What Sweeteners are Acceptable on a Ketogenic Diet?

This is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most common question I get asked whenever I tell someone about how I eat.  Oddly enough, it is not the most common search term that Google uses to send to my site, that would be “What is Sugar Free at Starbucks?”  So it just goes to show you, even when people are cutting out sugar, they still want their hit of sweet.

So first let me tell you the right answer.  The best sweetener you can use is none at all.  I know that sounds like madness but if you are addicted to the taste of sweet, the best way to get over that addiction is to stop cold turkey.  I know that sounds impossible but once you make the switch your taste buds begin to change and you can taste the sweet inherent in foods you never thought of as sweet.  For instance, I was one of those people who had to have sweetener in my coffee and Diet Cokes throughout the day.  It took some time but now I rarely drink any soft drinks and I take my coffee strong and black.  I do like to experiment with the coffee now because a friend of mine from work started selling their own specialty coffee blends and everything I’ve tried so far has been pretty good.

So that’s the actual answer, now let me walk you through the answer you came here for.  I think the best sweetener you can use is a liquid stevia/erythritol blend that is available at almost any grocery store across the country or at Amazon here.  It is very sweet and seems to go well with bitter things like coffee because some people think it has a slightly bitter aftertaste.  I’ve never noticed that but then I use very little when I use it.

The second best is probably Saccharin or Sweet ‘n Low.  The pink stuff was our first attempt at an artificial sweetener so it has been on the market so long that if there were any side-effects, we would have heard about by now.  (For contrast, just look at the Aspartame horror stories on the web.)  It doesn’t cause a rise in insulin levels that we know of and doesn’t cause intestinal distress in large amounts which are the 2 main drawbacks of most sugar substitutes.

 

Those are my 2 main go-to’s when I use sweeteners and it should also be mentioned that my wife prefers Xylitol for her morning coffee and occasional dessert and she hasn’t reported any side-effects.  Having tasted Xylitol (Actually XyloSweet) I can tell you that is tastes almost exactly like sugar right out of the bowl so it’s what I offer people who come over that still use sugar.

So what about all those other sweeteners available.  Here’s a quick description of each one.  The description subheadings are linked to Amazon if you would like to actually see the sweeteners in question and order them if you want.

Natural Sweeteners

 

Stevia

Stevia is an herb, which is commonly known as “sugar leaf” and has only been approved for use in the last few years.  From all reports there are few side effects and as a personal note, has become my sweetener of choice.  Watch out for the powdered varieties though as they are typically mixed with maltodextrin which can cause an insulin reaction.

 

Inulin

Derived from chicory root, it has a natural taste very close to sugar.  It can caramelize like sugar and has very little aftertaste.  Some will mix it with a sugar alcohol to make it a little sweeter so less is needed.  Some studies suggest we can absorb a small amount so it may cause a small insulin reaction but nothing is conclusive.

 

Monk Fruit

 

Also called Luo Han Guo, is native to China and has been used as an herbal remedy for obesity.  The biggest drawback is it is very expensive compared to other sweeteners.

 

Sugar Alcohols

 

Erythritol

 

Great sweetener.  Can be used as a 1 to 1 replacement for sugar.  Can cause intestinal distress when consumed in large amounts but your body doesn’t absorb it.  It is secreted in the urine so most of it never even makes it to the intestines.  An excellent alternative to sugar

 

Xylitol

Causes a small insulin reaction and intestinal distress when consumed in large amounts but many people prefer it because the taste is so close to sugar.  (This is my wife’s sweetener of choice for her morning coffee and she is VERY picky)

 

Maltitol

Most commonly used sugar alcohol because it is similar in taste to sugar and very cheap.  Will cause more of an insulin reaction than the other alcohols so it’s better to avoid it.  Will cause EXTREME intestinal distress in all but the smallest amounts.  It can be found in most cheap sugar free candies so be careful when you eat more than one Russell Stover candy or Sugar Free Gummi Bears at a time.

 

Synthetic Sweeteners

 

Sucralose (Splenda)

Recent studies suggest than when used in powdered form, it may cause a larger insulin reaction than sugar which means definitely avoid it.  If you can find it in liquid form, it is 600x sweeter than sugar and does not appear to cause an insulin reaction at all.

 

Aspertame (Equal)

The most controversial sugar substitute as it has been linked to a whole host of neurological problems.  If even 10% of what has been said about it is true, I would avoid it like the plague.

 

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)

The first synthetic sweetener and has been in use for about 150 years.  Appears to be relatively safe and doesn’t cause an insulin reaction.

 

Acesulfame Potassium (Ace K)

While you will probably never buy Ace K for home use, it is widely used in diet soft drinks.  It causes a small insulin reaction and may be the reason why it is so difficult to lose weight while drinking diet soft drinks.

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Can a Ketogenic Diet Cause Hypoglycemia or Low Blood Sugar?

Short Answer: It can but usually only in the first few weeks of keto and usually in only the most insulin resistant.

Your Old Diet

Before we get into how hypoglycemia is possible with a ketogenic diet, let’s review what happens with your blood sugar levels when you start a ketogenic diet.  While you were eating your traditional high-carb Standard American Diet, you were training your body to produce a large amount of insulin with every meal.  This insulin was important because the high levels pf blood glucose your diet was producing was toxic to your body so your body had to get that sugar out of the blood stream and into cells where it could be used as fuel or stored as glycogen of triglycerides.

Your New Diet

Now let’s look at what happens when you start a ketogenic diet.  Your body continues to produce the same amount of insulin when you eat which should cause your blood sugar levels to drop so instead, your body begins to pull sugar out of all the nooks and crannies in your body where it stored it.  The first reservoir to be tapped is the glycogen stored in your muscles.  This stock of sugar is large enough that you can potentially go several weeks with normal blood sugars on keto but eventually those stores run out and that’s when things can get a crazy.

Now for most people, by the time the stores of sugar are depleted, your body has already begun making a few of the necessary changes to your metabolism to run on fat and the feeling of being “run down” or what is sometimes called the “Keto Flu” only last a few days.  The body makes the transition over to running on stored fat and ketones and you are off to the races but for a few people, especially the really insulin resistant ones, you can start to feel the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Your body begins to produce adrenalin and cortisol, both are stress hormones that tell the liver to produce more blood glucose in the liver.  This causes feelings of hypoglycemia as the body struggles to maintain proper blood sugar levels while simultaneously trying to make the switch over to begin burning fat for fuel.  Symptoms include:

  • heart palpitations or fibrillation
  • dizziness
  • light-headedness
  • sweating
  • headaches
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • shaking and tremors
  • flushing
  • craving for sweets
  • intense hunger
  • nausea, vomiting
  • panic attack
  • numbness/coldness in the extremities
  • fatigue and shakiness for hours afterwards

Remedies for Hypoglycemia

If you get like this, it is ok to eat something with some sugar in it to get some relief while the body continues to make the transfer.  Something like a piece of fruit of even glucose tablets.  The important thing to remember here is that this goes away eventually.  Soon your body will be humming along just fine on ketones and this will all be a distant memory.  Remember to drink plenty of water and up your salt intake during this time.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer them as best I can.  Thanks!

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Can a Ketogenic Diet Cause Hypoglycemia or Low Blood Sugar?

 

The My Sugar Free Journey Podcast: Episode 59: Stuart McGill

The My Sugar Free Journey Podcast: Episode 59: Stuart McGill

In this week’s My Sugar Free Journey Podcast, I talk to Stuart McGill about his new book Back Mechanic

Remember that you can follow us on iTunes and I would really appreciate a review there on iTunes.  Thanks!

Podcast Shownotes

You can find Dr McGill’s website Back Fit Pro here, and pick up a copy of the video enhanced version of Back Mechanic here.  You can also find his new book, The Gift of Injury, that was mentioned at the end of the interview here.

You can also follow Back Fit Pro on FaceBook here.

You can also check out my review of Back Mechanic here.

Here are the articles mentioned in the podcast.

Keto Cheese Taco Cup Recipe!

Does the Ketogenic Diet Cause Muscle Cramps?

10/18 Weightloss Wednesday: Lose It!

How Should I Track My Carb Intake and Other Macros?

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How Should I Track My Carb Intake and Other Macros?

The first question you should ask yourself is: do I want to track my macros?  Here is the case for and against tracking.

The Case Against Tracking

I fell squarely in the “no tracking” camp for most of my keto journey because I just couldn’t be bothered with it.  I didn’t like the hassle of having to think about pulling my phone out everytime I sat down to eat.  It was an unnecessary step in a process I was trying to keep as stream-lined as possible because I felt like if I put any unnecessary obstacles in my way, I would use them as an excuse to quit.

And as it turns out, I really didn’t need to track because I lost over 200 lbs without ever tracking a single bite but I wonder now if things would have been easier if I had a record I could go back to during those long stall periods to see if I was doing something wrong.

The Case For Tracking

There are several reasons to track your food and this is something I just recently started ding in order to see how it would my weight loss.

You can see patterns

You can start to see if there are certain foods that cause you to stall.  For instance, if every time you eat a piece of cheese, you stop losing weight, you need to cut the cheese out of your diet.  Probably all dairy for a while and just see what happens.

You can avoid patterns

A successful ketogenic diet is one that involves a wide variety of different foods that nourish you and feed your gut microbiome.  I was reminded of how important a varied diet is this week when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts.  Jimmy Moore had a food sensitivity test run and found out he was most sensitive to the foods he ate most often.  The biggest offender being eggs.  How is a keto-er not supposed to eat eggs?

He talked about how when he likes a certain food, he tends to eat mostly that food and since he has chickens in his backyard, most of his meals consist of eggs.  It looks like he ate so many eggs that he began to have a sensitivity to them which led to a leaky gut which probably led to his weight gain even though he is eating pretty healthy.  Tracking your food can help you see if you have gotten into the habit of eating the same 3 cuts of meat and 5 vegetables over and over again and can spur you on to a more diverse diet.

You can see if there are foods that keep you from exercising

There may be a situation where every time you eat a certain food, you lose the will to exercise.  Perhaps it’s because it causes an insulin spike which makes you lethargic. If you are tracking both food and exercise, you may be able to see when that happens.

How to Track Macros

There are a ton of apps you can use to track but the one I’m using is Lose It.  It syncs with my Samsung Gear watch through Google Fit and it estimates calories from the food I input.  It also allows me to take pics of what I eat so I have a visual record of my food.  The allowable calories on the plan it put me on is a little high but that’s easy to adjust.  All in all, it’s a pretty cool app and most of the really important features are free and there is a $39.99/yr fee you can pay to unlock the premium features like blood pressure and glucose tracking and individual macro tracking.

Another Option: Meal Planning

If meal tracking isn’t your thing, look into meal planning.  It is basically deciding beforehand what you are going to eat.  This way you aren’t taken by surprise by your food in the moment but have a plan for what you are going to eat long before meal time comes.  If you need some help with this, you can sign up to have a ketogenic meal plan sent to you every week here.

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10/18 Weightloss Wednesday: Lose It!

It’s time for Weightloss Wednesday!  As of yesterday, I am at 202.4 lbs which means I have lost about 2 lbs from last week.

The big thing this week is I started tracking my food using the Lose It! app.  I have to say, this has been a game changer for me.  It has been so interesting to see a little more clearly how many calories I am eating.  My dinner last night was over 1600 calories!  That is my entire allotment for the day according to the goals I programed into the app.  That absolutely floored me when I saw it.  It really drove home that I am absolutely terrible at estimating calories.  It also made me thankful that I don’t really care about calories as much as eating real high-fat food.

Psychologically the tracking has has an affect on me.  For whatever reason, now that I am tracking I am finding it easier to fast when I’m at work,  Eve since I started this I either fast or on occasion I’ll have some Wild Planet sardines, not so much for the food but for the Omega 3 fatty acids I’m probably not getting anywhere else in my normal diet.  In fact I’m listening to Deep Nutrition on Audiobook while I’m at work and one of the things she is driving home is how important Omega 3’s are for your health and weight loss.

Something else that was different this week was I didn’t do any Kettlebell swings.  I tweaked my neck and didn’t want to do anything to aggravate it.  It’s about 90% healed now so I think I’m going to wait another day or 2 to resume.

How did you do this week?  Let me know in the comments!

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