Our Take on Sugar Alcohol & Net Carbs

It’s no secret that the low-carb community has been changing the nutritional game, so today, we wanted to quickly answer some of your questions on sugar alcohol and net carbs.

Growing up, it's probable you reached for granular table sugar, and when baking cookies with mom, (the powdered version) confectioners sugar.

In the keto world, we use a variety of sweeteners and sugar alcohols to mick the effects of sugar. These bypass the impact on insulin and provide a low-calorie and low-GI alternative to sugar.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use; on a low-carb diet we eliminate carbs.

With the on-going support of low-carb diets, we're seeing manufacturers using sugar alcohols to reduce the net carbs in desserts and snacks.

Sugar alcohols typically have little to no effect on insulin (except for maltitol, more on that shortly). This makes them trendy additions to low-carb or keto diets.

With all that said, even low-carb veterans may find themselves wondering what sugar alcohols are and how many net carbs you should factor into your macros to stay on track.

There's a lot of confusion surrounding what you can and can't do. If you found yourself here with questions, don't worry - you're not alone.

We're going to help you make your own, informed decisions on sugar alcohol and net carbs.

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates called "polyols." Their chemical structure resembles sugar, and part of it resembles alcohol—hence the name. 

Sugar alcohols are like sugar in some ways, but the body does not completely absorb them.

What Sweeteners Does Nui Use?

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Thanks for asking! At Nui, we’re known for baking our delicious sugar-free cookies. That sounds like an oxymoron, right? How can a delicious cookie have no sugar?

Well, notice how we said sugar-free. We use natural sweeteners in place of sugar for a taste that transports you back to childhood.

Sweeteners are useful on a low-carb diet for crushing those sugar cravings, as they provide the sweetness you crave without an insulin response.

 

In our cookies, we're fond of erythritol and monk fruit; these are premium, high-grade and natural sweeteners. 

When blended, they give an authentic and sweet bite to our cookies without any nasty aftertaste.

So that answers that! The next question is what other sweeteners can you use in your low-carb life? Are sugar alcohols ok? Let's take a look.

What Sweetener Should I Use on Keto?

When looking for sweeteners, there is a bit of a variety depending on where you come in on the price and taste.

We recommend looking for natural sweeteners and avoiding artificial sweeteners wherever possible.

While artificial sweeteners are technically keto they can cause digestive issues, stalls, and other health problems, so best to pass. 

Here are some great keto options:

Stevia

By far one of the most popular options, Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar and contains no calories. It's used in many low-carb sweeteners.

While stevia does come from a plant, highly refined stevia, unlike sugar alcohols, does not contain calories or carbs, but is found in nature and not manufactured like sugar substitutes.

We use Stevia at home, and for the price point, you can't go wrong. However, we decided to use the following keto sweeteners at Nui because we bake with love for the ultimate low-carb cookie experience.

Erythritol

Erythritol is gaining clout in the keto world; with a slightly higher price point than Stevia the taste pay off is pretty huge. This is the ideal compromise and offers great sugar alcohol with no bitter aftertaste.

Erythritol is naturally derived from some fruits and plants. It’s found in trace amounts in grapes, melons, mushrooms, and fermented foods such as wine, beer, cheese, and soy sauce.

As with all sugar alcohols, when consumed in large amounts, some people experience digestive discomfort or a slight laxative effect. 

However, we found you need a lot more erythritol to match the impact of other sugar alcohols. 

You can buy erythritol and Stevia blends and erythritol and monk fruit blends in many grocery stores nowadays.

Some people have reported using a sprinkle/few drops of Stevia in conjunction with erythritol in baking to mask both sweeteners off-tastes to match sugar almost perfectly.

Monk Fruit Sweetener (Lo Han / Luo Han)

Finally, we saved for the most expensive for last. However, we believe you get what you pay for on a keto diet; monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, is a small melon native to parts of China and Thailand.

Monk Fruit Sweetener (Lo Han / Luo Han)

We found that a blend of erythritol and monk fruit is the ultimate keto sweetener and can help you stay in ketosis. Monk fruit is sweet, but not super sweet, and is favorable for people on a low-carb diet.

Monk fruit contains powerful antioxidants called mogrosides, which are metabolized differently by the body than natural sugars.

That's why, despite their lovely taste, these monk fruits contain no calories and have no effect on blood sugar.

Sugar Alcohols to Avoid on Keto 

As noted, some sweeteners are technically keto, but that might kick some people out of ketosis or cause digestive issues.

Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are typically best avoided if you want to maximize your keto experience. 

Maltitol

Number one on our list is maltitol. Maltitol can be found in sugar-free sweets like gum, chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods. It also can be found in gelatin capsules, and so can be an ingredient in many supplements.

While maltitol does have some advantages over table sugar, such as a lower caloric value and glycemic index, it is not completely safe to consume in large amounts.

One study compared products containing regular sugar and those containing maltitol. They found that after eating the products with maltitol, participants in the study reported significantly higher gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal discomfort, flatulence (gas), and bloating (2).

Splenda

Splenda (the brand name for sucralose) is low in calories and super sweet, but this is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Popular among low-carbs due to its taste, Splenda is problematic for people n a keto or low-carb diet.

This sweetener is 600 times more sweet than sugar. That means you’re at risk of serious sugar cravings if you consume it due to its ability to signal for a much larger than life energy-demand.   

Some studies have also found that sucralose could produce harmful compounds when exposed to high temperatures (1).

Sorbitol

Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol you will see on inferior keto snacks. Foods containing sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal distress.

It is used as an alternative to sugar in a range of foods, including low-calorie and sugar-free foods, as well as pharmaceutical and oral health products, such as toothpaste and chewing gum.

Sorbitol works as a laxative by drawing water into the large intestine, stimulating bowel movements. Not something you want from a tasty snack! 

Sorbitol can be used as a laxative when taken orally or as an enema. If you find that you crave sweet foods after eating artificial sweeteners, perhaps try a natural sweetener instead. These tend to have less of an impact. 

How Do I Calculate Sugar Alcohol Net Carbs?

To calculate the sugar alcohol net carbs, simply subtract grams of sugar alcohols (including glycerin), as well as fiber, from total grams of carbs.

Net Carbs (including sugar alcohols, polyols) = Total carbs - Fiber

However, if you are following a more strict form of keto, you may wish to only subtract half of the sugar alcohols to account for the fact that sugar alcohols can have side-effects, and are not ultimately super-keto.

Takeaway

Overall, sugar alcohols can be a useful asset in the keto world.

They give us foods we love and miss like cookies, cakes, and other delicious treats to help make low-carb high-fat diets a long-term and sustainable choice for more people.

But that doesn't mean all sugar alcohols are created equal. If you want our opinion, the quality of sweeteners is what matters the most. Look for premium sweeteners with natural sources for a guilt-free keto treat.

You should lean on natural sweeteners wherever possible and only eat sugar alcohols in moderation. Don’t eat either if your body is telling you it doesn’t like them.

If you experience bloating, lethargy, brain fog, digestive issues, or unpleasant side effects, you may be someone who is sensitive to these sweeteners; we would recommend dialing it back and adjusting to your personal tolerance.

Sugar alcohols net carbs can be an easy way to feel like you’re cheating on a keto diet, but if it makes you stall or feel unwell, then we say pass. 

The ketogenic life is all about making the best choices for you and your body.  

I most cases, natural sweeteners are the preferred option and won't leave you feeling cheated - not "cheating" - on a sugar-free diet.

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397539/ 
  2. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijd/2016/5967907/
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