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The Reasons Behind Sugar Cravings on a Keto Diet

Posted by Carmen Chu on

Thank you Perfect Keto for sharing this as we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from our Keto customers about this topic!  Do you sometimes feel this intense desire to eat sweets and once you start, you can’t stop? Well in this post, we shared one of Perfect Keto’s articles that explain all about sugar cravings and how to manage them.


The Reason Behind Sugar Cravings

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.



Why You Crave Sugar

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.  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:



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[*].

Simply tasting and eating carbs and sugar has been shown to stimulate the release of[*][*]:

  • 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
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion and brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Poor moods and irritability
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • 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.



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.  Changing your routine from the morning bagel and cream cheese to keto coffee or another keto breakfast may take time and effort.

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
  • Inflammation



In the long-term, too much sugar in your diet will cause insulin resistance, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and type 2 diabetes[*][*].

These three reasons explain what’s happening when your body physically craves sugar. But they’re not the cause of your cravings.



What Causes Sugar Cravings?

The most common triggers for sugar cravings include:


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.

Just one night of crummy sleep leads to[*][*]:

  • 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.



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.



Want to find out how to manage your cravings and 10 Keto Foods that Help Fight the Sugar Love.  Tune into next week’s post to find out!

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