There are two things that you have to avoid the most while on a keto diet: carbohydrates and sugar. If you’ve been interested in the keto diet for a while, then you’ve probably heard plenty about why carbs aren’t great for you and how cutting them out is essential to a keto diet, but you’ve likely heard much less about sugar.
You know it’s bad and you know to leave it out of your diet, but why?
The keto diet is all about lowering your blood glucose levels so that your body begins to run on fat instead of glucose. Blood glucose is more commonly known as blood sugar – so, basically, sugar can jeopardize your body’s state of ketosis and knock you back into carb-burning mode.
A high sugar intake in general is bad for you too, so it’s not just a keto diet thing. Consuming concentrated sugar causes your blood glucose levels to rise in a sudden spike, which triggers your pancreas to release large amounts of insulin.
This can slowly result in problems with insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance, and it can also make you more susceptible to diabetes as your pancreas becomes overworked and starts being unable to properly use insulin.
Being on a keto diet can stop this destructive cycle in its tracks. But there is another problem: having enough willpower not to eat sugar!
Sugary products are delicious and they are everywhere, and when you’re not eating any of it, you can get pretty harsh sugar cravings, especially during the first few weeks of your keto diet as your body works to adjust itself to its new energy source.
The long-term solution to stopping sugar cravings permanently is by switching to a low-carb diet.
That’s right, a keto diet can completely curb sugar cravings for the rest of your life, as long as you stick to it and ride out the first few weeks of urges.
To understand how this works, let’s talk a bit about how sugar cravings happen and why.
Sugar cravings are caused by a spike in insulin in the body. When you eat a lot of carbs, your blood glucose reaches very high levels, and your body produces way too much insulin in order to cope.
Your blood sugar will then crash and reach a low point as the insulin rushes to process it, and this causes what is called reactive hypoglycemia – where your blood glucose levels are depleted due to excess insulin in the body.
You will find yourself feeling week, shaky, dizzy, and snappy as your body scrambles to find sugar, which in turn gives you those unhealthy sugar cravings.
It’s a vicious cycle that won’t end until you make it. Reducing your carb intake will slowly allow your glucose levels to regulate so that you no longer face sugar crashes.
Of course, this solution is only as permanent as you make it: stuff yourself with carbs again, and you’ll end up back to square one.
This is why eliminating sugar from your diet is just important as removing carbs in ketogenics.
The tricky thing is that sugar can creep into a lot of your foods without you being aware of it, and sometimes, a food product you think is completely free of sugar and sweeteners can turn out to have hidden sugar in it.
Even natural sugars can halt your weight loss progress.
There’s nothing quite as awful as thinking you’re avoiding sugar when you’re eating it unknowingly. Let’s talk about some ways that sugar may be hiding from you and sneaking into your diet.
The most common place you’ll stumble across hidden sugar is in processed, bought groceries. By sticking to natural foods, you’ll be able to somewhat avoid most of these.
Purchasing whole foods as they were harvested – eggs in a carton, unpackaged vegetables, and others – allows you to be certain that little processing has been done to the foods, and therefore, there’s little chance of hidden sugars.
Of course, you may not always be able to cook everything from scratch. Sometimes, you just have to buy premade food, and that’s okay.
In order to do this safely, make sure that you carefully read the labels of all the food that you want to buy.
The ingredients list will tell you if there is anything you don’t want to eat in that product. For some foods, sugar can’t be entirely eliminated; in this case, make sure that sugar is not one of the first five ingredients listed, because if it is, this means that it has a whole heaping of sugar.
Another tricky part of this process is realizing that sugar comes under different names, too. These different forms of sugar can often completely replace the word “sugar” on the ingredient list, leading you to believe there isn’t any sugar in that product when there really is.
Here is a full and exhaustive list of other words that are used in place of sugar on products.
• Agave nectar
• Barbados sugar
• Barley malt
• Beet sugar
• Brown rice syrup
• Brown sugar
• Buttered syrup
• Cane crystals
• Cane juice
• Cane sugar
• Cane syrup
• Carob syrup
• Castor sugar
• Confectioner’s sugar
• Corn sweetener
• Corn syrup
• Corn syrup solids
• Crystalline fructose
• Date sugar
• Dehydrated cane juice
• Demerara sugar
• Diastatic malt
• Ethyl maltol
• Evaporated cane juice
• Free flowing brown sugars
• Fruit juice
• Fruit juice concentrate
• Glucose solids
• Golden sugar
• Golden syrup
• Granulated sugar
• Grape sugar
• High fructose corn syrup or HFCS
• Hydrolyzed starch
• Icing sugar
• Invert sugar
• Malt syrup
• Maple syrup
• Palm syrup
• Powdered sugar
• Raw sugar
• Refiner’s syrup
• Rice syrup
• Sorghum syrup
• Table sugar
• Turbinado sugar
• Yellow sugar
Can I Ever Eat Sugar on The Keto Diet?
I hear you ask: if I’m very careful about premade food and try to buy natural products almost all the time, am I safe from hidden sugars?
Sadly, the answer to that question is no. Natural food like fruits are high in fructose, which is just another form of sugar that is broken down in the exact same way by the body.
Of course, this is not to say that you cannot eat any fruit at all. After all, if you’re going to consume sugar, fruit is probably the healthiest way to do so. It all depends on your personal tolerance to sugar and how it affects your weight loss journey.
If you eat a piece of fruit every day and notice yourself hitting a plateau with weight loss, it may be time to cut out that last bit of sugar.
With that being said, there are some fruits that don’t have as much effect on your glucose levels.
Avocados are a great option due to their fat content and can be consumed moderately, while berries like blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are fine to eat every once in a while.
Now that you know how to avoid sugars and why, you may still face the problem of strong sugar cravings. Luckily, there are ways that you can try to curb those cravings as they arrive.
The first step to doing this is understanding that craving for something doesn’t mean that you can’t satisfy the craving through another means.
Cravings are often a sign of nutritional deficiency. What does this mean? It means that a sugar, candy, or chocolate craving doesn’t have to be satisfied by those foods. If you aren’t getting enough magnesium, zinc, or chromium, you may crave sugar and sweet foods.
So if your sugar cravings are getting out of control, try to incorporate more foods with these minerals into your diet, or consider taking a multivitamin supplement that boosts them, or specific supplements for the particular mineral deficiency that may be causing the cravings.
Sometimes, though, cravings just crop up for no reason other than you haven’t had sugar in a while, or just because you’re new to the keto diet and it’s making you miss your old snacks.
If this is what’s happening to you, then here are a few ways to fight the cravings.
1. Get rid of any possible temptations. This can be tricky if you live with other people who aren’t on the keto diet, but if you have any sugary snacks, throw them out. You can’t eat what you don’t have!
2. Come up with keto friendly versions of your favorite snacks. Snacking isn’t always a good idea while you’re on the diet, but if you absolutely can’t resist the cravings or if you’re feeling genuinely hungry, whip up a low carb, no sugar version of a treat you love.
3. Brush your teeth. If you’re at home and unwelcome cravings come, brushing your teeth can make you feel less like eating.
4. Go for a walk or do some exercises. Exercise increases dopamine levels in the brain, which will improve your mood and help you feel less like eating sugar.
5. Wait it out. Sugar cravings don’t typically last for longer than an hour. Engross yourself in a task or find something to do that will keep you distracted until the cravings subside.
Using Alternative Sugar on the Keto Diet
After all this, there’s still another question you may have. What sweeteners can you use, if any? Or do you just have to wave goodbye to all forms of sweeteners forever?
he good news is that there are some sweeteners out there that don’t goad your body into high insulin production, and in moderation, you can use them guilt-free.
The best sweeteners that you can use on a keto diet have a very low glycemic index, or GI. GI refers to the amount by which a certain kind of food raises blood sugar.
The scale goes from 0 to 100, and preferably, you want to stick with sweeteners that are between 0 and 5 in terms of GI, or even just up to 2 or 3.
You can opt to only use 0 GI sweeteners, but note that for the best flavor, mixing a few different kinds of sweeteners together to create a low GI blend can be a decent option. Do your research about different sweeteners before making a purchase.
In terms of what we recommend, we’d have to say that two sugar alternatives stand out the most in terms of keto-friendliness.
The first is Stevia. Otherwise known as the sugar leaf, stevia is a nutrient-free herb extract that is pretty popular, even outside of the keto world.
It has a GI of 0 and has even been shown to be good for lowering blood glucose, insulin, and inflammation.
When purchasing stevia, go could consider the liquid kind, as powdered stevia is sometimes mixed with other sweeteners and can even contain carbs.
The second great sugar alternative (and my personal favorite!) on our minds is Erythiritol.
This sugar alcohol is usually taken from root vegetables, has a GI of 0, and has very few calories.
It is not known to affect blood sugar levels in any way and the best part about it is that it mostly passes directly through the body with urine, meaning it has pretty much almost no effect on the body at all.
It is also known for not bringing bacteria into the body, meaning it doesn’t cause tooth decay or cavities.
Do note that some people experience stomach discomfort when using too much of this sweetener at once, and keep in mind that it has a bit of a cool aftertaste.
You can, of course, mix stevia and erythiritol together, or combine them with other sweeteners that have low GI counts.
Some additional options are:
1. Inulin. This is a natural 0 GI sweetener taken from the chicory root that has been said to aid the digestive system. The human body does absorb some of this product, though, so it’s best used as a mix-in with other sweeteners, especially thanks to its great taste and ability to caramelize. Note that taking too much inulin at once can cause a laxative effect.
2. Tagatose. This monosaccharide is a 3 GI sweetener that you can find naturally in fruits, cacao, and dairy products. It is said to be able to improve levels of good cholesterol and healthy bacteria, and it caramelizes like sugar. However, take note that it has 35g of carbs per 100g, so use it sparingly with other sweeteners.
3. Sucrose. This is a slightly controversial product, as different sources quote different GI ratings, with some putting it as high as 80 when it is in powdered form. But you can also get it in liquid form with a much, much lower GI – though exactly what the figure is can be debatable – and it great for baking because it’s a whopping 600 times sweeter than sugar! This means even a tiny bit goes a long way.
If you abide by this guide, you might just find that you’re cured of your sweet tooth much sooner than you thought you could be! The keto diet is famous for reducing sugar cravings, so once you get into the swing of things, don’t be surprised if you don’t want sugar nearly as much as you used to.