A variety of protein powders displayed against a pastel blue background. On the left is a translucent scoop filled with a pale yellow powder, likely representing a vanilla flavor. In the middle, there is a scoop with a darker, chocolate-colored powder, and on the right, a scoop overflows with a beige powder, possibly indicating an alternative flavor or ingredient intended to be sugar-free.

Is Your Sugar-Free Protein Powder Still Triggering a Blood Sugar Spike?

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If you’re following a keto diet, managing diabetes, or simply striving to eliminate sugar from your diet, sugar-free protein powder can be an attractive option. There’s a wealth of zero-sugar protein powders available today, from whey, bone broth-infused, and vegan options.

However, there is a critical caveat: Not every zero-sugar protein powder guarantees stability in blood glucose levels post-consumption. In essence, not so-called ‘sugar-free’ options are friendly for diabetics or those on a ketogenic diet, as some sugar alternatives (e.g. sugar alcohols) may inadvertently lead to elevated blood glucose levels.

For individuals seeking a sugar-free protein powder, the goal should be finding one that’s insulin-resistant and doesn’t spike blood sugar. The crux is being able to identify potentially problematic sugar alternatives.

Sugar Alternatives to Be Mindful Of

A dynamic image capturing granulated sugar being poured from a metal scoop into a white, ceramic container, with the sugar granules frozen in motion. The shadow cast by the sugar suggests a natural light source, and the simplicity of the composition focuses attention on the sugar content, which is relevant to the discussion of blood sugar spikes.
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When it comes to protein powders, not all sugar-free options are created equal. While these products may be devoid of traditional sugars, they often contain sweetener alternatives that can still contribute to elevated insulin levels and cause a blood sugar spike. Here are some of the most common alternative sweetening agents to be aware of:

Monk Fruit Extract

Derived from the Luo Han Guo fruit, Monk Fruit Extract is a purely natural sweetener that carries no calories. It’s favored for its clean taste and health benefits – it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels, making it an ideal choice for those managing their glycemic control.

Erythritol

Next up we have Erythritol, a sugar alcohol naturally found in certain fruits and fermented foods. Although it has a delightful sweetness and minimal calories, recent studies from 2023 link erythritol intake with increased risks of heart attack and stroke[1].

Xylitol

Xylitol also belongs to the family of sugar alcohols present in various fruits and vegetables. Used widely as a substitute for sugar in many foods including protein powder, Xylitol can cause digestive issues when consumed excessively but is generally safe otherwise.

Stevia

Stevia originates from Stevia rebaudiana plant leaves offering intense sweetness without any caloric impact. While some find its potent flavor somewhat bitter at times, Stevia does not trigger insulin spikes making it one of the safest non-sugar options often seen in protein powders.

Aspartame

Aspartame stands as another low-calorie artificial sweetener frequently used in diet products despite increasing concerns about its health effects over time. Various scientific reviews associate Aspartame with elevated risks of hormone-related cancers, type 2 diabetes cardiovascular diseases even nonalcoholic fatty liver disease[2]. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has categorized Aspartame as potentially carcinogenic to humans too.

Sucralose

The zero-calorie sucralose is made artificially using sucrose or table sugar being significantly sweeter than regular sugars themselves. But beware that this sugar alternative is not insulin-resistant. A study by Cell noted Sucralose could lead to higher glucose levels[3] while excessive consumption might result in discomforting digestion issues.

Saccharin

Saccharin provides extreme sweetness devoid of any calories due to its synthetic nature This sweetener has been utilized extensively across decades, however, the NIH found it to be linked with bladder cancer in lab mice though the same has not been confirmed for humans.

While most natural sweeteners (and some artificial sweeteners) do not increase blood sugar levels, it’s important to be cautious with sugar alcohols, including mannitol and sorbitol. The sugar alcohols xylitol and erythritol are two of the most commonly found in protein powder that can increase your blood sugar level, but it’s crucial to be mindful of all sugar alcohols in all types of foods.

Role of Protein Powder in Controlling Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance

A person's hands holding a tub of chocolate protein powder and a scoop half-filled with the same powder. The person's nails are painted white, which contrasts with the dark chocolate powder, highlighting the product and its usage. The clean and clinical aesthetic suggests health-consciousness and precision in serving size.
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In managing blood glucose levels, protein powder can serve as a beneficial ally. It assists in stabilizing blood sugar levels by delivering a consistent supply of amino acids to the body, aiding in curbing any potential swings in insulin levels. Protein powder is digested at a slower pace within our bodies, contributing to prolonged satiety and minimizing cravings for sweet foods that could potentially intensify insulin resistance.

Protein powder also stands out as an effective way to ensure your body receives essential nutrients for optimal functionality. Research indicates that consuming protein powder post-workout can enhance insulin sensitivity due largely to exercise promoting glucose absorption into muscles and protein powders replenishing depleted amino acids during physical activity.[4]

By boosting insulin sensitivity, protein powders may contribute towards lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes onset along with other associated health conditions. Nevertheless, it’s crucial not to view protein powder as replacing balanced diets or regular workouts but rather as supplementing these elements toward achieving overall health and wellness goals.

Healthiest Sugar-Free Protein Powders for Insulin Resistance

Navigating the best sugar-free protein powders for insulin resistance is easier once we identify which sweeteners to avoid. The following recommendations are naturally sweetened with ingredients like monk fruit extract or have no added sweeteners at all.

Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein

Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein offers one of the most diverse protein powder blends available on the market that’s entirely organic, raw, and plant-based. It includes a variety of sprouted protein ingredients, such as pea protein and brown rice, among others. Available in both stevia-sweetened and unsweetened versions, it boasts high fiber content alongside probiotics and enzymes aiding gut health.

PlantFusion Complete Plant Protein

PlantFusion Complete Plant Protein delivers an appealing vegan blend incorporating pea protein isolate, artichoke powder, sprouted amaranth, quinoa, and whole algae protein, providing rich amino acid concentration ideal for athletes. With its sweetness derived from stevia monk fruit extract, PlantFusion is one of the healthiest, best-tasting, sugar-free protein powders.

Complemnt Organic Protein

Complement Organic Protein prides itself on being ‘the cleanest’ by using quality ingredients and excluding any sugars. Both unflavored chocolate variants carry no additional sweeteners. They feature five wholesome proteins: yellow pea, pumpkin seed, almond, sunflower seed, and chia seed (and no extra sweetener). Complement Organic Protein contains no added fillers or artificial additives, making it a top-tier choice if you’re seeking transparently clean, sugar-free protein powder.

02/19/2024 12:42 am GMT

Why Sugar-Free Protein Powders Are All the Rave

An up-close image of a scoop of chocolate protein powder, with the fine texture of the powder in sharp focus. The scoop is partially buried in the mound of powder, which is spread out on a white surface, emphasizing the texture and richness of the product.
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The rise in popularity of sugar-free protein powders is not just a passing trend. It’s an acknowledgment of the growing health consciousness among athletes and nutritionally-minded individuals alike. Whether you’re following a specific diet like Keto, Paleo, or are simply trying to cut out sugar for overall wellness, these protein powders can be your ally.

Diabetic-friendly

For diabetics who need to keep their blood glucose levels under control, traditional protein powders loaded with sugars can pose serious risks. However, many brands now offer sugar-free, diabetic-friendly protein powder options that use natural sweeteners instead of refined sugars. These products provide all the benefits of regular protein powder without causing spikes in blood sugar levels.

Ketogenic-friendly

If you’re on a ketogenic diet where high-fat and low-carb foods are prioritized to achieve ketosis (a fat-burning state), then having too much-added sugars could throw off your entire plan. That’s why keto-friendly proteins often opt for zero-sugar formulations while maintaining great taste profiles.

Paleo-friendly

A Paleo diet aims to consume whole foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era – no processed food items, including refined sugars! In turn, paleo-compliant proteins are typically devoid of any artificial additives, including sweeteners, making them ideal choices for those following this dietary regimen.

Low-Sugar Diets

Even if you’re not following a specific diet, reducing your sugar intake can have significant health benefits. Excessive consumption of refined sugars has been linked to various health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.[5] Sugar-free protein powders offer an easy way to supplement your protein intake without adding unnecessary sugars to your diet.

 


 

Author Bio

Tyler Tafelsky is an avid vegan nutrition blogger and elite amateur cyclist who competes on the professional level. As the founder and head of content for blogs like VeganProteinPowder.reviews and BetterTriathlete.com, Tyler shares in-depth knowledge on topics related to plant-powered recovery, athletic performance, and the science of endurance sports.


Scientific References:

  1. Witkowski, M., Nemet, I., Alamri, H. et al. The artificial sweetener erythritol and cardiovascular event risk. Nat Med 29, 710–718 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02223-9
  2. Czarnecka K, Pilarz A, Rogut A, Maj P, Szymańska J, Olejnik Ł, Szymański P. Aspartame-True or False? Narrative Review of Safety Analysis of General Use in Products. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 7;13(6):1957. doi: 10.3390/nu13061957. PMID: 34200310; PMCID: PMC8227014.
  3. Suez J, Cohen Y, Valdés-Mas R, Mor U, Dori-Bachash M, Federici S, Zmora N, Leshem A, Heinemann M, Linevsky R, Zur M, Ben-Zeev Brik R, Bukimer A, Eliyahu-Miller S, Metz A, Fischbein R, Sharov O, Malitsky S, Itkin M, Stettner N, Harmelin A, Shapiro H, Stein-Thoeringer CK, Segal E, Elinav E. Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance. Cell. 2022 Sep 1;185(18):3307-3328.e19. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.07.016. Epub 2022 Aug 19. PMID: 35987213.
  4. Kreider RB, Earnest CP, Lundberg J, Rasmussen C, Greenwood M, Cowan P, Almada AL. Effects of ingesting protein with various forms of carbohydrate following resistance-exercise on substrate availability and markers of anabolism, catabolism, and immunity. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Nov 12;4:18. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-4-18. PMID: 17997840; PMCID: PMC2206056.
  5. Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. 2016 Nov 4;8(11):697. doi: 10.3390/nu8110697. PMID: 27827899; PMCID: PMC5133084.

Hi, I’m Valerie!

I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.