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Swerve Sweetener – Is it a Safe Sugar Alternative?

Swerve Sweetener

There can be no doubt that sugar is incredibly unhealthy and this impact goes far beyond simply ‘empty calories’. Instead, sugar may play a role in the development of many diseases (1), while also impacting the brain (2), contributing to inflammation (3) and even affecting your gut bacteria (4,5).

This is one reason that many people turn to sugar alternatives, like Swerve sweetener.

After all, we do tend to crave some form of sweetness and many recipes require it. But, figuring out the best sweetener to use is often challenging.

Swerve sweetener is one popular option and it is also common in low carb or ketogenic baking. For that matter, you might simply turn to it if you’re trying to avoid refined sugar.

But, is Swerve actually good for you?

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What is Swerve Sweetener?

Swerve is a branded sweetener and comes from a company of the same name. The product is regularly promoted as the ‘Ultimate Sugar Replacement’ and is also certified as being GMO-free.

The sweetener itself is a combination of:

  • Erythritol
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Natural Flavors
Is Swerve healthy or risky?

These ingredients are used to create a product that mostly looks, tastes and behaves just like sugar. This is a key reason for the popularity of the sweetener.

After all, it’s much easier to cook with something familiar.

Plus, Swerve doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that you find with other sweeteners, such as Stevia. That is another reason why it is common for baking.

Erythritol

The main component of the sweetener is erythritol, so let’s start there. Erythritol is typically marketed as a natural sweetener but the term is slightly misleading.

In practice, erythritol is produced through batch fermentation and also involves the use of hydrolysis to get glucose from corn (6). As such, the sweetener does come from a natural product but it is processed more than many people assume.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it is worth being aware of.

There hasn’t been a large amount of research on erythritol but most studies tend to be positive. For example, research confirms that it does not have a significant impact on blood glucose levels (7). The sweetener may even be beneficial for the teeth (8,9), which is the opposite of sugar. Finally, high-dose and long-term testing has failed to find any significant negative responses (10,11,12).

One thing to note is that erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols are fairly similar to sugar in flavor but they are digested in a different way. In fact, the body doesn’t metabolize sugar alcohols into glucose – so their carbs don’t affect blood sugar level (and don’t count for ketosis).

Despite the safety profile of erythritol, there is considerable debate about sugar alcohols.

Man holding stomach, nausea concept

For one thing, some people don’t respond well to sugar alcohols and can experience significant side effects as a result. For example, they can cause bloating and diarrhea (13). The side effects occur because the compounds can ferment in the digestive system, especially when people consume a significant amount of sugar alcohols.

Nevertheless, most people will probably never see side effects from sugar alcohols. Erythritol also has fewer side effects than other sugar alcohol options (14,15). For that matter, you typically need to consume large amounts of erythritol to experience any side effects – and most people won’t get anywhere close to doing so (16).

But, if you do experience issues, Swerve may not be the right sweetener for you. Indeed, if you have a sensitive gut, you may be more likely to experience side effects.

The other thing to note is that the side effects become more common with increased consumption. This stands to reason. So, if you are worried about side effects, the easiest option is to start off slowly with Swerve.

There is also a theory that sugar alcohols may be bad for gut health (17). There hasn’t been a large amount of research in this area and the studies have typically looked at fairly extreme levels of consumption.

Plus, some research also shows that oligosaccharides can cause the reverse pattern (18,19). This means that the positive and negative implications of Swerve for gut health could cancel one another out.

Based on all this evidence, erythritol is generally safe and may even offer some health benefits. Still, it’s important to remember that Swerve isn’t a miracle sweetener nor some type of superfood. So, you should be aware of how often you use it and not rely on Swerve excessively.

Other Ingredients

The other ingredients present are the oligosaccharides and the natural flavors.

Oligosaccharides are a type of natural fiber, which is sometimes also called inulin (20). Research into inulin are also largely positive, suggesting that inulin may promote benefits for health (21,22,23).

Sugar or swerve

Now, most of those benefits probably won’t be seen with Swerve, because you’re consuming a small dose. But, the pattern shows that the oligosaccharides tend to be good for you, rather than the other way around.

The final ingredient is ‘natural flavors’, which is a fairly meaningless term. In practice, there are hundreds of different ingredients that could be present here and the company doesn’t have to label them.

The flavors also aren’t as natural as you may assume.

While they do originally come from nature, the flavors are typically extracted, modified and mixed in with other ingredients. To make matters worse, solvents are often used in the extraction process (24,25,26).

With so many different ingredients and processes out there, the precise implications for health are hard to know. For the most part, these flavors are viewed as safe. But, their inclusion may be enough to make you avoid Swerve.

Nutritional Profile

Swerve Nutrition Facts

Aside from safety, the other key topic to consider with Swerve is what it actually offers.

In many ways, the answer is ‘not much of anything’, which is mostly what you want for a sweetener.

Now, the ingredients label does show carbs – but these are from the sugar alcohol. As such, they aren’t digested and are not counted for any low carb diet.

However, the calories are worth mentioning.

Despite the label, Swerve isn’t actually zero calorie, nothing really is.

Instead, this is a side effect of the labeling. The calories are so small that they are basically zero – for the listed portion size.

In fact, according to the FDA, anything can be counted as zero calorie if it has less than 5 calories per serving (27). In this case, the serving size is just 1 teaspoon.

But, if you’re including a cup or two of Swerve in baking, the calories become much more relevant.

Thankfully, the calorie count is still relatively low, around 51 calories per cup (28).

Swerve Controversy

Coffee and sweetener

Every single option for a sweetener seems to be the subject of some controversy and this is true for Swerve as well. You can see this in some discussions, such as on the Ketogenic Forums, where some people rely on Swerve and others have different preferences.

For one thing, some people don’t like the processing aspect, feeling that Swerve is less natural than other sweeteners, like Stevia.

But honestly, no sweetener will be entirely natural and they all involve some degree of processing.

There is also debate about the sugar alcohol aspect. Some authors avoid all sugar alcohols, such as Dr. Axe. Other authors, like Low Carb Maven consider Swerve to be a good choice and find no issues with the sugar alcohol aspect. 

At the same time, the inclusion of natural flavors isn’t going to suit everybody. Others find that they react poorly to the sugar alcohol or prefer to avoid it on principle.

Finally, some people simply don’t like the sweetener or find that it doesn’t work well in their cooking.

All of these can be reasons for choosing another sweetener. Realistically, food choices do always end up being personal and even somewhat emotional. So, it’s no surprise that people come to different conclusions for the same product.

Buying and Using Swerve

Swerve is an extremely common sweetener, so you can buy it in many places, including health stores, Whole Foods and even some grocery stores. It is also readily available on Amazon.

As for using the sweetener, there are many great recipes on Pinterest to choose from. Likewise, keto dessert recipes will often include Swerve as a sweetener.

The Balance of Evidence

Spoon of sugar

At the end of the day, Swerve isn’t a superfood and it does go through some processing. But, is it a healthy option?

The simple answer is yes and no.

There is little evidence of harm from Swerve and most people can use it regularly without any issues at all. Overall, the safety profile is good, better than for many other sweeteners. It is also powerful on a keto diet because of the low carb content.

Still, the sweetener isn’t technically healthy. I mean, it isn’t going to offer major benefits for overall wellbeing.

Instead, the benefits simply come from using it instead of sugar.

So, at the end of the day, Swerve makes a fairly healthy replacement for sugar and is safe overall. Still, it’s best to use the sweetener in small quantities and focus on whole and healthy foods within your diet.

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Want to Improve Your Health?

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Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use. 

Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started. 

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