I get a lot of questions from people asking about what erythritol is, saying they want to avoid it because they think it’s artificial, or wanting to use different natural and/or low carb sweeteners that they have for my recipes. Although not every sweetener can be interchangeable for every recipe, often times they can be. I also frequently see confusion about what sweetener to use and what the various low carb sweeteners are.
Which sweetener to use is largely a matter of preference. I like erythritol, or blends of it, the best, but they all have pros and cons. I hope this guide will help you understand the differences between them, their effects on blood sugar (often called glycemic index or GI), and how to convert.
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1. Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols can occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, or be produced by fermenting plant sugars. Because they are not well absorbed by the body, they contain fewer calories (some of them effectively close to none) and have a smaller effect on blood glucose levels. For the same reason, they can cause stomach upset if used excessively. Their impact on blood sugar and potential for side effects varies depending on the type of sugar alcohol.
Contrary to what some people may believe, sugar alcohols are not artificial sweeteners. There is some processing involved to achieve the granulated sweeteners you can purchase for home use, but this is no less natural than the processing needed for coconut sugar, maple syrup, or white table sugar. You can also choose to buy ones that are guaranteed non-GMO and/or organic.
Erythritol is my absolute favorite natural, low carb sweetener. I use it for most recipes on this blog. It has practically no aftertaste at all, aside from an occasional cooling sensation that can be present if used in large quantities. It occurs naturally in some fruit, but the granulated kind you buy is made by fermenting glucose.
Although it’s in the sugar alcohol family, erythritol does not raise blood glucose or cause gastrointestinal distress (unlike most sugar alcohols). This is because most of it gets absorbed in the small intestine and later excreted unchanged into the urine. All other sugar alcohols reach the large intestine instead, which is why they are more likely to cause stomach upset.
Technically erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar, so the correct conversion would indicate to use a little more compared to sugar (about 1.3 times more). However, many people use it as a 1:1 replacement for sugar without noticing a difference.
Recommended brands of erythritol:
- NOW Foods Erythritol – pure erythritol (non-GMO)
- NOW Foods Organic Erythritol – pure erythritol (organic)
- Sukrin Granulated – pure erythritol
- Sukrin Icing (Melis) – powdered blend of erythritol and oligosaccharides
- Swerve– blend of erythritol and oligosaccharides
- Swerve Confectioner’s – powdered blend of erythritol and oligosaccharides
Xylitol is another popular natural sugar alcohol, and one of its advantages is it measures 1:1 like sugar in terms of sweetness. It usually has minimal effects on blood sugar, but does have a larger effect than erythritol. Toothpaste often contains xylitol, because it can actually promote tooth remineralization. Even though the gastrointestinal effects of xylitol are not as pronounced as other sugar alcohols like maltitol or sorbitol, it can still cause stomach upset in large quantities. People with dogs in the house may want to avoid keeping xylitol around, because even a small accidentally ingested amount can be lethal for a dog.
Recommended brands of xylitol:
c) Other Sugar Alcohols
There are many other sugar alcohols, but they have less desirable qualities. Maltitol, sorbitol, and isomalt are the most common ones used in commercially packaged “low carb” products. Unfortunately, these can actually have a substantial effect on blood sugar and they cause stomach upset more than erythritol and xylitol do. I recommend avoiding them.
2. Plant-based sweeteners
Plant-based natural sweeteners are derived from plants like stevia, monk fruit, and chicory root. Their sweetness comes from extracts or prebiotic fibers.
Stevia leaves have been used as a natural sweetener in some cultures for over a thousand years. Steviol glycosides are the active compounds derived from the stevia rebaudiana plant, and can be up to 150 times as sweet as sugar.
Because pure stevia extract is so concentrated, it is often either suspended in liquid or blended with a granular bulking agent. Sometimes these bulking agents can be sugars like maltodextrin or dextrose, which may also be GMO. I recommend avoiding these. Instead, either use stevia in its pure form (powder or liquid), or find one where the bulking agent is a sugar alcohol like erythritol or xylitol.
If you use pure stevia powder or drops, know that their concentration can make it difficult to use them recipes when converting from sugar. Even then, the exact conversion amount can vary by brand, so check the product label for conversions if available. Stevia extract also comes in the form of drops, in which the active compounds are suspended in liquid. The conversion for these varies even more greatly than it does for the powder, so again you’d need to check the label to accurately determine how much you’d need.
Stevia does not raise blood glucose levels or have side effects. In fact, more recent studies have shown that it has anti-diabetic and antioxidant properties.
The main issue with stevia is that it can have a bitter aftertaste, which is worse when using larger quantities. Blending it with other sweeteners, like erythritol, can help. Many people also find that they prefer one brand of stevia over another, so it’s worth experimenting to find one that you like.
Recommended brands of pure concentrated stevia:
- Now Foods Organic Stevia Powder – concentrated stevia extract powder
- NuNaturals NuStevia Stevia Extract – concentrated stevia extract powder
- NuNaturals NuStevia Liquid Stevia – concentrated stevia extract in liquid form
- SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Liquid Stevia – concentrated stevia extract in liquid form
Recommended stevia blends:
- Sukrin :1 – blend of erythritol and stevia
- Sukrin Gold – blend of erythritol, tagatose, glycerol, malt extract and stevia (brown sugar substitute)
- THM Gentle Sweet Blend – blend of xylitol, erythritol, and stevia
- THM Super Sweet Blend – blend of erythritol and stevia
- Truvia Spoonable – blend of erythritol and stevia
- Pyure All-Purpose Blend – blend of erythritol and stevia
- Natural Mate All-Purpose Sweetener – blend of erythritol and stevia
b) Monk fruit
Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is a round green melon native to central Asia. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least hundreds of years, with applications including treatment of diabetes and respiratory illnesses.
Like stevia extract, monk fruit extract is very concentrated – about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar – and does not raise blood glucose levels. Also like stevia, monk fruit based products tend to be mixed with other sweeteners or bulking agents. This is probably in part because pure monk fruit extract is hard to come by and expensive.
In contrast to stevia, monk fruit extract does not have an aftertaste. This makes it a good choice for people sensitive to the aftertaste of stevia.
Recommended brands of monk fruit extract:
- Pure Monk – concentrated pure monk fruit extract powder
- Swanson Purelo Lo Han Sweetener – blend of monk fruit concentrate, inulin, and silica
- Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener Classic – blend of erythritol and monk fruit extract
Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener Golden – blend of erythritol and monk fruit extract (brown sugar substitute)
- MonkSweet Plus – blend of erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit extract
c) Chicory root
Chicory root is most commonly known as the root of the Belgian endive plant and has long been used as a coffee substitute. It contains soluble fibers called inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), both of which are responsible for sweetening. Inulin and other forms of oligosaccharides are also found in many other plants, but they are most concentrated in chicory root.
Oligosaccharides, including inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO) do not raise blood sugar or cause stomach upset in most people, when used in reasonable amounts. In fact, these prebiotic fibers can promote beneficial flora in the intestines.
Chicory root fiber can be used cup-for-cup like sugar. However, it can have an aftertaste for some people, so is best when blended with other sweeteners. There are also other oligosaccharide sweeteners that come in syrup form, which is incredibly useful for cooking applications that can benefit from a liquid sweetener or even a binder.
Recommended brands of chicory root & oligosaccharides:
- LC Foods Inulin Fiber – pure inulin fiber from chicory root
- Sukrin Fiber Syrup Clear – pure isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO)
- Sukrin Fiber Syrup Gold – blend of isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO), malt extract and steviol glycosides
- Just Like Sugar Table Top – chicory root fiber with trace amounts of calcium and orange peel
- Just Like Sugar Brown – chicory root fiber with trace amounts of calcium, orange peel, and molasses natural flavor (brown sugar substitute)
3. Natural Sugar-based Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners in this category are not sugar-free, even though they are sometimes used in recipes that are promoted as such. These include granular sweeteners like coconut sugar and date sugar, as well as syrups such as maple syrup, honey, rice syrup, agave syrup, and blackstrap molasses.
From a chemical standpoint, all of these sweeteners are still simple sugars. The main differences are variances in their ratios between glucose and fructose. Some of them also have other nutritive qualities. Nonetheless, I recommend using them sparingly or not at all, because they do raise blood sugar in the same way (or almost the same way) as table sugar. I avoid them for this reason, but many paleo followers use coconut sugar, maple syrup, and honey as their sweeteners of choice.
If you do choose to use natural sugar-based sweeteners, granulated ones like coconut sugar or date sugar work best for converting recipes. These can replace table sugar cup-for-cup. On the other hand, using syrups would require modifying other aspects of a recipe, because they affect the ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients.
4. Artificial Sweeteners
I intentionally did not include a detailed breakdown of artificial sweeteners in my chart and guide. These include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. I cannot advocate using them.
Unlike the other sweeteners above, artificial sweeteners are produced synthetically in a lab. The main problem with this is that the amount of time that we’ve had to observe their effects on humans is much smaller than the time that people have been exposed to natural sweeteners found in plants (which includes sugar alcohols). We have only had decades, instead of centuries or potentially millenia, to find out how they impact us in the long term.
Even in such a short time, there have been conflicting studies about whether the common artificial sweeteners are safe or not. There are better options, so they are not worth the risk.
Natural Low Carb Sweetener Conversion Chart
There are various sources out there for converting among sugar-free sweeteners. The problem is that I have yet to see a chart that lists many or most of them in one place, in a concise way. I put together a chart that you can use as your go-to place for sweetener conversion.
At a high level, the following chart shows how to convert among common natural, low carb, and sugar-free sweeteners. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does contain the most common sweeteners people ask me about. White table sugar is listed at the top for reference, but of course I do not advocate it.
|Sugar||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|Erythritol||1 1/4 tsp||1 Tbsp|
+ 1 tsp
|1/3 cup||1/3 cup|
+ 2 Tbsp
|2/3 cup||1 1/3 cup|
|Xylitol||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|Swerve||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|–||–||3/16 tsp||1/4 tsp||3/8 tsp||3/4 tsp|
|1/8 tsp||3/8 tsp||1 1/2 tsp||2 tsp||3 tsp||2 Tbsp|
|–||1/8 tsp||1/2 tsp||2/3 tsp||1 tsp||2 tsp|
|Sukrin :1||1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|–||1/2 tsp||2 tsp||1 Tbsp||1 Tbsp|
+ 2 tsp
|1/3 tsp||1 tsp||1 Tbsp|
+ 1 tsp
|2 Tbsp||3 Tbsp|
+ 1 tsp
|Truvia Spoonable||1/2 tsp||1 1/4 tsp||1 Tbsp|
+ 2 tsp
+ 1 tsp
|3 1/2 Tbsp||1/3 cup|
+ 1 1/2 Tbsp
|1/2 tsp||1 1/2 tsp||2 Tbsp||2 Tbsp|
+ 2 tsp
|1/4 cup||1/2 cup|
|3/8 tsp||1 1/8 tsp||1 Tbsp|
+ 1 1/2 tsp
|2 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||6 Tbsp|
|Pure Monk||–||–||1/6 tsp||1/4 tsp||1/3 tsp||2/3 tsp|
Lo Han Sweetener
|–||1/4 tsp||3/4 tsp||1 tsp||1 1/2 tsp||3 tsp|
|1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|MonkSweet Plus||1/2 tsp||1 1/2 tsp||2 Tbsp||2 Tbsp|
+ 2 tsp
|1/4 cup||1/2 cup|
|Just Like Sugar|
|1 tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
Some sweeteners are not listed in the conversion chart – these are:
- Artificial sweeteners – I do not advocate artificial sweeteners, and suggest finding a better low carb natural sweetener option instead
- Natural sweeteners that use sugars as bulking agents – Examples of such bulking agents are dextrose and maltodextrin. These raise blood sugar and are often GMOs.
- Natural sugar-based sweeteners – Granulated natural sugar-based sweeteners (like coconut sugar) can be used 1:1 like sugar, so they require no conversion. Keep in mind they do still raise blood glucose levels. Most other natural sugar-based sweeteners are syrups, which are also excluded for the reasons below.
- Liquid sweeteners and syrups – These are excluded because they do not easily convert from granulated table sugar. The liquid aspect would require other modifications to be made to a recipe using table sugar. This can sometimes be true for converting among various granulated sweeteners as well, but not as often as when converting between granulated and liquid.
- Confectioner’s and brown sugar replacements – These are obviously specialized for certain uses, so there isn’t a point to convert regular sugar to them.
I used product packaging or experience for most of the above conversions. In addition, thank you to the following sources in compiling this conversion chart:
Pinterest-friendly Natural Low Carb Sweetener Conversion Chart
The above natural low carb sweeteners chart can be helpful, and I hope you’ll bookmark this page to refer back to it. Another convenient way to save the conversions is to use this Pinterest-friendly image: