Today we put into perspective “all things sweet”. I am often asked about the use of sweeteners when cooking to impart a taste of sweetness to meals, so I thought I would provide my top tips in this area.

  1. First and foremost, while we’re not against sweeteners, we encourage infrequent use of any sweeteners – even natural ones – as we really want to encourage an altered palate and get people off that desire to constantly have their foods / meals taste sweet. Studies show us that it is not only the sugar that might have an addictive nature, but also the “sweet” taste itself.
  2. When we do use sweeteners, we go for stevia first, as it is a natural plant extract with a negligible effect on blood sugar. Other natural sweeteners might not have a calorie or carb contribution, but these compounds have varying glycaemic indices, meaning that they may still elicit an insulin response (e.g. xlylitol, maltitol, sorbitol) i.e., have a similar, but less pronounced effect on the blood sugar as sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are simply that – artificial. Some may argue that peer-reviewed studies show they’re okay; the mere fact that they’re artificial, simply means that I have serious doubts! I just don’t recommend them.
  3. As for other natural sugars i.e., honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave syrup e.t.c, these are the refined sugars we talk about – which are most damaging to health. They contribute a heavy carbohydrate and calorie load so these need to be kept to a minimum.
  4. Sweet foods like dates or raisins can also be used to sweetened foods. While these foods might provide other beneficial nutrients, they contribute a lot of carbohydrate in a small “space”, so we err on the side of caution with these, and also keep them to a minimum.

Bottom line: We aim to keep our overall carbohydrate load down – predominantly to make sure the insulin response stays down. We are also in favour of keeping treat foods for treat occasions, which means that whatever sweetener you decide to use (apart from artificial, as they’re off the list), you will only be having it in small amounts and only at special times!


Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Fiona says:

    Hi, I have always used Xylitol in baking, however I have now read that it still increases blood sugar and has around 1/3 the calories of sugar. Would Erythriol be a better sweetener to use?

  • Annabelle Perera says:

    Like Andrea, I also am confused. I realise too that all sugar be kept to a minimum. What would you recommend to use in baking. I currently halve the amount of sugar that the recipe calls for .

    • What The Fat? says:

      Hi Annabella,

      We recommend the non-sugar sweeteners listed in part 2 of this article, and recommend keeping all carbs low at least until one’s carbohydrate tolerance or response to LCHF is understood, but we do realise that carbohydrate or sugar quality is important for health to those people who still eat carbohydrate.
      For these people, reducing sugar and using less refined sugars (which are stronger tasting so hopefully harder to overeat) may have some benefit. But doing without sugar is the essence of LCHF!

  • Mhairi says:

    You didn’t really answer the honey question for me? If the honeycomb is spun locally and not shop bought and mass produced, does this make a difference to the health benefits. Surely stevia is much more processed than honey?

    • What The Fat? says:

      Hi Mhairi,

      Honey is minimally affected by processing, and any benefits seem to vary with the plant the pollen comes from, but it’s possible unprocessed honey has benefits (it can also have risks, as very young children and possibly pregnant women can catch germs from raw honey).
      Stevia has a good risk profile when tested, but the reason we use it is because the LCHF diet works by restricting carbohydrate and sugar is a carbohydrate; certainly, for those people who do eat carbohydrates, the least processed carbs are best and honey is likely to be the queen of sugars!

  • Jessica says:

    Hi guys
    I was wondering about dates are they ok to have ?

    • What The Fat? says:

      Hi Jessica,
      dates are mentioned above along with raisins. They’re very high in sugar – 75% carbohydrate and 63% sugar – and this needs to be taken into consideration.

  • Kristy says:

    I was wondering what the difference between stevia and xylitol? Also, being a sugar addict I limit my ‘sweet’ intake to two times a week but I really struggle with this and crave something sweet every night. You suggested that we should limit ‘sweets’ to adjust our palette how would you advise to do this?

    • What The Fat? says:

      Hi Kristy,

      Stevia is a herb and has no calories, while xylitol is a kind of sugar that is not absorbed but digested by gut bacteria, like fibre. Stevia is very sweet but has a slightly bitter aftertaste for some (as many of the artificial sweeteners do), whereas xylitol is more purely sweet.
      I think having one sweetened food a day will not hurt and if it helps you stick to the diet that’s great, but ultimately if you cut out sweeteners altogether much low-carb food will taste a bit sweet, as you will become sensitive to traces of sugars in it.

  • Andrea says:

    I am a bit confused, I totally get we should keep all sugars to a minimum. But I was of the understanding that natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup are not refined sugars, so slightly better for you than the highly processed refined sugars. But here you say they are the most damaging to health??

    • What The Fat? says:

      Hi Andrea,

      Natural sugars may be very slightly better for you in theory, but this is unlikely to make any difference in practice; they are often refined almost as much as raw sugar. Coconut sugar, for instance is 86% sugar, 8.2 % other carbohydrate, and 1.2% protein. This means that, though it’s not all sugar, it’s not at all a significant source of anything other than sugar.
      So we’d basically say that they’re the same thing as sugar; in fact molasses, which comes from the sugar cane, is the healthiest sugar because it has a significant mineral content, but that’s an acquired taste. Liquid sugars like honey have important medical uses, in which case they are good for you, but these are often external uses.

Leave a Reply