When you’re following the keto diet, you’ll come across erythritol a lot. It’s used as a sugar replacement, especially in “sugar-free” and “low sugar” products. One of the biggest worries that people often have with the keto diet is how to replace sugars without going over your carb limit. There’s no need to give up on sweet treats entirely to stay true to your keto diet; you just need to make sure that you’re using a sugar substitute that will replace sugar and keep you in ketosis.
Whether you’re new to keto or a seasoned pro, sugar alcohols such as erythritol can really come into their own for this purpose. Ready to learn more about it and where it fits with the keto diet? Read on for more details!
How Is It Made?
Erythritol is made when natural sugars from corn or wheat are fermented by yeast. You may worry that it’s not gluten-free because of this but it’s actually used in many gluten-free products. The end result is something that looks very much like sugar granules - and tastes a lot like it too! Generally, it has around 70% of the sweetness of sugar so it’s got some (but not all) of the same taste.
Because it’s a sugar alcohol and not an artificial sweetener, you’ll find erythritol naturally in some foods and drinks, including watermelon, pears, grapes, mushrooms, soy sauce, wine, sake, and beer. There is even a little bit of it in your body’s tissues and bodily fluids. Not the nicest thought but it helps to see how natural erythritol is!
How Does Erythritol Stack Up Against Other Sweeteners?
Erythritol may be a sugar alcohol but it has some big differences to the likes of xylitol and sorbitol.
The calorie count is one of these. Erythritol comes in at under 1 calorie per gram, whereas sorbitol and xylitol have 2.4 and 2.6 calories per gram respectively. Table sugar weighs in at 4 calories per gram. Having fewer calories doesn’t mean compromising on taste though as erythritol still has a lot of the sweetness of sugar.
Another difference is your body’s ability to digest it. Some sugar alcohols can’t be digested by the body and they travel straight through into your large intestine. When they get to your colon, they’re fermented by gut bacteria. The end result? Plenty of gas, for many people! Bloating and digestive problems can also be a problem.
This digestive distress doesn't happen so much with erythritol and it’s largely absorbed in the small intestine before it gets to your colon. A Japanese study found that as much as 90% of erythritol was absorbed into the bloodstream within 30 minutes of consuming it and excreted in urine within 24-48 hours.
Up to 90% of it can then be excreted in your urine and it isn’t as easily fermented by bacteria in the digestive system. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at whether bacteria in the colon could have an effect on erythritol over a 24 hour period. They found that it was completely resistant to bacteria.
The end result? You’re unlikely to get digestive problems such as gas and bloating unless you’re consuming a LOT of erythritol.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends that consuming 35-50g of erythritol per day is likely to be well tolerated by most people .
Even if you’ve had trouble digesting sugar alcohols in the past, erythritol may still be a good bet for you.
Erythritol is added to a lot of processed foods, especially low and sugar-free options.
If you want to use it yourself, you can buy it too in granule or powder form and use it in place of added sugar.
A word of caution here - it’s not a straight swap in terms of quantities. Because erythritol isn’t quite as sweet as sugar, you need to use a little bit more of it to get the same effect and one cup of sugar equates to a cup and a third of erythritol.
What Effect Does Erythritol Have for Your Health and Wellbeing?
With erythritol, it’s more about what it doesn’t do to your health … especially compared to artificial sweeteners.
One of the great things about erythritol is that it has a Glycemic Index (GI) of 0 and it doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels for most healthy people . This is largely because how easily it’s absorbed into your bloodstream and excreted out of your body.
Even if you’re diabetic, you may be able to consume erythritol quite happily, with no negative effects on your blood sugar or insulin levels. Because it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, there’s less chance that erythritol will lead to cravings and weight gain.
Another added bonus of consuming erythritol? Cholesterol and triglycerides aren’t affected either.
The cardiovascular benefits don’t necessarily end there. Research carried out on diabetic rats has shown that erythritol may have antioxidant qualities that may help to stop high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels.
A small study of 24 people with type 2 diabetes found that consuming an average of 30g of erythritol every day for a month helped blood vessels to be healthier and reduce the potential for developing heart disease .
And if you’re worried about the link between sugar substitutes and cancer, you can rest easy. According to a study from the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, there isn’t any evidence that consuming erythritol has any carcinogenic risks .
Is Erythritol Keto?
One question that comes up a lot: is erythritol keto? The answer to that is yes, it most definitely is safe on a ketogenic diet!
It’s a great natural sweetener for helping people stay in ketosis.
Technically, it is a carb but here’s the good news: it doesn’t make up any of your carb allowances! The label may say 4 carbs but a huge amount of that is excreted.
Your body doesn’t use it for energy and very little is metabolized. That leaves you with a net carb gain of zero. Some other sugar alcohols are more calorific than erythritol and can have a much bigger knock-on effect where carbs are concerned.
If you’re looking for a natural sweetener that tastes like sugar and lets you stay on track with your keto goals, erythritol is a great option.