The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb nutrition plan. It promotes rapid weight loss, and it is one of the most popular nutritional systems that excludes sugar from the diet. But it does not mean that you need to give up deserts because there are foods you can still eat.
When you start a keto diet, you may feel huge cravings for carbs or sugar, but don’t despair—it will pass with time. And although, over time, you can get used to not eating sugar, at the beginning of the journey, it is common to feel the desire to please yourself with your favorite desserts. So how to overcome sugar cravings on keto?
Typically, sugar cravings on keto go away by the end of your second week of keto adaptation. However, sometimes for various reasons, your body still wants sugar. In such cases, you should choose keto-friendly foods to help you manage your cravings. It can be keto desserts, vegetables, fruits, and other foods. Some vitamins and supplements may also help.
Let’s take a closer look at how sugar cravings work on keto and how to deal with them. What foods can help you replace sugar on keto? And what food can help you curb bouts of sugar hunger? What does it all depend on, and why does craving arise? In case you’re currently struggling with similar cravings for your old high-carb diet, check out our tips, especially if you’re starting a low-carb ketogenic diet for the first time. Let’s dive in!
Why Do We Love Sugar and Why Is It Dangerous?
Many people think they cannot live without sugar . The main argument in favor of sugar addiction is that nerve cells use only glucose as an energy material. Indeed, our brain cells prefer this monosaccharide. However, the need for it is limited to 50g per day. That is, your brain simply does not need more. In addition, it, like other tissues, can use fatty acids and amino acids for its needs. This is how the keto diet works.
All carbs break down quite quickly under the action of enzymes. It means that in order to get 50 grams of carbs for your brain, you can eat a couple of slices of whole-grain bread, two apples, and a banana. Cake and ice cream significantly exceed this norm (sometimes 10 times). In addition, sweet foods bring you trans fats, white wheat flour, flavors, and preservatives. And if sugar, compared to fats, does not have the highest calorie content, then in donuts, cakes, and buns, it adds 300-500 kcal.
When the pancreas ceases to cope with the breakdown of sugar, the insulin produced by it is no longer enough to normalize blood glucose levels, and diabetes mellitus develops . If a person does not adhere to a carb-free diet and control blood glucose levels, they risk falling into a diabetic coma and even death. Excess sugar is stored in the liver in glycogen, but when there is nowhere else to store it, it turns into fat, causing obesity.
Excess sugar and sharp changes in its blood level cause disruption of the neurons, leading to false hunger and overeating. Lipid metabolism fails, blood cholesterol levels increase, vascular permeability grows, and the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases increases . In addition, sugar removes calcium from the body, destroying bones, teeth, and nails, and can even cause osteoporosis.
Common Reasons for Sugar Cravings
- Infrequent and insufficient meals, simple hunger. Sweet foods quickly restore blood glucose levels, reducing hunger for a short time.
- Deficiencies in certain micronutrients may also increase the need for sugary foods containing them.
- State of stress, lack of serotonin. Sweet foods increase this hormone’s release (but not synthesis), temporarily helping to fight stress.
- Sugar addiction. The strength of sugar addiction is compared to a drug , so a strong rejection of sugar is usually accompanied by a withdrawal syndrome, a “sugar hangover.”
- Insufficient amount of sleep, late going to bed. Biologically, your body is set so that the synthesis of hormones (including those responsible for the feeling of hunger and satiety) is associated with a certain time of day. If you stay up late, you can get under the influence of ghrelin, which is responsible for sugar cravings.
How to Curb Sugar Cravings on Keto?
So, you realize that you have strong cravings for sugar on keto. How can you help your body get rid of sugar addiction? As we have said before, sugar cravings on keto go away after two to three weeks as your body adapts to living on fat energy. However, you need to avoid sugar all this difficult time. You need to understand that you may experience some discomfort if your addiction to sugar has been too strong. Your body needs time to adjust to a more complex way of obtaining energy, and you can help it with this. Let’s discuss the details!
Easy Tips for Curbing Sugar Cravings on Keto
Limit All Carbs
To get into ketosis, you need to strictly limit the number of carbs you consume to 20 grams of net carbs per day. There are two options for switching to a keto diet: a gradual decrease in daily carbs and their sharp restriction. If you are prone to sugar addiction, you should drastically limit carbs.
Instead of slowly preparing yourself for 20 grams per day, you should dive into keto right away to avoid carbs addiction. Yes, the first couple of days can be a little uncomfortable, but this phase will pass quickly, and you will feel much better once you adapt to getting energy from fat.
Once you transition to a keto diet, your body will need to adapt, and this can be a challenge at first. Going from 200-300g to 20g net carbs per day is a huge change. Fortunately, our bodies can do an amazing job of adapting, and the keto diet is no exception. The first couple of days will be difficult, but soon you will forget about the desire to eat sugar. You may experience irritation and mild headaches, but remember that these are just symptoms of sugar addiction in your body.
Go in for Sports
A great option to avoid the temptation to eat something sweet is to get distracted by a little sports activity. You can take a short walk, do some light stretching, jump rope, or whatever you like. You don’t need to do a long workout. Even 5-10 minutes of active muscle work contributes to the production of endorphins . With regard to relieving stress and tension, glucose and exercise have similar mechanisms. Therefore, use sports instead of eliminating any stress with sugar.
Beware of Hidden Carbs
We live in a world where almost every food contains carbs, even the foods you wouldn’t expect to find them in. Even worse, even foods that claim to have no sugar on the label aren’t always low in carbs (or at least not as low as you want.) Sugar is the easiest and cheapest flavor enhancer, so it is added to any food. You may be surprised that even bacon or sausages contain added sugar or alternatives.
The word “sugar” may not be present on the label, but you should remember the list of its analogs, which manufacturers carefully mask. So, if your bacon contains sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, galactose, or maltose, then that bacon contains carbs. The labels’ less common sugar names are malt, syrup, nectar, dextrin, dextrose, or maltol. Such hidden sugars can harm your ketosis and be the reason for your failed weight loss. What’s more, artificial sugars trigger chronic inflammation in your body.
Read labels carefully if you want to avoid hidden carbs. However, I believe that during the adaptation stage, it is best for you to cook all the food at home. So you can accurately track and measure everything without having to solve complicated labels.
Experiment With Different Keto Recipes
If you really miss candies, ice cream, or donuts on keto and can’t imagine your life without them, just relax! You can always make amazing keto-friendly versions of these foods. Sugar substitutes, even from natural sources (stevia or monk fruit, for example), can help reduce calories while maintaining the sweet taste. But, when you hand reaches for sweets or pastries due to a normal feeling of hunger, it’s better not to fool your body with false sweetness but to give it something high-calorie in the proportions of the keto diet.
However, I want to draw your attention to one trap that hides in keto substitutes for the usual high-carb meals. Low-carb desserts and pastries can help you quench your sugar cravings, but you’re fooling your brain, and your sugar cravings won’t go away. What’s more, regularly consuming keto desserts can lead to overeating and increased appetite .
If the desire for sweets constantly comes after keto adaptation, you need to find its cause. Stress, lack of energy, an unexpected situation, or regular lack of sleep also cause the desire to eat sweets. In addition, cravings for such foods can be a sign of hidden depression or seasonal apathy.
Also, a lack of chromium, magnesium and B vitamins can cause strong cravings for sweets. Chromium is found not only in supplements but also in vegetables, meat, offal, and seafood. Foods rich in magnesium are green vegetables, seeds, nuts, and eggs. Likewise, you need to look for B vitamins in meat, eggs, dairy foods, fish, and some veggies. As you can see, keto food contains all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Don’t be afraid to eat enough healthy fats . A few nuts, avocados, olive oil, eggs, or fish, along with sufficient calories, will add Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and make up for the lack of magnesium, zinc, iron, and chromium.
Keto Foods to Help You Avoid Sugar on Keto
Here are some keto foods that are low in carbs but can satisfy your sugar cravings. In addition, these foods can make the keto diet more enjoyable and easier to follow.
A very sweet fruit like banana or pineapple is perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth. But they are not considered acceptable on a keto diet due to the high amount of carbs. Therefore, among fruits, you should choose berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries, which are also considered one of the healthiest fruits. It will help you overcome sugar cravings on keto and get the fiber you need. However, remember that the total amount of carbs should not exceed 20 grams per day.
Cocoa Powder and Chocolate
Surprisingly, chocolate is acceptable during the keto diet. However, you should only choose bars that contain more than 70% cocoa and do not contain added sugar. If you still have not fallen in love with such dark chocolate, the time has come. In addition, cocoa powder can be used in making your keto snacks, in a keto bakery, or in a drink.
Chia seeds are considered a superfood, and they are also on the list of acceptable foods on a keto diet. To make the tastiest keto chia pudding, all you have to do is pour the seeds with almond or coconut milk and leave it in the fridge for a few hours. Then, you can add vanilla, berries, or cocoa. This recipe is rich in fats and beneficial amino acids and is great for helping you deal with your sugar cravings.
The healthiest and safest sweeteners for the keto diet are stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit. These sugar substitutes can also be consumed without the risk of disrupting ketosis. In addition, many sweets manufacturers produce some foods with these sweeteners instead of sugar. So head to the health food section of any supermarket and enjoy delicious snacks or use them in diet desserts like keto cheesecake.
Nuts and Seeds
A handful of nuts or seeds are an excellent substitute for the usual high-carb dessert. In a small amount (30-40g), they contain both protein and healthy fats and can saturate you quickly and for a long time, replenishing vitamins and trace elements.
Nuts are an important part of the keto diet, so nut butter can be a good alternative to dessert. If you’re really craving sugar, you can opt for cashew butter, but be mindful of the number of carbs. If you want a richer but less sweet taste, hazelnut butter or classic peanut butter is a great choice. In addition, you can make keto sweets and low-carb fat bombs based on nut butter.
Smoothies are a vitamin explosion that helps with weight loss during the keto diet. So a cup of this drink or a whole keto smoothie bowl can easily replace your dessert or even breakfast. But it is worth remembering that fruits with a high carb content cannot be eaten even in a smoothie, so it is better to use berries, lemon, and lime and add flavor with vegetable milk, vanilla, cinnamon, or cocoa powder. Also, try adding avocado to your smoothie for a soft texture and just the right amount of healthy fats.
Oddly enough, many people on the keto diet find that fermented vegetables are a very effective way to fight carb cravings. This is because they are very low in carbs and calories (although you still need to check the label because they sometimes have added sugar) but still offer plenty of sodium and potassium.
Many people eat fermented vegetables on keto to replenish electrolytes. It’s also a great source of probiotics and prebiotics on keto, as fermented vegetables help improve digestion during the transition period. In addition to this, they will help you curb your sugar cravings when you find them hard to control.
Typically, sugar cravings on keto go away within a couple of weeks while your body adapts to the new way of eating. At this time, it is especially important for you not to consume excess carbs and refrain from sugar so that cravings for sweets pass faster. You can support your body with some keto foods that will help you fight cravings and stay in ketosis. Be patient and remember that sugar cravings will pass, and you can enjoy healthy fats for weight loss and many other benefits.
Sometimes it happens that you have tried all the methods, but the craving for sugar is stronger than you could imagine. It is a reason to consult a doctor, have some health tests, and find out the cause of this disorder. Anemia, deficiency of certain trace elements, and thyroid dysfunction are conditions that can cause taste disorders and require a special approach to treatment. Take care of your health and enjoy an enjoyable life without carbs!
- Greenberg D, St Peter JV. Sugars and Sweet Taste: Addictive or Rewarding? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Sep 17;18(18):9791. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18189791. PMID: 34574716; PMCID: PMC8468293.
- Paglia L. The sweet danger of added sugars. Eur J Paediatr Dent. 2019 Jun;20(2):89. doi: 10.23804/ejpd.2019.20.02.01. PMID: 31246081.
- Freeman CR, Zehra A, Ramirez V, Wiers CE, Volkow ND, Wang GJ. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018 Jun 1;23(12):2255-2266. doi: 10.2741/4704. PMID: 29772560.
- Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8. PMID: 23719144.
- Childs, E., & de Wit, H. (2014). Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in physiology, 5, 161. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00161
- Yang Q. Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. Yale J Biol Med. 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. PMID: 20589192; PMCID: PMC2892765.
- Liu, A. G., Ford, N. A., Hu, F. B., Zelman, K. M., Mozaffarian, D., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition journal, 16(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4