The do’s and don’ts of the keto diet are relatively well understood: Protein and healthy fats reign supreme, avoid carbs at all cost, and keep your sugar to a minimum. However, dietitian and certified diabetes instructor Ali Miller, R.D., L.D., CDE, believes going keto isn’t so simple.
In fact, she tells us the one thing most people do when they “go keto” that’s disguised as healthy but actually isn’t is lean too heavily on noncaloric, artificial sweeteners.
On the keto diet, sugar is restricted, as it can lead to glucose spikes, cravings, and blood sugar imbalance. But, Miller says, people often substitute their sugar for noncaloric sweeteners, which she notes are just as harmful.
“We’re breaking up with sugar, so that’s a good thing,” Miller tells mbg co-CEO Jason Wachob on Episode No. 156 of the mindbodygreen podcast. “But we’re replacing that addiction with another abusive partner: noncaloric sweeteners. And whether they are chemically derived or ‘natural,’ most of them have a digestive disturbance.”
According to Miller, zero-calorie sweeteners are bacteriostatic, meaning they can actually eliminate positive bacteria in the gut, which can get in the way of having a healthy microbiome.
Additionally, Miller says zero-calorie sweeteners provide a similar glucose response to traditional sugar. There’s a taste receptor on your tongue called “glucagon-like peptide” (GLP1) that causes your body to have a response to sweet tastes. So even though you might not be eating sugary junk food, your body might still respond to the sweet taste itself. “It’s like you’re ding-dong-ditching your body,” Miller says.
Miller believes we have a false norm in our society that we need something “sweet” after meals. “We’re just maintaining this addiction that sweet is safe,” she says, when really, we should nix the sugary-sweet tastes in our lives and focus on whole, savory foods.
She does acknowledge, however, that truly natural forms of sugar—like the sugar content in fruit—are healthy for a balanced keto diet.
She believes that people often have a false conception of keto itself. “As long as you metabolically are producing ketones, you are in keto,” she says. That said, even if you do have a tiny bit of coconut sugar in a recipe, you can still technically be following keto if you’re producing enough ketones.
The bottom line: If a recipe calls for a little coconut sugar or half a banana, those sweeteners tend to be much better for your digestive system than a half-cup of erythritol.