Several times a day our coaches receive screen shots of the front of food products like the one pictured asking permission to partake in what seems like a sensible choice for someone on Keto. Terms like “Sugar-Free” and “Made with Stevia Extract” gives the impression of a brand that is becoming more consciences of the Keto Community’s need for variety while meeting our high standards. The truth is, the label “Made with Stevia” only means the product contains some portion of Stevia.
Our response to these front-facing screen shots is always, “show us your backside!”- the Nutrition Panel & Ingredients to be specific. Often, what we find are high glycemic, toxic, additives, fillers, and sweeteners that will very likely work against your body, not with it.
One of the common sweeteners found in many “sugar free” candies is maltitol. If you're eating a lot of products with sugar alcohols such as maltitol while on Keto, you may not be as effective despite your best efforts. Although sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners like maltitol don’t affect everyone the same way, it has been known to stall those on Keto. Here’s why. We will use maltitol as our example.
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, a type of carbohydrate that is neither sugar nor alcohol and is naturally in some fruits and vegetables. It's commonly used in low-carb or “sugar-free” products such as candy, like that pictured, and nutrition bars because of its similarity to sugar in terms of taste, texture, and interaction with other ingredients. Products that use maltitol and other sugar alcohols as sweeteners can be labeled “sugar-free,” despite the fact they still affect blood sugar. Although product marketers use clever labeling that leads people to believe maltitol has little impact on blood sugar, that is not the case.
Maltitol is a carbohydrate with calories. The body does not absorb all the calories in maltitol, but it still has about 2 to 3 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar. Since maltitol is a carbohydrate and has calories, it also affects blood glucose. The glycemic index is a measure of the effects of food on raising your blood glucose level.
Maltitol syrup has a glycemic index rating of 52, which approaches that of table sugar at 60. The powdered form has a glycemic index of 35, which is still higher than most other sugar alcohols and higher than all artificial sweeteners.
Comparing Impact of Maltitol to Sugar
Maltitol is estimated to have around 90 percent of the sweetness of sugar. If Maltitol has three-fourths of the sweetness of sugar, three-fourths the calories of sugar, and three-fourths the glycemic index of sugar, it isn’t a far leap to the conclusion that you need one-fourth more maltitol to get the same effect as sugar.
The brain will likely not be able to differentiate maltitol from actual sugar and hence, trigger the body to create insulin to devalue the effect of maltitol. For those who are following a ketogenic plan, are insulin resistant, have diabetes, or struggle with sugar addiction, this type of sugar alcohol is considered to be counterproductive and is not recommended.
In addition, to a non-keto friendly glycemic impact, some people who eat maltitol, especially in large quantities, may experience intestinal gas and cramping, while others experience more severe cramping and diarrhea.
Index of Sweeteners
Maltitol is not the only potential keto culprit. There are several other sugar alcohols, sweeteners, additives, and fillers that could hinder your progress. You should always review the ingredient panel of every food product label. Avoid the following while following a ketogenic lifestyle:
Keto Friendly, Low-Glycemic Sweeteners & Thickening Agents
The great news is there are some great low-glycemic sweetener options for those on Keto. Stevia, Erythritol, Lakanto Monk Fruit, and Xylitol are all low to no calorie and low to no glycemic sweeteners. It is important that you also read the ingredient labels on sweetener packages as many have added non-keto ingredients to cut down the production cost. Our personal favorite sweetener is Lakanto Monkfruit. We love Lakanto Monkfruit because there is no significant aftertaste or the strange cooling effect that some report experiencing with some erythritol products. As far as a thickening agent for soups, stews, sauces and dressings we recommend Xanthan Gum.
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Sarah Schwarz is the Founder of Keto Lab and respected Health & Wellness Advocate for those living a Ketogenic lifestyle. Sarah resides in the tight knit community of O'Fallon, Illinois, USA with her son and beloved Labradors. Sarah's own personal Keto journey resulted in 120+ lbs lost and freedom from chronic pain associated with her once failing health.Sarah shares her journey, insight, recipes and information regarding impending legislation that impacts quality of food in the United States.