As the keto diet has grown in popularity, more and more people are eschewing sugar and simple carbohydrates to get their body into the fat-burning state of ketosis. And since the diet follows a pretty strict macro breakdown of 70 to 80 percent fat, 15 to 20 percent protein, and five to 10 percent carbs (this usually amounts to fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day), many people turn to artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes to keep their sugar and carb count down.
One of the most popular sweeteners found in sugar-free processed food is sugar alcohol, including xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and lactitol. Sure, sugar alcohols add zero to minimal calories and carbs, but are they allowed on the keto diet?
"Sugar alcohols may be incorporated into a ketogenic diet for most people," says Brittanie Volk, PhD, RD, senior clinical and patient engagement specialist at Virta Health. However, she added that people on a ketogenic diet should stick to whole, unprocessed food, which are void of sugar alcohols. "But they can be used as an alternative sweetener in replacement of table sugar if needed," she said, and sugar alcohols have little to no impact on blood sugar levels.
However, since sugar alcohols aren't easily absorbed in the digestive tract, they can come with some nasty GI side effects if you eat too much of them, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea. And eating them could increase your cravings for sugary food. If this happens, Dr. Volk recommends pulling back on your consumption of sugar alcohols. Also, be sure to keep them away from your dog, as they are toxic for dogs.
"Bottom line: sugar alcohols can be incorporated in to a ketogenic diet in limited amounts, but they certainly are not a must," Dr. Volk says. "If you decide to use them, experimenting and testing your blood glucose and ketone values will help to determine if they are right for you!"