Understanding Sweeteners

Oh how sweet it is! Are you wondering which sweeteners to select on a low-carb/low-sugar diet? Sweeteners commonly recommended by experts who support the low-carb diet include stevia, monk fruit, xylitol and erythritol. One of the best things you can do on a diet is try to limit foods with a “sweet taste.” Any sweetener can lead to cravings for more sweet foods, which can also affect weight gain - but what exactly are these sugar-replacing ingredients?

Types of Sweeteners

What kinds of sweeteners are out there? The three main categories of sweeteners are:

• Natural sweeteners, which are made from concentrated components of edible plants. Examples include coconut sugar and maple syrup. Low-carb options are discussed below.
• Sugar alcohols, such as maltilol, which has been shown to be linked to digestive problems, and
• Artificial sweeteners (synthetic sweeteners). Examples of artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose and saccharine. Avoid these because they have been associated with a wide range of health problems, including those impacting cardiovascular, blood sugar and digestive health.
• There are a few others outside these categories (like glycerin-based sweeteners) but they’re fairly uncommon.

Low Carb Sweeteners 

There are many different low-carb sweeteners you can try. The key is to regularly check and monitor your blood sugar to see how they (and the foods you eat) affect you, particularly if you have diabetes. Different sweeteners affect people differently. Also, follow the advice of your trusted health care professional. Here is some basic information about a few low-carb sweeteners (in random order) that experts who support a low-carb diet tend to recommend.


Stevia leaf extract (steviol glycosides), (AKA the sugar leaf) is extracted from the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Native to South America, it’s been used there for centuries. Although more research is needed, stevia is believed to be safe, does not typically raise blood sugar levels, and lacks carbohydrates and calories. It’s known to have a slightly bitter aftertaste, more so in powder form (liquid is typically better). Stevia is also believed to be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar, so consuming it in small amounts is the best way to go. It can also cause digestive issues in some people. Pure, organic stevia is the best stevia choice.

Check out this tea which have been sweetened with stevia, available at at Johnny’s Low Carb Nutritional Grocer:

Monk Fruit

Used for centuries for its medicinal benefits, monk fruit (AKA luu han guo) is derived from a green fruit grown in Southeast Asia. The name comes from Buddhist Monks who first used it. The compounds taken from the fruit are called “mogrosides” which create a sweetener that like stevia is 250 times sweeter than table sugar. Thus you’ll also want to use it in small amounts. It is believed to be safe, hasn’t been associated with digestive problems and doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste. Due to its high price point to produce, it’s typically sold in a package mixed with erythritol. Try to select blends that are free of additives. If you don’t mind the price point, you can purchase monk fruit in pure form.

Try these delicious mini cheesecakes from Jess’ Sweets, sweetened with Monk Fruit Sweetener:

Yacon Syrup

Yacon syrup is derived from the roots of the yacon plant, a tuber grown in South America. The sweet syrup of the yacon plant is rich in fructooligosaccharides, a type of soluble fiber that your body can’t digest, the reason why it contains about a third of the calories of regular sugar and doesn’t typically affect blood sugar the way regular sugar does. Cooking with this sweetener is not recommended, as the fiber in it can break down when exposed to high temperatures.


Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol commonly found in candy and gum. It’s about as sweet as sugar but comparatively lower in calories and carbs. Xylitol has not been shown to raise blood sugar or insulin levels to the extent sugar does. It can work well in baked goods but may require more in any given recipe, as it tends to absorb moisture and increase dryness. It has been associated with digestive problems when used in high amounts, so use it in moderation.

Check out these donuts which have been sweetened with xylitol, available at at Johnny’s Low Carb Nutritional Grocer:


With a low glycemic index and low in calories, inulin is a type of soluble fiber found in many plants. Technically it is classified as a "fructan" which means it's made up of chains of fructose molecules that your body is unable to digest. Inulin is also a prebiotic, which is food for the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Natural sources of inulin include chicory root, garlic and onions. 

These Johnny’s Low Carb Nutritional Grocer’s Ross Chocolates are sweetened with inulin:

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