The issue of total carb counts on recipes is something that comes up frequently enough that I’d like to address it: specifically the total carb count on dessert recipes that include sweeteners.
Sweeteners have carbs.
That’s a fact.
On average, most approved sweeteners even have the same number of carbs per gram as table sugar. That is, 1:1. 1 gram carb per 1 gram sweetener. The only exception to this is pure stevia extract, which has a carb count of zero.
So, if sweeteners have carbs, why on earth do we use them?
The answer is that the approved sweeteners (stevia, erythritol, xylitol, and now Monk fruit and allulose), have little to no impact on blood glucose on average. They are not digestible and absorbable in the same way as real sugars, therefore, even though they are technically a carbohydrate, our bodies don’t process them as sugar. In layman’s terms, the approved sweeteners “pass through” the body largely unchanged, which is why many people discount them entirely and choose to count “net carbs” (i.e., subtract out any carbs from sweeteners).
Counting net carbs is certainly an option, but there has been a strong push within the low carb and ketogenic movement to count all carbohydrates, even sweeteners. There are legitimate reasons for this movement; the emerging evidence about the cephalic phase insulin response, showing a rise in insulin from sweet tastes on the tongue, regardless of source, is an example of one of many such reasons behind this change in thought.
As a low carb, ketogenic chef-type person, this shift in the thinking and practice of the community presents us with some new editorial choices. In the past, many recipe creators within the community discounted sweeteners entirely, using cups and cups within a single recipe, and simply omitting them from their total carb counts. Even today, we can pull up recipes for cakes, cookies, and candies that have pretty large quantities of xylitol or erythritol in them, spread amongst a fairly low number of servings, that claim to have only a few carbs per serving in their count.
The question of how to approach this dilemma when presenting my recipes has a pretty obvious answer. As a recent Ketogenic Lifestyle Coach, and as someone who has seen enough evidence for the various hormonal responses that happen when those “sweet spots” are stimulated, the only choice for me is to be 100% transparent, to include every, single, solitary gram of carbohydrate from the approved sweeteners in my total carb count, to indicate how much of that is coming from those sweeteners, and then to let people decide for themselves.
That doesn’t mean that keto and low carb chefs who have chosen to present their information differently are wrong or are in any way dishonest. It simply means they made a different choice, and that’s ok.
As a recipe creator, while I do feel it is my responsibility to provide you with as accurate and complete information as is possible on my end, it is also your responsibility as a consumer to understand these issues and to keep them in mind when evaluating whether or not a recipe is suitable to include in your ketogenic lifestyle. It’s important that you, dear reader, understand that some chefs include all carbs in their totals, and others do not, and know how to tell the difference.
For example, if you see a recipe that lists a very low total carb count, yet it has a cup or more of sweetener in it, and it isn’t spread amongst double digit servings, the recipe creator has very likely not included the sweetener in his or her carb count. And that’s ok. That doesn’t mean that chef is trying to trick you. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make or eat it. It just means you may want to double check that carb count against your own tracker before you make it (which I encourage people to do anyway), so you can be fully informed as to the impact of your choices.
The other thing you might notice about my sweet recipes is that I try to keep the amount of sweetener use to a minimum. Because I insist on including those carbs in my total, I am ever- mindful of just how much sweetener I’m using, and I strive to formulate dessert recipes with just enough sweetener to taste good, but never beyond that.
Ultimately, I have to act as is consistent with my own beliefs and experiences, and so do you. If you count net carbs, great! My dessert recipes are pretty darned low in net carbs and taste fabulous (if I do say so myself). If you count total carbs, you will probably want to keep desserts to a minimum or to special occasions only, regardless of the source. My stuff still tastes great, so maybe you skip the desserts today and go for something savory, instead.
Whatever way you choose, my hope is that your choices will be informed ones. Do what’s best for your body, so you can keep on keto-ing on.