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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 20 2018

A Look At Swerve Sweetener

By Mark Sisson
67 Comments

Inline_SwerveAs we move into a new era of health awareness, there’s more variety than ever available to us. Overall, this is a very good thing—the average Primal consumer now has far greater access to a wider range of organic, free range, pastured, GMO-free, wholesome foods and products.

But this presents something of a dilemma when it comes to gray areas like sweeteners. While I don’t have much of a sweet tooth myself, I’m not a anti-sweetener purist either. While I lean toward stevia or monkfruit, I get a lot of questions about sugar alcohols, in particular a product called Swerve Sweetener, particularly from the keto crowd. 

What To Know

Swerve Sweetener is a “natural” sweetener blend. Loved by low-carb and keto bakers, Swerve provides a similar level of sweetness to sugar and an ability to caramelize, making it an easy sweet substitute in many recipes. According to the manufacturers, Swerve is “zero-calorie, non-glycemic and safe for those living with diabetes, since it has no effect on blood glucose or insulin levels.”

That all sounds dandy, but what’s actually in the stuff?  Swerve Sweetener is composed of erythritol, oligosaccharides, and natural flavors. Let’s break it down further.

Erythritol

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that comprises the bulk of Swerve. In comparison to sugar, it’s said to be 60-70% as sweet and have a similar taste profile.

But that’s where the similarities stop. Containing a mere 0-0.2 calories per gram, erythritol is virtually calorie free.

As a sugar alcohol, erythritol is made from fermented glucose, usually sourced from corn. Considering Swerve uses only non-GMO corn, this probably isn’t too much of a concern for most folks, but it’s something to note. While the fermentation aspect is “natural,” there are certain synthetic processes along the erythritol production line, including hydrolysis to extract the glucose from corn or other fruits/veggies, and a crystallization phase to form the final product.

All in all, not too bad as far as sweeteners go. The scientific literature is positive regarding erythritol, showing no adverse effects on blood sugar and demonstrating beneficial effects on vascular function and oral health. Swerve also claims that erythritol is non-allergenic and less likely to cause digestive issues than other polyol sweeteners like xylitol. Good times.

Oligosaccharides

Next down the ingredient list are oligosaccharides. These are a type of prebiotic fiber otherwise labelled as inulin, providing additional sweetness for your tastebuds and a beneficial food source for all the little good guys hanging out in your gut. The oligosaccharides found in Swerve are likely sourced from starchy root vegetables like chicory root, onions and garlic.

Once again we have an ingredient that’s natural (in origin, at least), provides a beneficial effect in the GI tract, and doesn’t adversely effect blood sugar. That being said, those folks sensitive to FODMAPs might not react well to Swerve, on account of the oligofructose found in plants like chicory root.

Natural Flavors

This is where Swerve lets the team down a bit. Under the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, any compound can be deemed a “natural flavor”, provided it was sourced from something natural. All well and good. But there’s very little legalities surrounding how that natural compound can be processed to form the end product (aka the natural flavor): it could be fried, distilled, squashed, roasted, acidified, discombobulated, or all of the above – just whatever takes the manufacturer’s fancy.

And by the time that natural compound makes it into your sweetener, it’s no more natural than the artificial flavors in the cheaper sweeteners further down the aisle. Can this flavor really be considered natural, then? I think not.

What’s more, Swerve has no legal obligation to disclose what that natural flavoring was actually derived from. On their site, there’s vague references to “natural flavor from citrus”, but really that doesn’t mean a heck of a lot in the grand scheme of things.

The Science On Swerve

Once again, the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of Swerve Sweetener. With regards to erythritol, high-dosage trials in rats (up to 4.6 g/kg) failed to show any chronic toxic or carcinogenic effects. Human trials at lower dosages (1 g/kg body weight—still a decent amount) didn’t reveal any gastrointestinal concerns or digestive upset, aside from higher fluid intake. That being said, there are anecdotal reports of some people personally not taking well to the stuff.

On the oligosaccharide front, it’s also reasonably smooth sailing. Oligosaccharides like those used in Swerve have been positively associated with improved gut microbial health and permeability, but there is a certain propensity for prebiotics like these to increase flatulence and have a mild laxative effect. Fair warning. Maybe it’s another reason to embrace the adage “a little goes a long way” here. 

Then there’s the natural flavors. There’s not a lot I can speak to here, not being privy to the actual contents of said natural flavors. It’s worth noting, however, that while the FDA requires natural flavors to be sourced from compounds that are considered GRAS, there have been times when GRAS ingredients and products have been taken off the shelves because the FDA didn’t do their homework.

Final Thoughts

At face value, and even below the surface, there’s nothing to complain about: Swerve Sweetener really does seem like the real deal. But it’s not my favorite sweetener when I reach for one, especially when I get that strange cooling sensation on the tongue after eating something sweetened with it. 

But the fact remains that most people tolerate Swerve well, and it’s won over much of the keto crowd—arguably some of the most discerning of all foodies. If you’re looking for a new sugar substitute, play around with Swerve, maybe mix it with other natural sweeteners to optimize taste, and see whether it works for you.

Thanks for reading everyone. Whats your take on Swerve? Do you use it? Tolerate it well? I’d love to hear your feedback. 

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67 thoughts on “A Look At Swerve Sweetener”

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  1. I was literally looking for an article about Swerve this morning and then this popped up! Sweet serendipity! I’m wondering, is Swerve or just plain erythritol safe for children? I love to make primal goodies at home with my child, but I’m afraid of any ill effects that using something like Swerve or erythritol might have on a little one’s digestive system. She loves to help me in the kitchen, but it wouldn’t go over well if I told her that she can’t eat something we made together.

    1. Are you familiar with Maria Emmerich. She has used Swereve since her boys were infants and they are now preteens so Google her concerning children and Swerve.

    2. Try using fruit as a sweetener. I have made banana ice cream with nothing but bananas and cream, and it is deliciously sweet. Or use dates as a sweetener. Date-sweetened brownies are wonderful!

      1. OH boy… You are looking at super high fructose ( and glycemic levels )… Both to be avoided when keto or if concerned about non alcoholic fatty liver disease

  2. My experience with it is that it tasted okay, but had a weird after effect. Until I brushed my teeth, everything tasted sweet. Water tasted sweet. The amount didn’t seem to matter. I stopped using it because of that, I don’t really want to have to brush my teeth every time I ate anything containing the slightest amount of the stuff.

    1. I had that issue, too. Really hate the water tasting sweet so I’m going to quit using it. Frankly, I’ve noticed any kind of sweetener activates my craving for more sweets. Probably more psychological than physiological, but binging on keto-friendly foods isn’t much better than binging on non-keto foods, IMO.

  3. So appreciate the insight here. I try to follow a modified FODMAP, high-fat diet and didn’t realize what was actually in Swerve. I’ll stick to stevia when I need a sweet treat.

  4. Just my own opinion, but my theory is if God (nature) made it, it’s okay to eat, unless it’s poisonous. If man made it, l would probably do well to avoid it. For example, God made avocados; man made Twinkies. I don’t eat Twinkies. This isn’t true of everything, of course, but I find it a good rule of thumb. Sugar is my sweetener of choice. I don’t like the taste of substitutes and alternatives, or what some of them do to my GI tract, so I find it easier to just avoid sweets altogether.

  5. Haven’t tried it. I used to use Xylitol for some things, but found that cooling sensation a little weird. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but do spend time developing treat recipes since I get a lot of requests for them. With drinks I generally use stevia. For baked goods lately I’ve been using a monkfruit sweetener that is monkfruit extract blended with erythritol which has been working out well. But I don’t really consider any of these things “natural” since they are so highly processed. I just consider them better choices than some of the other options out there.

  6. Coming soon to a grocer near you, an all-natural hydrogen cookie called “The Bomb”.

  7. Swerve is the only artificial sweetener my husband can stand, and it substitutes beautifully for sugar even without baking or cooking (e.g. eggnog). But it is extraordinarily sweet; you only need about 60-70% Swerve for what you’d use with sugar.

  8. Swerve is the only sweetener I use to bake and cook with. I find that the “cooling effect” is not something all people experience, it just depends on the individuals taste buds. I also find that the level of sweetness is the same to real sugar. Te each his or her own right?

  9. I don’t add sweeteners to foods myself (and if I did, would go for raw honey). The sugar alcohols taste “off” to me.

    Still, many of my clients like exploring sugar alternatives, so I’ll likely get a question about Swerve soon! I still point most people towards honey or stevia, and find many experience digestive complaints with sugar alcohols. That said, I encourage self-experimentation and will pass this post along!

    1. Most of us can not tolerate honey. It really spikes blood sugar. And stevia just tastes bad to many of us.

  10. I use pure organic erythritol most often as a sweetener. I’ve been using it for a long time, so I don’t notice the cooling effect. It’s not as sweet as sugar, but that’s OK with me–I have managed to lose my sweet tooth so a little sweetness goes a long way. The only quibble I have with erythritol is that it tends to re-crystalize in foods that are “wet” like custards, gelatin gummies, Thanksgiving cranberry sauce–things that you definitely don’t want to be crunchy. I seem to be a supertaster for the bitterness of stevia in any form or concentration, so I use xylitol when I want to make something like that. Monk fruit comes off to me as cloyingly oversweet.

    1. Exactly – this comment could have been written by me! Tastebud twins! *high five*

    2. Trying grinding the sweetner first. It will become a powder and will dissolve beautifully.

  11. I did try swerve. I loved the flavor! And wow things tasted like real dessert, like what I used to eat! BUT my throat became sore after eating, just like it did with sugar and my heart started racing, as it does with sugar. I didn’t feel great at all after having 1/4 cup of lemon curd with whip cream made with it. So I will definitely be avoiding it!

  12. I’ve tried Swerve and I really don’t like the taste. I’ve tried nearly all the alternative sweeteners and the only ones I can tolerate are pure xylitol and pure erythritol. I absolutely loathe the taste of stevia. But Dr. Nally at docmuscles says that xylitol raises insulin levels the same as sugar and erythritol doesn’t. So I stick with erythritol. Whole Foods has a brand of 100% erythritol called Wholesome Calorie Zero. I’ve used it for baking and for making ice cream and it works fine.

    1. Swerve is like 99% erythritol. The other stuff Mark talks about are in very tiny amounts

  13. I use it for baking keto treats but not before downing 2 teaspoons of it in a fasted state to check my blood sugar after having it! No effect so it’s a go for me. ??

  14. Here’s my question. Am I the only one who thinks sweeteners taste like chemicals? I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t. If I accidentally eat/drink something with a sweetener in it, I almost immediately gag from the taste! And it lingers in the mouth for hours afterwards! I’ve tried everything from black coffee, to raw garlic, and even a cigarette with no filter. Nothing gets rid of the chemical aftertaste. But almost everyone I mention that to says that it just tastes like sugar to them. If I absolutely must have something sweet, I just go for good old fashioned sugar, honey, or maple syrup. But I don’t very often crave sweet anymore.

    1. You are not alone. Stevia, for example, is the worst taste on the planet for me. I don’t understand how people tolerate it. I’ve decided I’d rather eat real sugar very sparingly instead of using these weird sweeteners. (A tiny drizzle of maple syrup goes a very long way!)

      1. Totally with you on this, although I will say that I can tolerate Equal in tea or coffee (and I use it so sparingly and infrequently that I like to think I’m not harming my body). Stevia is the absolute worst, or at least I used to think so until I tasted Swerve! An hour later I’m still trying to lose the nasty, vile aftertaste. I hoped it would be the holy grail for my low-carb adventure, but like Steve said above, at the end of the day I’d rather have a small amount of something sweetened more naturally than use this awful-tasting stuff of the Devil.
        Caveat emptor.

  15. I use it and love it. The regular version is fantastic and their version of confectioners is to die for. There is no going back for me. I just wish that more grocery stores carried it. At this time I can only find it on Amazon or at Whole Foods.

  16. Great article – now what’s all this about Allulose? Just when you think you’ve got one thing figured out…

  17. If I eat things that taste sweet, sooner or later, I will start eating sugar again. I find it best to avoid sweeteners along with the sugar. If I need to make a dessert for an occasion, I will just let myself eat a little of it that one time. OR make something sweetened with banana, or mango, or dates.

    1. +1. I do the same thing. For some of us, alternatively sweetened foods open the door to full-blown sugar cravings. I solved the problem by avoiding sweets. Fruit and cheese are my go-to when dessert is required. It’s fast and elegant enough for any occasion.

  18. Too processed for me. I prefer whole-food nutrition. I don’t even use Stevia.

  19. What I see here is a whole society hooked on SWEET! Our ancestors did not have easy access to any sweetener. Eat a few berries or an apple to satisfy and get out of the sweet rut!

    1. I very much agree.

      When I’m working with clients for the first time health coaching I very often get the question “what an I find to do for something sweet”?

      It’s quite frustrating and I have to work hard not to fire back at them that they haven’t even started without sweet yet and they’re already scared to go without anything sweet.

      Get your taste buds back people then enjoy something sweet of a natural nature now and again.

    1. It also mentions blocking the uptake of digested fats. Sorry but we need those healthy fats

      1. I read that it effect fat absorption in the small intestine; but it also says goes on to say that fat oxidation does take place. “Blocking the uptake of fats” would be to big of a thing for them to ignore want you say? After all, it’s not like D-Allulose has such a big market share, so where’s the interest?

  20. Been thinking about this all day… Wondering if sweeteners act on the dopamine receptors like sugar and cocaine? Is this why sugar/sweeteners are so hard for people to give up? And who ever invented “dessert “? I simply cannot eat anything after a meal, fruit, sweetened or otherwise…but the peer pressure to participate in this “tradition” is ridiculous!

  21. I was wondering if you had done any articles on the product called Just Like Sugar. It’s made from chicory root. I haven’t seem anything negative about it yet.. thank you

  22. I use Xylose sugar it’s a 5carbon molecule monosaccharide (sugar) that is 8 on the glycemic index. Your body absorbs it in the small intestine so no bloat or laxative effect like Xylitol. Your body doesn’t use it as energy just cell building material and you pass any you don’t use in your urine, so it’s not stored . I use it with a tiny amount of stevia, in everything that I want sweet like teriyaki sauce, BBQ sauce, cookies, cakes, ice cream, pecan pie, iced tea,and hard candies. Xylose is tooth friendly and is way cheaper than Erythritol I buy d-Xylose under the Beksul brand at Korean grocery stores for $10.00- 12.00 for 4.4 lbs . It really is way better than honey, which is 50 on the glycemic index or agave syrup , Erythritol is 0 but $8.00 for 12 oz. If you are borderline diabetic, this sugar can help.

  23. Hi Mark,

    Thanks so much for taking a deep dive into the science behind Swerve and sharing it with your readers. We’re big fans of your work, and we appreciate and respect all of the education you provide to the public.

    You did a fantastic job of explaining the ingredients of Swerve, including the health benefits associated with Erythritol and Oligosaccharides. We hear your concern about natural flavors, and understand that this could mean thousands of different ingredients. However, we place quality above everything else – that’s why we go above and beyond to explain where our ingredients come from and our entire manufacturing process on our website.The Swerve formula has been tweaked, refined, and improved for over 16 years. We strive to be as transparent as possible with our ingredients without giving away our proprietary blend.

    Thank you again for the honest review. We welcome these challenging conversations and questions, and are always available via phone or email to answer them.

  24. Swerve is a great sweetener for those occasional treats! It looks and tastes like sugar. I like it mixed into chia pudding or sprinkled on strawberries for dessert. Also great for homemade coconut milk ice creams

  25. I use it, tolerate it just fine. In really sweet dessert recipes, I think it works best combined with stevia–you can balance them so you get the sweetness you need without either the cooling effect or the bitter after taste that Swerve and stevia can cause, respectively. I also like the Sukrin brand erythritol sweetener, which adds in the stevia for you and also has a powdered option, like Swerve.

    1. I can’t imagine combining two sweeteners that I find disgusting to make a sweetener that isn’t disgusting! Maybe it’s just different taste bud receptors. I also found Swerve to have a bitter aftertaste (which turned to sweet when I drank water or ate anything).

  26. The cooling effect can be mitigated by adding a bit of a 2nd sweetener like stevia.

  27. Great run down on swerve. I was just about to buy some for the first time and then thought “I’d better research this a little before hand.” The “natural flavouring” has got me turned off. If they’re not willing to disclose the nature of this ingredient than how good is it really? Questionable. Thanks Mark, super thorough! I like hearing your perspective too because I get feeling that you’re looking at ingredients from a health/longevity perspective. I am too.

  28. I really love this stuff, the only problem is that I have to order it from Amazon every month. Wish I could find it locally.

  29. Any amount of swerve gives me diarrhea. I do terrible with it and maybe it is from the fodmap content. I do great with stevia and monkfruit.

  30. Have you ever tried whey low sugar sub. I love it and the taste is great, would love to see your breakdown on it.

  31. i am so nervous trying all these new sugar substitutes,i have tried them all, unlike you, i have a huge sweet tooth, i think sometimes it’s better to eat the real sugar, but in small portions, and yes i am insulin dependent diabetic, but can it really be worse than trying all these fake sugar products

  32. First time I tried something baked with Truvia, I experienced painful white patches on my tongue, the next time I made a mud cake with a tsp of Swerve and my shoulder grew a crop of hives. I won’t be giving it a third try.

  33. I’ve only used sweetener substitutes twice. Once I made meringue with erythritol. They were good but the cool I mg effect was overwhelming. The rest of the bag is parked in the cupboard. The second try was Swerve. I made “candied” pecans with Swerve, butter, and a sprinkle of salt. They were absolutely perfect and the whole family loved them. I’ve made about ten batches over the past several weeks. A serving of about 1/4 cup hits the sweet/salty craving while enabling me to keep to my low-carb way of life. (83 pounds down as of today!) I just wish I could find a cheaper source, maybe in bulk.

  34. Thanks, for sharing another healthy sugar alternative. The article brilliantly explains every aspect of the Swerve Sweetener. I haven’t tried it yet, but will definitely try soon. As you have mentioned in your final thought that it is not your favorite sugar alternative, can I know about your favorite sweetener?