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Sugar Alcohols on Keto: Should You Eat Them?

Let’s face it… We all need a treat sometimes. A long-term, sustainable diet requires variety and excitement. And while the keto diet may equal no more table sugar (or natural sweeteners such as agave, honey, coconut sugar, and maple syrup), there are alternative keto sweeteners to help liven up your diet. That’s right: You don’t need to take a keto cheat day to enjoy sweets.

Not all sweeteners are created equal, however, and while some may be okay to eat on keto, that doesn’t mean you should. With any diet, the quality of what you eat matters. One type of keto sweetener that’s up for questioning is sugar alcohols. Let’s find out exactly what they are… and whether you should indulge in them on your keto diet.

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) are commonly used in sugar-free and low-carb products. They’re neither sugar or alcohol. No, you won’t get tipsy off of your keto-approved snack. They’re a hybrid carbohydrate compound. Polyols can be found in some fruits and vegetables, but most are man-made — out of starch, glucose, and sucrose. Overall, they’re less sweet than sugar and have fewer calories, but each sugar alcohol has its own unique makeup. Common sugar alcohols include erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and isomalt.

So, Should You Use Sugar Alcohols on Keto?

Sugar alcohols can be consumed while on the keto diet because the body cannot readily process and absorb them, meaning the sugar does not breakdown and enter your bloodstream the same way table sugar does. In fact, erythritol and mannitol have a glycemic index of zero. Maltitol is the most likely of these sugar alcohols to cause a blood glucose response, meaning you probably want to steer clear of it while trying to stay in ketosis. [1] But all in all, sugar alcohols aren’t likely to affect ketosis. So, why wouldn’t you eat sugar alcohols on keto? As with everything, there are pros and cons:

Health Benefits

Oral Health

Unless you've been hiding under a rock your whole life you're likely aware that sugar is bad for the enamel on your teeth. One benefit of sugar alcohols is they don’t have the same negative effect on your oral health. In fact, it may even be the opposite. Research shows xylitol may inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth, while erythritol has a similar balancing effect on bacteria levels. [2, 3]

Prebiotics

You’ve probably heard of probiotics, but have you heard of prebiotics? While probiotics are live beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are foods that go through the small intestine undigested and then later ferment in the colon, feeding and increasing beneficial bacteria.

Sugar alcohols are only partially digestible, meaning they often pass through the small intestine un- or partially-absorbed. Because of this, they can serve as prebiotics. Studies have illustrated this beneficial effect on bacteria for both xylitol and isomalt. [4, 5]

Side Effects

Sugar alcohols aren’t easily absorbed in the digestive tract. While this can be a good thing because it provides prebiotics and doesn’t spike blood glucose levels, it can also be hard on digestion, which can lead to a number of problems, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea. [6]

Sugar Alcohol Net Carbs

If you do choose to enjoy sugar alcohol on keto, keep in mind that carbs are a bit harder to calculate for sugar alcohol-containing foods because they aren’t completely absorbed. In fact, 0 to 80% can be absorbed, depending on the specific polyol. [7] So, it’s not an exact science, but to get an estimated net carb count:

  1. Divide grams of sugar alcohols in half
  2. Subtract that number from total carbs
  3. Subtract fiber (as you would any time you count net carbs)

This will give you the net carb count for any food containing sugar alcohols. If you want to be extra cautious about your carb count, skip dividing the sugar alcohols in half… or divide them in less than half.

Other Keto Sweeteners

Luckily, if you don’t want to worry about the tricky GI issues that can arise with sugar alcohols or simply want to maintain a diet as pure and natural as possible, there are other keto sweetener options.

Stevia

Stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant and has a glycemic index of zero, meaning it doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels like traditional sugar. It also has zero calories and is 200 times sweeter than sugar, on average. A little goes a long way.

If you decide to opt for stevia, check the ingredients list on the packaging before you buy to make sure you’re not purchasing a blend. Stevia is often sold mixed with erythritol or other flavorings but you should also be able to found pure stevia.

Here at Keto Function we prefer to use clean and natural ingredients in all of our products that also won't cause any tummy trouble. This is why we use just the right amount of pure and all-natural stevia in our exogenous ketones. This ensures a great taste with ZERO impact on blood sugar and is easy on the tummy.

Monk fruit

If you’re not a fan of stevia, monk fruit offers another natural sweetener alternative for keto dieters. It also has a glycemic index of zero and contains zero calories. For many people, deciding between these two natural sweeteners comes down to a matter of taste. Where as stevia can have an almost licorice flavor with a bitter aftertaste (if you consume too much of it), monk fruit is fruity.

Conclusion

Sugar alcohols offer an option to enjoy sweet treats without spiking your blood glucose levels; however, since they pass through the body without being fully processed, they may cause digestive upset, including but not limited to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If you opt to add sugar alcohols to your keto shopping list, stay conscious of the quantity you’re consuming. Everything in moderation... And for a more natural keto sweetener, choose between stevia or monk fruit — depending on your taste preference.

P.S. In need of some keto dessert inspiration? Try one of these 10 keto pie recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Resources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3298708

2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0895937409335642?rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&journalCode=adra&

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836749/

4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.702288?needAccess=true&journalCode=bfsn20

5. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/effect-of-isomalt-consumption-on-faecal-microflora-and-colonic-metabolism-in-healthy-volunteers/8E60FB46486D15BFBB92F6C517E7CAB0

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093271/

7. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.632.3491&rep=rep1&type=pdf


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