Swerve Sweetener: Is it Really a Healthy Sugar Substitute?

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Swerve Sweetener

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?

Lady with cookies made using 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

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

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).

Natural Flavors

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.

In fact, these ingredients can number in the hundreds, and the extraction process often uses solvents (7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

Key Point: Swerve sweetener is a combination of erythritol, inulin, and (not so) natural flavors.

How Many Calories and Carbs are in Swerve?

Label showing how many calories and carbs are in swerve sweetener.

While Swerve sweetener’s label claims to be ‘zero-calorie,’ this isn’t entirely accurate.

Swerve nutrition label showing carb content.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).

Key Point: Swerve contains 51 calories per cup and a small amount of carbohydrate. However, these carbs have no impact on blood sugar levels.

Is Swerve Sweetener Safe To Eat?

A picture of question mark.

To understand the safety profile, we have to examine each of the ingredients.

Erythritol

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.

Studies testing high-dose ingestion show no adverse gastrointestinal response. Further, long-term animal studies show no signs of any tumor-promoting effects (17, 18, 19).

Oligosaccharides (Inulin)

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.

Natural Flavors

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.

Key Point: Generally speaking, the ingredients in Swerve Sweetener have positive effects on health. While the natural flavors aren’t ideal, Swerve is a much better sugar substitute than artificial sweeteners.

Swerve Sweetener vs. Stevia

Picture of stevia leaves - a natural sweetener.

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

Stevia has a mild, slightly bitter aftertaste which some people dislike (24, 25).

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.

Key Point: Stevia and Swerve sweetener are quite similar. If the taste is your top priority, then go with Swerve. If you want something as close to nature as possible, go with unrefined stevia leaf.

Natural Sweeteners vs. Artificial Sweeteners

A picture showing molecular structures of 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:

  • Animal studies showing carcinogenic effects of artificial sweeteners (26, 27, 28)
  • Studies showing impact on gut health (29, 30, 31, 32)
  • Studies linking artificial sweeteners to weight gain and diabetes (33, 34, 35)

However, in the interest of balance, there are also many studies showing no link between artificial sweeteners and illness (36, 37, 38, 39).

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?

Key Point: Natural sweeteners such as stevia and Swerve have a much better safety profile than artificial sweeteners. Despite no consensus on artificial sweeteners, the negative studies are worrying.

Can Sweet Taste Lead to Sugar Cravings?

Picture of an overweight woman eating junk food.

One of the most intriguing and evolving areas of research is in sweet taste perception.

Sweet taste has an impact on the ‘reward center’ of our brain, and this influences satiety and the amount of food we eat (40, 41).

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.

Key Point: Artificial sweeteners may impact the reward center of the brain in the same way sugar does. However, little research is available on erythritol, the main ingredient in Swerve sweetener.

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.

Swerve Recipes

You can find many recipes that use Swerve as a sugar substitute on Pinterest.

Final Thoughts

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.

26 COMMENTS

  1. What about GMO corn? Does the inserted insectacide make it through the prossesing? It will change the gut and set up a new or differant microbiome.

  2. I have been using Swerve for my baking needs only. For drinks I use honey, or stevia, which I still dislike after like 8 years. Some things I’ve given up using it period in and learned to drink the drink bland. I use it for baked goods only because of the cost. It’s very expensive, so I have to limit my use of it. It’s come down in price but, still needs to fall a bit more for me to give it a try for something else.
    I’ve had a life long problem with weight. I am 66 years old, and the first diet I was put on with a doctor I was 5. I had gastric sleeve 9 years ago and am still very limited, so I have been successful in keeping weight off. Wish I could have done it when I was a young women. But, I have to say I have to give Swerve a push because I have used it now for about a year and a half and done well with it. I am one that does not believe in the sweet making you crave more food idea. I think it’s absurd. I am not a huge sweet lover though, but, am a carb lover. I have learned to love good carbs more so that helps along with my surgery, to keep myself in check, but, love Swerve I absolutely do. Interesting article. Thank you.

    • Thanks Sue.

      Swerve is a great choice for low carb baking. I do think that sweet foods can cause a craving for more… but I’ve never experienced (or heard of it) with erythritol/swerve. Some people get into a cycle of reliance on sugary foods though – and many of them don’t even realize the situation because it’s just part of their normal day.

      As for your recent success with weight, it’s better late than never 🙂 Keep up the good work and let me know if you have any tasty recipe ideas!!

    • Sue, I’m with you. I have suffered with my weight all my life, now almost 70, its’ still my nemesis. I have never had weight loss surgery, but now trying the Keto diet and I’m coming along “ok”, but think I will start using Swerve as much as I can.
      Best of luck soul sister, Anita

  3. I read where this was from yeast and invented by a French chemist. I read where the sweetener is only absorbed in the lower intestine not upper. I have been using it for several months now. I don’t have diabetes, over 60,. Use mostly for coffee. When I first started using it, I had to take double to triple my normal saccharin use. After a few uses I found using less and less to get the sweetness. If you wait a few seconds the sweetness comes through. As I drink my coffee, the sweetness is even stronger. It’s a learning curve. I do not have a sweet tooth craving with this sweetener. I haven’t tried cooking with it.

    • Yes, I think it’s definitely one of the better options (along with stevia) in regard to taste and impact on cravings.

      Some sweeteners have been shown to impact insulin levels, and this one has numerous studies showing that it doesn’t.

      To be honest, I like my coffee just as it is, but I do enjoy the occasional use of this for baking.

    • Gary, I agree, I too have found that I use less now than I did at the beginning. I love it for baking because it’s a bulk sweetener and works wonderfully for low carb sweet things that really have the mouth feel, flavor and with no after taste to them. I have given up sweetening my tea, and I love it again plain with a squeeze of lemon. I grew up with a diabetic mom and didn’t grow up eating a lot of sweets. About the only time we had sweets were for our birthday and when we went to Grandma’s house, so I guess I don’t love sweets like some people do. I am more of a savory food lover, but, I have to still give Swerve a ***** star rating. It is wonderful for baking sweets for that good, natural flavor and, I also make some of my fruit syrups now with it and, it’s fantastic.
      Anita, You sound like you have a plan. I wish you only the best of luck, and, it really does become easier once you move into your new lifestyle and just don’t stray from it as much as possible. I find at holiday time, I bake a couple items that we all love with it and have taken them to family doings, and no one has ever been wise to it. Everything still gets gobbled up. Part of a healthy living plan IS to treat yourself once in awhile. It’s what I do. I plan for it, and work it into my week, and carb intake. When you stay within your carb intake allotment, you will not lose. It works every time. I use Swerve to bake or make things with, and I am not cheating so much that way, but, feel as though I am cheating because it’s so darned good. It nurtures my tummy and my soul need for something decedent. So, best of luck to you also soul sister. lol

      • I’m more of a savory food lover now too, but I had a big sweet tooth as a child. In particular, chocolate fudge cake was always my favorite! Tastes unnaturally sweet now though – not sure how I used to eat so much of it (mainly special occasions like birthdays and so on.)

        I also know what you mean about feeling like cheating. Personally, I think it’s better to mainly stick to real whole foods…but if someone’s going to “have a treat”, this is a lot better for them than sugar!

  4. I have tumor in my body. My doctor advise me to not take in any sugars or starchy food for 3 months as the tumor feeds on those food. Can use this in my diet? Thanks

    • Hi Jess,

      This is not metabolized as glucose like sugars and starch are.

      However, this is a medical issue so you need to speak to your doctor or a medical professional about this to be safe.

      Get well soon.

  5. What about “Just Like Sugar”? I currently use Trader Joe’s liquid stevia not sure if this is great and if I would be better to change to “Just Like Sugar”. Do you know anything about this product? Thanks.

    • Yes, both are not bad as far as sweeteners go. “Just Like Sugar” is pretty good and one of the cleanest out there.

      Here are a few more natural-ish options: nutritionadvance.com/best-natural-sweeteners-low-carb-diet/

  6. Just had my first experience with Swerve. Where has it been in my life?! For those who’ve mentioned drinking coffee and being worried about blood glucose levels, be aware that caffeine raises blood glucose levels all by itself. Look it up!

    • What did you use the Swerve for?

      Coffee’s an interesting one – it can either be beneficial or detrimental depending on the person.

      Some people can drink it all day long like water, while others can barely tolerate a cup!

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