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“I switched to sugar-free stuff, how come I’m still gaining weight!”
If you’ve said this to yourself or someone else, you’re not alone. You’ve been bombarded for years with messages about how "no added sugar" products are an essential part of a weight-loss regimen because they help you limit your sugar intake. Many people gave it a try, hoping for substantial weight loss, yet were disappointed.
So, what’s the truth? Will sugar-free products help you take the pounds off?
Yes AND no.
Let’s take a look.
Thumbs Down To Artificial Sweeteners
If you use artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, Splenda, or Sweet N Low, you probably won’t lose weight. Shocking, isn’t it, after everything the marketers have claimed?
Studies are mixed as to whether or not artificial sweeteners spike your insulin or not. But the bigger story is this:
The toxic effect that artificial sweeteners can have on your microbes, which worsens your blood sugar and cancels out the effect of no sugar and low or no carbs in the sweetener.
According to a study published in the journal Molecules, researchers found that six common artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration were found to be toxic to the digestive gut microbes of mice.
Even tiny amounts appear to cause harm. When exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic.
Your gut microbial system, or microbiome, plays a key role in your metabolism. When it’s toxic, your health suffers. Here’s why:
The bacteria in your gut play a major role in many of your body’s processes. Beneficial bacteria are known to protect your gut against infection, produce important vitamins and nutrients and even help regulate your immune system.
An imbalance of bacteria, in which your gut contains fewer healthy bacteria and more toxic ones, is called dysbiosis, which has been linked to a number of gut problems including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease.
Recent studies have also suggested that dysbiosis may play a role in how much you weigh. Scientists examining gut bacteria have found that normal-weight people tend to have different patterns of bacteria in their guts than overweight people.
Unfortunately, you have to be scrupulously careful about which products you choose. Because of the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and foods, your intake of them may be higher than you realize. Read labels carefully, and avoid products with artificial sweeteners in them.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, some sweeteners have been identified as environmental pollutants!
Ready to ditch that Splenda now in favor of more natural sugars?
But Thumbs Up To These Sugar Substitutes
So, which sweeteners should you consume instead?
There are a few that I recommend when you’re trying to lose weight. These sugar substitutes are low-carb and keto-friendly as well, so you can enjoy them in limited amounts as part of my Healthy KetoTM program.
Stevia is perhaps unique among food ingredients because it's most valued for what it doesn't do: it doesn’t add calories. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia is derived from a plant. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration.
There are studies, which suggest stevia might have extra health benefits, such as an article in the Journal of Medicinal Food, which cites stevia as having the potential for treating endocrine diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension - which will definitely support you to lose weight.
Look for stevia in powder or liquid form in grocery stores, and in health-food stores. You’re likely to find it on the baking goods aisle with the sugar and other sugar substitutes, or in the health food aisle. Make sure it doesn’t contain maltodextrin or dextrose, which are unnecessary additives made from corn that’s usually genetically modified.
Stevia is good for some things like sweetening drinks but it does have a bit of an aftertaste that is off-putting to some people.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol; thus, unlike stevia, it’s not a plant extract. It’s a natural sweetener that has a crystalline, granular structure with a sweetness comparable to sugar. Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and is produced by your body.
It has virtually no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels, and contains 40% fewer calories than sugar. (Though on a keto diet we’re generally not too concerned with counting calories.)
Be sure to get the kind made from birch bark not genetically modified corn cobs. You can find it at most grocery stores in the same aisle as sugar and sugar substitutes, or at many health food stores.
Though it sounds new, erythritol has been around as long as mushrooms and many fruits in which it naturally occurs. It's a type of carbohydrate called sugar alcohol that people use as a sugar substitute.
Erythritol has no calories. That's because your small intestine absorbs it quickly and gets it out of your body in your urine within 24 hours. This means erythritol doesn't have a chance to turn into energy in your body, and is considered low-carb.
Erythritol is fine for people with diabetes because it has no effect on glucose or insulin levels. Since foods that contain erythritol may still contain carbohydrates, calories, and fat, be sure to check the label on any food containing erythritol.
As with xylitol, make sure you use a brand of erythritol that’s not genetically modified. You can find it at most grocery stores in the same aisle as sugar and sugar substitutes, or at many health food stores.
Why You Should Sharply Restrict Even Acceptable Sugar Substitutes On Keto
In theory, sugar substitutes shouldn’t cause an increase and blood sugar - meaning that they shouldn’t boot you out of the fat-burning mode called ketosis.
However, many people do report that consuming these sugar replacements actually knock them out of ketosis. This could be due to a programmed response by the body to produce insulin in response to sweet-tasting foods. They can also trigger a craving for sweets.
My advice is to try a small amount and assess your individual response. And just like sugar shouldn’t be a major part of any diet, neither should these sweeteners become a staple of your keto diet. Use them in very limited amounts.
When You Absolutely Need A Sweetener, Now You Know Which One To Choose
I’m aware that controversy still swirls around artificial sweeteners. But the research is starting to show that artificial sweeteners, far from being the dieter’s friend, are actively harmful to your health. Even if you weren’t on keto, I’d still strongly recommend you avoid them.
I’m also aware that you may be more successful on keto if you could enjoy something sweet occasionally - like a peanut butter chocolate fat bomb, for example - rather than feeling deprived and being tempted to gorge on sweets. Especially when you first start keto and may be going through a sugar detox. I totally get it! That’s why I spent time researching healthy sugar substitutes for you to enjoy.
Yes, it’s possible to treat yourself occasionally on keto and still enjoy the benefits of weight loss, increased energy, and sharper mental clarity. You don’t need to deprive yourself and battle unending sugar cravings to be successful. Just use moderation when your sweet tooth speaks up, or you may prevent fat loss and even suffer weight gain.