A sugar craving is your body’s way of begging for sugar when your blood glucose levels drop.
Sugar cravings and sugar addictions are the worst when you’re eating a high-carb, high-sugar diet. Although it is possible to have cravings when you’re on a keto diet — even if you’re already fat adapted.
There’s more than one way to spike your blood sugar. Things like stress and overtraining at the gym can trigger a sweet tooth that even a square of dark chocolate can’t fix.
This guide will help you understand your food cravings so you can outsmart them.
And it all starts with learning why your body gets desperate for sugar in the first place.
Most people crave sugar because that’s how your body has been programmed.
Carbs make up nearly 50% of calories on the Standard American Diet (SAD)[*].
Switching to a low-carb or ketogenic diet throws a wrench into your system.
Instead of bulking up on carbs and giving into your sweet tooth, you’ll limit carbs to just 5-10% of your daily calories. That’s around 20g to 50g of net carbs per day, depending on your body type, activity level, and goals.
You’ll also aim to eat less than 10g of sugar each day.
These drastic changes in your diet are necessary if you want to get into ketosis. But that doesn’t mean your body will be on board at first.
There are several reasons why you crave sugar. Here are just a couple:
Blood Sugar Imbalances
If you’re not yet on a low-carb or keto diet, then you rely on carbs for energy.
When you eat a high-carbohydrate or high-sugar meal, your blood sugar rises, then falls when insulin gets released from your pancreas.
Sometimes, you release so much insulin that your blood sugar dips too low, which is when those pesky sugar cravings kick in. This blood sugar up and down can cause fatigue and subsequent cravings as your body looks for more sugar.
Super low blood sugar may also cause nausea, stomach upset, and headaches.
And if you’re on a keto diet? What gives? Doesn’t keto balance your blood sugar levels?
Until your body switches to using fat for fuel in ketosis, it’s likely you’ll experience some sugar cravings. And this transition period can take a few weeks.
Switching from burning glucose for fuel to using fatty acids and ketones for fuel is a complex metabolic process that can take anywhere from 1-2 weeks to up to a month.
Until you’re fat-adapted, your body will be searching for a quick fix of glucose from carbs.
According to some experts, sugar meets the criteria for a substance of abuse and may be “addictive” for certain people[*].
That’s because sugar lights up the reward and pleasure centers in your brain and releases opioids and dopamine that could be addictive[*].
In one rat study, the animals even chose sugar over cocaine — even if they were already chemically addicted to the drug[*].
- Dopamine, which promotes happiness, pleasure, and feelings of euphoria.
- Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that may put you in a better mood.
- Endorphins, which calm and relax your body for a natural “high” similar to the buzz you feel when exercising.
These feel-good rewards make it very difficult to kick candy bars and junk food to the curb.
What’s even worse is ditching sugary foods after years of chronic abuse can make you feel terrible. This period of withdrawal can cause symptoms such as:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and weakness
- Confusion and brain fog
- Poor moods and irritability
- Body aches
- Lack of quality sleep
Several of these symptoms overlap with the keto flu, which strikes many people as they first transition to ketosis. Feeling this crummy may cause you to revert to your old dietary habits.
Old Habits are Hard to Break
Sugar is the most common ingredient added to food sold in the US[*].
While blood sugar imbalance and sugar addiction is common, many people are just too ingrained in their habits to realize how much sugar they’re eating.
In order to break bad habits, you can start to read the labels of your food and start to cook at home more. That way, you’ll know exactly how much sugar is going into your food.
But the opposite — giving in to a sugar craving — is much worse.
Eating more sugar than your low-carb macros allow may lead to short-term effects such as:
- Higher blood sugar levels
- Difficulty reaching ketosis
- Getting kicked out of ketosis
- Going through the keto flu
- Weight loss stalls
- Potential weight gain
These three reasons explain what’s happening when your body physically craves sugar. But they’re not the cause of your cravings.
The most common triggers for sugar cravings include:
You’re Not Getting Enough Protein or Fat
A ketogenic diet is more than eating fewer carbs and avoiding added sugar.
You must replace the carbs you stop eating with adequate protein and fat. If you cut carbs and you’re not replacing those calories with enough protein and fat, you’re bound to have cravings.
And those will most likely come in the form of sugar cravings.
If you’re combining keto with intermittent fasting (IF), it’s possibly you’re not getting enough calories. If you’re suffering from sugar cravings while practicing IF, track your calories during your eating window. You may need to add more food.
Working out is the key to weight loss, muscle-building, better moods, and living a healthy life. But it can also lead to sugar cravings if you’re not fueling correctly pre- and post-sweat sesh.
Make sure to get plenty of protein and fat before and after hard workouts. Whey protein is an excellent pre- or post-workout fuel.
If you’re still craving sugar after a hard workout, you may want to consider a cyclical ketogenic diet.
Hard workouts combined with this next factor double the chances of sugar cravings.
Sugar cravings may strike when you’re just thirsty.
Three grams of water are stored alongside every gram of glycogen[*]. So when your glycogen stores empty (a byproduct of getting into ketosis), you’ll also lose stored water and become more prone to dehydration.
Your body’s hunger and satiety hormones become unbalanced when you’re dehydrated. These hormones trigger hunger pangs and sugar cravings as a way to get more liquid into your system[*].
Your hormones also go a bit haywire when you’re short on snooze time.
Not clocking enough sleep will cause your body to crave quick “pick-me-ups” in the form of sugar and caffeine the following day.
- An increase in ghrelin, aka the “hunger” hormone.
- A decrease in leptin, or the hormone that tells your body to stop eating when you’re full.
Poor sleep can also put you in a bad mood.
Stress, Loneliness, and Depression
Researchers say cravings for sweets happen most when you’re either happy or want to be in a better mood[*].
Thanks to all those feel-good neurochemicals and hormones from sugar, that pint of ice cream may be a form of self-medicating when you’re sad, worried, stressed, or lonely[*].
So being unhappy or anxious may cause you to crave and “stress eat” carby comfort foods[*].
But you don’t have to give in to your cravings for sugar to feel good.
You can overcome them and feel triumphant.
Take back control when a sugar craving strikes and:
#1: Do Something Positive
Sugar cravings go away in less than an hour. So focus on a positive activity that brings you joy and promotes wellness, such as:
- Brushing your teeth, which suppresses your desire to eat sweets[*].
- Going for a walk, which will boost dopamine and elevate your mood and energy levels. Research shows a 15-minute walk also lowers cravings for sweet[*].
- Meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, floating, and grounding in nature will all decrease stress.
- Calling a friend or someone who makes your heart smile to help unpack your thoughts and feelings.
Any of those activities will stop a sugar craving in its tracks.
The next tips will prevent them from happening in the first place.
#2: Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Experts say you should get between seven and nine hours of quality, restorative sleep each night. Luckily, going keto changes your sleep for the better so this should be easy.
Suddenly battling insomnia? Read this guide about why you have keto insomnia and how to get rid of it later.
Better sleep is just as important in the war on sugar cravings as the right macros.
#3: Calculate or Adjust Your Daily Macros
Since a shortage of fat or protein when you’re cutting carbs leads to sugar cravings, you must calculate your daily macros and stick to them.
Fat will keep you fueled up and ready to go like sugar used to.
You also can’t forget about fiber just because you’re giving carbs the cold shoulder.
Fiber is your best friend on keto because it:
- Lowers the net carbs in foods since it’s passed rather than digested
- Helps you feel full
- Stabilizes blood sugar levels so cravings stay at bay
- Prevents constipation
Figuring out your ideal keto macros can be more challenging than giving up your favorite carbs.
That’s why a tool like the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator is a game-changer. Try it out and make sure you’re feeding your body right.
And that includes water.
#4: Drink Extra Water (and Watch Your Electrolytes)
Since your body will hold less water in keto, you’ll need to stay one step ahead of dehydration.
A general rule is to drink around half your body weight in water each day, or at least 64 oz. This guide on electrolytes and dehydration will give you all the intel you need to succeed.
You can swap unsweetened tea for water when you’re bored. Just avoid artificial sweeteners.
#5: Stay Away From Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners may keep net carbs low and give you a sweet fix.
But research shows artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and others may[*]:
- Raise your blood sugar levels (and promote blood sugar imbalances)
- Increase cravings for sugar (since they taste much sweeter) and further sugar addiction
- Lead to weight gain
- Cause digestive upsets like gas, bloating, and diarrhea
Ditch the sugar-free junk and stick to natural sources of sweetness like stevia and monk fruit. These swaps and the next will keep cravings away during your transition to ketosis.
#6: Find Keto Swaps for Your Sugar Cravings
Sweet low-carb treats enjoyed in moderation can help you forget all about sugar.
Besides the super portable Perfect Keto bars, these easy keto dessert recipes will also do the trick:
- Keto chocolate chip cookies
- Chocolate chunk cookie dough
- Triple chocolate protein brownies
- Keto ice cream in flavors like:
But they’re not your only choices for fighting sugar cravings with nutritious, whole foods.
Combat sugar cravings by snacking on these low-carb options:
Berries are a win for your sweet tooth since they’re a mix of sugar and fiber. A small serving will banish cravings without sabotaging your daily net carbs.
Try mixing berries with different types of nuts and cheese, or pair a few berries with this next food.
#2. Low-Carb Dark Chocolate
If you’re craving chocolate on keto, even most dark chocolate options are loaded with sugar and out of your macros.
Look for dark chocolate sweetened with keto-approved sugar alternatives like stevia or monk fruit instead. These low-carb dark chocolates will trick your taste buds the healthier way.
Combine dark chocolate chips with the next two foods for a keto-friendly, on-the-go trail mix.
#3. Seeds: Chia, Hemp, Flax, and Pumpkin
Don’t underestimate these mini, almost zero-carb powerhouses. Packed with fiber and healthy fats, a few well-purposed seeds can carry you through any sweet craving.
Same goes for the next food.
#4. Keto Nuts
Keto nuts fight sugar cravings thanks to their high fat, protein, and fiber content. This includes:
While nuts contain natural sugar, a serving shouldn’t set you back more than three net carbs. Ditto with nut butter.
Stay away from flavored nuts with added carbs and sugar. And steer clear of nuts roasted in inflammatory, highly-processed oils (like peanuts and peanut butter).
The next food also makes an excellent portable snack option for midday sugar cravings.
#5. Raw Veggies
Raw veggies pack that necessary dose of fiber, have a bit of natural sugar, and deliver a satisfying crunch. That’s why they taste so good when you’re stressed, anxious, or dealing with sugar withdrawal.
The best raw keto veggies include:
- Bell peppers
- Salad greens
Enjoy them solo or dip these veggies in low-carb keto salad dressings like:
- Blue cheese
- Tangy garlic sesame
- Lemon vinaigrette
- Creamy garlic with MCT
- Avocado dressing
- Homemade ranch
Or skip the dip and pair these low-fat veggies with a serving of cheese or protein.
#6. Clean Protein
If a sugar craving creeps up, a high-protein snack will silence your hunger pangs and keep you on track. The best keto protein sources include:
- Meat such as beef, poultry, pork, game meat, lamb, goat, and organ meat
- Fish and seafood
- Whey protein
- Collagen protein
The next food combines clean protein with an abundance of healthy fats.
#7. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish banish sugar cravings using a one-two punch of omega fatty acids and protein. A steady stream of these will keep your blood sugar levels stable so they never dip too low.
The top fatty fish to stop a sugar craving include:
Check out these keto seafood recipes later to sneak more fatty fish in your meal plans.
If you’re not eating this next food every day, you may find yourself battling sugar cravings more often.
One medium-sized avocado contains 21g of filling fat, over 9g of fiber, and just 2.5 net carbs[*]. Eating just half of one each day will keep the sugar monster off your back.
Go beyond guacamole with these 40 keto avocado recipes and you’ll take full advantage of this low-carb staple.
You can drink away a sugar craving with the next foods.
#9. Keto Coffee and Keto Smoothies
You make keto coffee by adding MCT oil, coconut oil, or grass-fed butter to your hot or cold brew. This fat-filled beverage doesn’t just fill you up and smash cravings, it gives you long-lasting energy throughout your day.
Keto smoothies also satisfy sugar cravings because you can include:
- Clean protein
- A boost of exogenous ketones or MCT oil
- Berries for natural sugar and fiber
- Nut butter, cocoa powder, or stevia-sweetened chocolate chips
You have just as much variety with fat bombs.
#10. Fat Bombs
Fat bombs are portion-controlled snacks made with a base of fat like coconut oil, grass-fed butter, cream cheese, and/or nut butter.
Despite their small size, these high-fat, low-carb treats will keep you full for hours and erase sugar cravings.
Check out this list of the best keto fat bombs here.
Keep your pantry stocked with these 10 keto foods and you’ll take down any sugar craving.
You Can Beat Your Sugar Cravings!
You’re not weak for having a sugar craving. And experiencing one doesn’t mean a low-carb or ketogenic diet is wrong for you.
Once you get in ketosis, sugar cravings all but disappear. Your body will finally like working on fat and ketones and stop fighting you.
Follow these tips next time a craving hits and you’ll be closer to reaching and staying in ketosis — and less likely to cheat.