Your Guide to the Good and the Bad Artificial Sweeteners

I’ve talked about artificial sweeteners in the past. The general conclusion is that they’re probably not as bad for you as many believe. Most sweeteners really are harmless and guilt-free, but there are a few that may cause big problems if you’re trying to lose weight!

Before you get started, you’ll also want to read the basic primer I wrote on sugar alcohols: one of many forms of artificial sweeteners. 

Note that if you haven’t yet read the 2 articles I linked above — start there. For real. Come back when you’ve read both of them.

Sweeteners to watch out for

  • Maltitol: This is almost identical to sugar in terms of carbs, but its impact on your blood sugar is very bad. It simply has the same impact on you as downing sugar would (for the most part). It also causes very distressing bowel movements when eaten too much. Sadly, it tastes very good and almost like sugar. It’s the #1 sugar-alcohol people experiment with and pay for later. Almost all sugar free candies will use this one making them not a low carb option nor an option you want if you want to spend your life outside the bathroom. If you eat treats with Malitol, your weight loss will stall.
  • Xylitol: While better than the other -tol, this one is very dangerous to dogs/cats. It’s toxic to them. Xylotol can cause similar bowel issues if consumed in moderate to large doses (it’s not good for people, either). This one is about half as glycemic as sugar (10 grams of xylitol is the same as about 5 grams of sugar). It’s best to avoid it if you can. Almost all treats sweetened with xylitol will stall your weight loss.
  • Granulated Splenda (Sucralose): The granulated version of Splenda has a lot of carbs. This is because it uses high GI sweeteners with Sucralose as binding agents making it surprisingly bad for low carb diets, even if it is often suggested as an SF option. Liquid splenda or sucralose itself is fine, but if a product says “Splenda (TM)” it is likely using the granulated version. The sugar free candies that are not using Maltitol will likely use this, making them a poor keto choice. Again, this ONLY applies to GRANULATED Splenda. (The regular stuff is fine, see below).
  • Malodextrin: It will often be used in products as a binding agent. It’s very glycemic (almost as bad as sugar). Always read the ingredients list and be wary of malodextrin. Sometimes, people will make Stevia mixes with it, completely off-setting the benefits Stevia has.

Sweeteners most people can freely enjoy:

  • Aspartame: Used most commonly in diet-soda, this is a chemical sweetener. Aspartame got a bad reputation almost a decade ago when a study showed that it was causing cancer in rats.  However, further examination of the study showed that a human would need the equivalent of 50+ gallons of diet-soda a day to be at risk. It is considered safe.  However, some people respond poorly (with headaches, or other symptoms). Your own mileage may vary.
  • Stevia: This is a great, natural sweetener. Its taste can be off-putting, but when you bake with it, you can use extracts to cover it up. I recently made a cranberry pie where I simply added extra vanilla extract to mask its cooling taste. Note that it is a sugar-alcohol, so too much of this can cause cramps, gas, and diarrhea. But in small quantities, it should be okay.
  • Erythritol: Another good one, this sweetener is gaining in popularity. Chocolate bars like Lily’s and ChocoPerfection both use this sweetener, and they taste pretty close to the real thing! It is also a sugar-alcohol, so too much of this can cause cramps, gas, and diarrhea. But in small quantities, it should be okay.
  • Monk Fruit: I have not personally tried this, but a lot of people recommend it. It is the hardest to find since it is rarer.
  • Allulose: The new Quest cereal bars use this one. It tastes great, like really, really good. It has not impacted my blood sugar and I trust Quest largely because their protein bars have been a staple for many ketoers. This may change as further research comes out, but it is a new sweetener and the results are promising!
  • Swerve/Truvia/Sukrin: These are three hybrids that mix sweeteners and they are GREAT for baking, coffee, and more. I highly suggest either one if you want to dabble in making your own keto baked goods, they are easy to use–and in the case of Swerve, they come in confectioner’s or granular, allowing you to make frostings! Sukrin comes in Sukrin Gold which is a brown sugar substitute making it extra useful for baking projects. Note that these are all sugar-alcohols, so the usual warnings (mentioned above) apply.
  • EZSweetz/Liquid Splenda/Sucralose: Liquid Splenda is actually great compared to its granular cousin, and you will find it often sold as generic liquid Sucralose. This isn’t the best sweetener ever and is probably the worst on this list of “good ones,” but it’s pretty decent as a drop or two in a beverage. It is VERY potent, meaning a single drop often satisfies what a few TBSP of sugar used to.

Products that are generally bad

  • Baked “Keto” Treats: Most “keto-friendly” treats use the bad kinds of sugar-alcohols. Your mileage may vary with these. More on that, here.
  • Russell Stover Sugar Free chocolates: Avoid these!! They use Splenda and Maltitol, they are not low carb, and they will stall your weight loss en-masse. For keto dieters, these WILL spike your blood sugar and knock you our of ketosis. They are not worth it.
  • Hershey’s Sugar Free Bars/Reeses/etc: Same deal as Russell Stovers, avoid.
  • Werther’s Originals/Gummy Bears/Twizzlers/Jelly Belly SF Beans: Same deal.
  • Asher’s Chocolates: Same deal.
  • La Nouba: La Nouba’s stuff tastes so good. Sadly, most of it uses maltitol. It is a huge shame because they make sugar free marshmallows that taste perfect. They do have chocolate bars with Stevia that are OK.
  • Atkins Bars and Candies: These are another sham. They use maltitol, they will make you feel sick, and their carb count is a bold lie because of the sweetener they use. When they say 3g carbs, it’s really more like 15-20g per bar. If you achieve success eating them, it’s likely because you stayed under calorie counts or already ate virtually zero carbs meaning you were still in keto after eating one. They aren’t worth it.