Over recent years, low carb baking is becoming increasingly popular.
Given this, there are a vast number of natural/artificial sweeteners on the market. Each of these claims to be a healthier choice than sugar.
Swerve sweetener is a sugar substitute that people view as “natural”; it’s also the self-proclaimed ‘ultimate replacement for sugar.’
But is that really true?
What Is Swerve Sweetener?
First of all, Swerve is a sweetener produced by a company of the same name: Swerve.
Low carb dessert and baking enthusiasts love Swerve and use it for a wealth of different recipes.
The product is a blend of erythritol, a kind of sugar alcohol, as well as oligosaccharides (otherwise known as inulin) and ‘Natural Flavors.’
Erythritol is the main ingredient in Swerve and it’s a sugar alcohol derived from corn (1). While it looks and tastes similar to sugar, it has almost none of the calories.
Alone, erythritol is approximately 60-70% as sweet as sugar (2).
Despite its “natural” reputation, erythritol is an industrial product. As part of its manufacture, a hydrolysis process extracts glucose from corn.
Next, the producers add a type of yeast — often Moniella — which ferments this glucose.
Finally, the product is cleaned by filtering, and then undergoes a crystallization process, resulting in erythritol (3).
Surprisingly, the initial discovery of erythritol came way back in 1848, Scotland (4).
Oligosaccharides are a type of prebiotic fiber which naturally occur in various plants; Swerve sweetener contains an extract of these (5).
Food products may also label this ingredient as ‘inulin,’ a common alternate name. Particularly high sources of inulin are plant foods such as chicory root, onions, and garlic (6).
While ‘natural flavors’ certainly sounds a lot better than ‘artificial flavors,’ they are not so different in reality.
Artificial flavors are entirely man-made in a lab using synthetic chemicals.
On the other hand, ‘natural’ flavors use a chemical originally found in nature. After extracting and modifying this ingredient, it is then mixed with various other things.
How Many Calories and Carbs are in Swerve?
While Swerve sweetener’s label claims to be ‘zero-calorie,’ this isn’t entirely accurate.
For example, according to the FDA label requirements, anything containing less than five calories per serving can be called zero-calorie (12).
The serving size for Swerve is listed as one tsp (4g). While this might be okay for a cup of coffee, baking recipes call for cups rather than teaspoons.
Despite this, the actual calorie content is still reasonably low; Swerve contains 51 calories per cup serving.
In regard to carbohydrate, Swerve sweetener has 5g carbs per serving.
Although this sounds very high, the body doesn’t metabolize these carbs.
As a result, erythritol is non-glycemic and has no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels (13).
Is Swerve Sweetener Safe To Eat?
To understand the safety profile, we have to examine each of the ingredients.
Erythritol is the main ingredient in Swerve sweetener.
I set out trying to find both positive and negative impacts of erythritol, but the studies are overwhelmingly positive.
In a study looking at pre-diabetics, a daily dose of erythritol for 2 weeks had no effect on blood glucose levels (14).
Additionally, unlike natural sugars, erythritol appears to have a positive impact on dental health. Studies show that it inhibits harmful bacteria and reduces plaque – even more so than xylitol does (15, 16).
And most significantly, toxicity and carcinogenicity tests on erythritol show that it’s very safe for humans.
Overall studies on inulin appear to be very positive.
Daily supplementary doses of inulin over a 16-day period improve the diversity of the human gut microbiota. Also, randomized controlled trials show that inulin improves inflammation, intestinal permeability and overall gut health (20, 21).
Inulin may also hold promise for reducing insulin levels. In a double-blind, randomized controlled trial, participants supplementing inulin at 10g per day had significantly reduced fasting insulin levels (22).
Another study also shows that inulin had a significant effect on decreasing fasting glucose levels in forty-four subjects with prediabetes (23).
Of course, these doses are much higher that what you will find in a few servings of Swerve sweetener. However, they do show that oligosaccharides are beneficial for health rather than something to cause worry.
As previously mentioned, ‘natural flavors’ can include hundreds of different ingredients. Therefore, it’s difficult to know exactly what these ‘natural flavors’ contain.
Is Swerve Safe For Type 2 Diabetics?
As shown above, none of the ingredients in Swerve impact blood glucose levels. In fact, it appears that these ingredients may actually reduce fasting glucose levels.
As a result, many people with diabetes use Swerve as a replacement for sugar.
Swerve Sweetener vs. Stevia
Both Swerve and stevia are natural sweeteners. But which one is best?
The truth is that both these sweeteners are fairly good choices, especially in contrast to their artificial alternatives.
Where Swerve Wins
It’s also not as well suited to baking as Swerve is. For instance, Swerve serving sizes are simple because it’s a like-for-like, cup-for-cup sugar replacement.
In contrast, working out the required serving size of Stevia necessitates some guesswork.
Where Stevia Wins
Two kinds of stevia exist; refined and whole-leaf.
While the refined version is similar to Swerve concerning the natural flavors and unknown ingredients, the whole-leaf version is not.
Whole-leaf stevia is simply the dried green leaves of the stevia plant; nothing is added nor taken away, no extractions, just 100% natural.
Natural Sweeteners vs. Artificial Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners are similar in some ways.
First, they are both very sweet, contain no digestible carbs, and are a sugar substitute in many foods and drinks.
However, when it comes to their safety profile, there is one clear winner: natural sweeteners.
The links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, weight gain and gut health are unclear.
While some studies find connections, others do not.
To summarize, here are a few recent negative findings on artificial sweeteners:
But why take the chance of using artificial sweeteners, which may or may not be harmful, when we can use something like Swerve sweetener or stevia instead?
Can Sweet Taste Lead to Sugar Cravings?
One of the most intriguing and evolving areas of research is in sweet taste perception.
This might be the reason why artificial sweeteners have a link to weight gain; they decrease the satiety response and encourage over-consumption of food (42).
However, most of this research is on artificial sweeteners and, unfortunately, very little exists on erythritol.
With this in mind, it may be better to avoid any form of sweetener should you be dealing with a sugar or carbohydrate addiction.
Where To Buy Swerve?
Swerve sweetener is available in many health stores, including Whole Foods. If you cannot find it offline, then you can also buy on Amazon.
You can find many recipes that use Swerve as a sugar substitute on Pinterest.
So, is Swerve sweetener a healthy replacement for sugar?
Well, sugar is one of the worst ingredients in the modern diet and Swerve certainly makes a great substitute.
However, I wouldn’t specifically call it ‘healthy’. Despite this, the safety profile of Swerve is fairly good, and there are no standout concerns.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with using it for an occasional sweet treat.
But it’s always best to base your diet around nutrient-dense whole foods.