks to these characteristics:
- Zero calorie sweetener (around 0.2 calories per gram max)
- Low glylcemic index – does not raise blood sugar
- Compared to other low carbohydrate sweeteners, erythritol provides more texture and bulk (making it ideal for baking)
- Many people report that erythritol is quite comparable in taste to sugar (as opposed to certain artificial sweeteners that may have a bitter note or a strange aftertaste)
- Absorbed quickly into the blood (mostly prior to reaching the colon) and almost fully excreted via the urine, unmetabolized. There are several benefits to this, including the obvious – that it provides sweet taste without calories – but also that it has less potential for gastrointestinal upset compared to some other sugar alcohols.
Erythritol contains carbs?!
You might be surprised to look at the package of erythritol and see that it contains carbohydrates. And while, yes, it does theoretically contain carbohydrates, our body actually doesn’t metabolize almost any of them.
According to the International Food Information Council, erythritol is about 60-80% as sweet as sugar – yet we only absorb around 0 to 0.2 calories per gram of it, compared to the 4 calories per gram of sugar. Let’s look at the difference per teaspoon:
- In a teaspoon of sugar, you would be looking at ingesting 16 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate (4 grams of sugar).
- In a teaspoon of confectioners erythritol, you’re looking at 0 calories (or possibly a little less than 1 calorie at the higher end of the estimations above). You’ll also see there are around 4 grams of carbohydrate – but that carbohydrate is exclusively from the sugar alcohol. Even though this sugar alcohol is technically a carbohydrate, the body does not use that carbohydrate – it just passes through you, similar to insoluble fiber. That means it generally does not raise blood sugar or affect insulin levels.
Of course, every body is different. If you are making a lot of meals that have a high erythritol content, and you start seeing yourself come out of ketosis (all else being equal) – perhaps you might try switching to something like monk fruit extract or stevia.
That said, though, erythritol generally should not cause increases in blood sugar for most people on the keto diet. Yay!
Erythritol side effects
In general, sugar alcohols – erythritol included – are well tolerated. However, because small amounts of this sugar alcohol travels to the colon, in large amounts it could potentially cause an osmotic effect in the intestines. In other words, it can draw water into the intestinal tract, causing bloating and diarrhea.
Most people would need a lot of erythritol to cause these side effects, though. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that single doses of 35 grams were well tolerated – that’s a little less than about 1/4 cup at once. Other research (like this older study as well as this one) found tolerance as high as 1 g/kg – or about 70 grams for a 150 pound person.
Of course, some people may be more sensitive than others – if you notice side effects, try reducing the total amount of erythritol or using other sweeteners instead.
Cooking with Erythritol on the Keto Diet
Because erythritol is only 60-80% as sweet as sugar, you may need to add a bit more in your recipes compared to normal sugar. For example, if you were using one tablespoon of regular sugar in a recipe, you may need to use a tablespoon plus a teaspoon of erythritol. Similarly, if a recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, you may need 1 1/3 cups.
That said, many recipes are already overly sweet – so you may find that a 1:1 substitution will work just find for you. Modifying recipes for a keto diet is always a bit of an experiment, so play around with it a few times to find the amounts that work for you!
Granulated Erythritol vs. Powdered Erythritol
Granulated erythritol can work well in many baked recipes, when a bit of sugar graininess isn’t a problem. However, if you’re looking to dissolve it into anything (like when I make my keto BBQ sauce) – I highly recommend using powdered instead. It dissolves far better and creates a smoother texture.
Where to buy erythritol:
Disclosure: This contains Amazon affiliate links. As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying commissions. It does not change your user experience.
You may be able to find erythritol in the natural section at your grocery store, but odds are it’ll be easier to find online. Here are a few suggestions for popular brands which you can grab on Amazon:
- SoNourished Erythritol Sweetener Granular
- NOW Foods Erythritol
- Erythritol Granules (5lbs) by Anthony’s
- HaleFresh Erythritol Granules
- Kate Natural Erythritol Granules
- Hoosier Hill Farm Erythritol Granules
- Swerve Sweetener (combination of erythritol and oligosaccharides, a prebiotic fiber)
- SoNourished Powdered Erythritol Sweetener
- NOW Foods Confectioner’s Erythritol, Organic Powder
- Hoosier Hill Farm Powdered Erythritol
- Swerve Sweetener, Confectioners (combination of erythritol and oligosaccharides, a prebiotic fiber)
I hope this was a helpful overview as you try new sweeteners on your keto diet!