The Best Low Carb Sweetener

Coffee and sweetener
If you’re on a low carb diet and you can’t give up sweet coffee or desserts, you’re going to need low carb sweeteners. There are plenty of sugar substitutes on the market, but some of them fit better than others into a low carbohydrate diet. In this post we’ll look at the most popular natural and artificial sweeteners so that you can choose the one that will work best for you.


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that will be one of the ingredients in most diet sodas and diet desserts. Brand names include Nutrasweet and Equal. It is a chemical produced by combining two amino acids or proteins. It breaks down at high temperatures and stops tasting sweet so it does not work for baking.

Some studies have suggested that aspartame is not safe, although it remains approved for food use in most countries. With that plus the fact that you can’t use it for cooking, you’ll probably want to avoid it. There are better choices on the market.

Sugar Alcohols

Weirdly, sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols! They have names ending in -ol, e.g. maltitol, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol.

Xylitol in particular is well known for not causing tooth decay, unlike sugar – in fact, studies have suggested that it even has a protective effect. It’s therefore used as an ingredient in many chewing gums. You can also buy a granulated version in health food stores. It can be used the same way as sugar, although it has a slightly cooler taste.

Sugar alcohols are technically a form of carbohydrate, although they don’t seem to be absorbed by the body in the same way as other carbohydrates. Most low carb diets advise counting them as having half the carbs of sugar, i.e. 2.2g carbohydrate per teaspoon. This is too high for most people on a low carbohydrate diet, except for very occasional use.

Agave Nectar

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about agave nectar. Agave nectar is a syrup made from the agave plant, a spiny plant that grows in Mexico. It’s often billed as being good for low glycemic diets because it doesn’t raise the blood sugar as fast as other types of syrup. However, that doesn’t make it low carb.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is better known as Splenda, one of the brand names that it’s marketed under in many countries. Sucralose itself is not a brand name but an artificial sweetener that’s produced in laboratories by modifying sugar molecules.

In its pure form it has a sweetness of 600 times as much as sugar. However, you won’t buy the pure chemical. It comes in different forms.

The granulated version contains bulking agents to make it look and act like sugar, although you’ll notice it weighs a lot less. It’s convenient for recipes because one teaspoon of granulated Splenda has the same sweetness as one teaspoon of sugar. However, the bulking agents contain a small amount of carbohydrate (0.5g per teaspoon). That’s about 10% of the carbs that are in sugar.

You can also get tablets for adding to drinks, which contain other ingredients and may have some carbs – check the label. If you buy Liquid Splenda, it’s just sucralose and water so there are no carbs.

Sucralose is a popular sweetener for many low carb dieters because you can cook with it. Unlike a lot of other artificial sweeteners, it does not lose its sweetness at high temperatures. So you can combine it with low carb flour substitutes like coconut flour or almond flour to bake low carb cookies, cakes and puddings. However, there can still be quite a lot of carbs in your finished baked goods. And it doesn’t act quite like sugar – for example it doesn’t caramelize, and doesn’t work for meringues.

Sucralose is not natural and some people avoid it for that reason. Also, like any artificial sweetener, some studies have shown that it can raise insulin levels, making the body store fat from other foods eaten at the same time.


Stevia rebaudiana is a small herb-like plant that originated in South America. It has very sweet tasting leaves which have been always been used as a sweetener by natives of the countries where it grows.

In the West its acceptance has been slower, although stevia extract has been used as a sweetener in Japan for many years. It is now marketed either as an extracted chemical called Rebaudioside-A or simply as powdered plant leaf.

In the USA the plant leaf is not approved as a food but only as a dietary supplement, so you will find it in health food stores.

Stevia itself has zero calories and zero carbs, and studies have suggested that it can actually have a beneficial effect on insulin, which could be helpful for diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome. It has a slightly different taste from regular sugar, with a little hint of licorice that can take some getting used to, although some people like it right away.

The purified extract is FDA approved as a food additive. It’s used in several brand name sweeteners, including PureVia™ and Truvia™. However, both of these contain other ingredients as well as the stevia.

PureVia contains dextrose, an actual sugar, and has 3 calories per pack. This is a lot less than regular sugar (although you may be surprised to know that table sugar has only 15 calories per teaspoon) but it’s still not ideal for a low carb diet.

Truvia contains erythritol, one of the sugar alcohols discussed above, and while it has no calories, it may be better avoided on a low carb diet.

Stevia leaf is chosen by many low carb dieters who want a natural sweetener. In my view it’s probably the best of the low carb sweeteners that you can buy – but watch out for other ingredients in branded ‘stevia’ sweeteners in the grocery store.

ETA (from the comment section below): Even better IMHO is to avoid sweeteners as much as possible. I’ve seen studies that claim to show that the sweet taste increases insulin production and therefore the laying-down of fat stores even if no sugar is consumed. Plus, it’s easier to stick to a low carb diet if we allow our taste buds to adjust to less sweetness in our food. Vegetables start to taste a lot nicer!

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11 comments on “The Best Low Carb Sweetener

  1. Gloria

    My grandson was diagnosed with type one diabetes I’m trying to find a drink that has very few carbs that he can drink on a regular basis.he’s four years old now as he gets older he has to have more insulin we have to Count every carb he takes in. We need to find a drink that he can drink all day without having to have a shot for it

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      Hi Gloria, you should check with his doctor or dietitian, but as far as I know, water is the best thing, aside from of course whatever milk he has planned into his diet. I believe you can give artificially sweetened drinks but large amounts of artificial sweetener aren’t good for anybody, especially little kids. The type one diabetics I know have adjusted to not having sweet things and don’t mind. It’s hard for him to understand at his age, I know, but if you give him artificially sweetened drinks you will just keep him wanting sweet foods and drinks all the time. That’s my personal opinion though and you should definitely check with a professional.
      This link might help:

    2. Kermit

      Water is the best thing in the world for diabetes. My grandson’s which are all under 3 years of age have been taught to drink water and 1% milk. They all eat very healthy thanks to my daughters being very strick. I have type 2 diabetes and drink all most a gallon of water a day. I just started the Atkins diet 4 days ago because my sugar was running around 250 and I knew it was time to get this controlled. I checked it this morning and it was 89. It hasn’t been that low since high school. Back to point, make that baby drink water and the child will get use to it. God bless and good luck.

    3. regina ragsdale

      Water, with fresh fruit, or cucumbers and mint, makes a refreshing watermelon tasting water, no carbs, no calories.

  2. Kevin

    I’ve just started a LCHF diet, three weeks in.

    It will be nice to have the occasional dessert, like low carb cheesecake and I would be inclined towards Stevia, I note there is a liquid form of Stevia. Does it have any advantages over the powder form

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      Yes, often it does. The powder form tends to have fillers to bulk it out so it can be substituted teaspoon for teaspoon. These fillers may have carbs, and even if not, they likely have no nutritional value. The liquid form is usually more pure. But you should check the labels on both kinds to be sure.

  3. Louise Hockenson

    Thank you Rosemary for writing this article ! It is very interesting & I did not realize some of this. It makes perfect sense to limit sugar intake naturally. I suspect anyone can get used to less but an adjustment is hard sometimes but certainly needed.

  4. Joanne

    The true via stevia packets have dextrose listed as the first ingredient then stevia… says less than one carb per packet but isn’t dextrose sugar? I am concerned it will stall me on a low carb diet. Also have metabolic syndrome.

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      Hi Joanne, you mean PureVia, right? I’ve just found it on their website:

      Doesn’t that seem crazy, adding sugar to an artificial sweetener?!

      So PureVia contains carbs and calories (5 calories per pack) and although this is still a lot lower than regular sugar, I wouldn’t recommend it on a low carb diet.

      Truvia is zero calorie, and although it contains carbs, they are zero-calorie carbohydrates, like fiber.

      All the same, if you can find actual pure stevia leaf or powder (in a health store) you might want to go with that, because despite the clever brand names, neither Truvia or PureVia is pure stevia.

      Even better IMHO is to avoid sweeteners as much as possible. I’ve seen studies that claim to show that the sweet taste increases insulin production and therefore the laying-down of fat stores even if no sugar is consumed. Plus, it’s easier to stick to a low carb diet if we allow our taste buds to adjust to less sweetness in our food. Vegetables start to taste a lot nicer!

      I’ll edit the post now to incorporate some of this. Thanks for the heads up about PureVia!

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      I know that seems weird Jane, but it’s erythritol which is 0.2 cal/gram so it counts as zero net carbs like fiber.


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