By now, you’re probably familiar with the keto diet these days – the high-fat, moderate-protein, super-low-carb diet has helped people lose weight, gain energy, and transform their lives. But as popular as the diet is, there are still many misconceptions about it.
For starters, many people think you can’t eat any carbs at all in order to get into your body’s fat-burning state of ketosis. In reality, some carbs are allowed as long as you eat about 50 grams or fewer daily. But what about sugar? Keto dieters have all but eschewed the sweet stuff in favor of calorie-free sweeteners like stevia. Just look at this roundup of keto fat bombs: they’re all sugar-free or incredibly low in sugar.
To find out just how much sugar you can eat on the keto diet, we asked Brittanie Volk, PhD, RD, senior clinical and patient engagement specialist at Virta Health, for answers.
“To achieve the many health benefits that a ketogenic diet has to offer, one needs to consume only the amount of carbohydrates that the individual can tolerate to stay in nutritional ketosis,” she told POPSUGAR. “This amount differs from person to person but is generally less than 50 grams of total carbohydrates per day. That means all sources of carbohydrate, including refined sugar, should be limited to as little as possible to avoid the impact carbohydrates can have on blood sugar and insulin levels.”
So while sugar is a carb and does count toward your 50 grams or fewer a day, you should still limit sugar intake so as not to spike your blood sugar. Yes, you can still have it, but make sure that sugar, combined with all your other sources of carbohydrates, stays below your threshold of about 50 grams a day.
Sugar and Ketosis
People should generally try to consume up to about 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day on keto. Refined sugar counts as a carbohydrate. You can consume sugar on keto as long as you limit it as much as possible to avoid the impact carbohydrates have on spiking blood sugar and insulin levels. The ideal amount of carbs consumed from sugar on keto is 0 grams – and this is where carb-free sugar alternatives come into play.
When choosing which types of sweeteners you consume, it’s worth noting its glycemic index (GI). What does this mean? The GI ranges from 0 to 100, with pure glucose ranking at 100. It indicates three things:
- The number of carbs present.
- The type of carbs present.
- The presence of other substances that slow the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Basically, the GI tells us how quickly or slowly the body absorbs these sugars. Sugars that are lower on the GI means that the body absorbs them slower and that they do not cause significant increases in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with a high GI, typically at 70 or higher, can cause insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes and inflammation if consumed in excess.
All sweeteners, even artificial ones, set off cravings. Studies show that all types of sweeteners increase your desire to eat sweets, so you’re more likely to eat too much – and that makes it harder to lose weight. So, even sweeteners that are safe to consume on the diet should be used sparingly.
How Much Keto Sugar Intake will Kick You Out of Ketosis?
The problem with sugar on keto is the two are not friends. If you consume sugar in sufficient amounts, your body will decide that it has enough glucose to use as fuel (or energy), and that will kick your body out of ketosis. In this section, we examine how keto diet sugar intake levels affect ketosis.
How much sugar can you have on keto? The recommended daily keto diet sugar intake is zero grams because consuming sugar will quickly use up your carbohydrate allowance for the day and possibly kick your body out of ketosis. For instance, as mentioned, you’ll want to consume about 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day. A single tablespoon of sugar contains 12.5 grams of carbs alone, and a tablespoon of honey is even worse at 17 grams of carbs.
While you’ll want to avoid foods that contain refined sugar and honey while trying to keep your body in ketosis, this does not mean you can’t indulge your sweet tooth. It just means you’ll want to avoid certain foods.
You’ll want to eliminate the following foods while you’re sticking with a keto diet:
- Wheat, rice, corn or cereals
- Potatoes, yams and other starchy vegetables
- Excessive amounts of most fresh fruits, including bananas, apples, and oranges
- Sugar and natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup
While these foods don’t adhere to keto, you can still indulge your sweet tooth with fruits and sweeteners.
Keto Sugar Intake FAQs
Completely cutting sugar out of your diet can be quite challenging. In this section, we examine some alternative options to eating sugar on keto while answering FAQs on keto sugar intake.
Is Coconut Sugar Keto?
It would seem like coconut sugar on keto might be okay to consume, but it isn’t. Coconut sugar is a natural, unrefined sugar that is derived from the sap of coconut palm trees. It doesn’t contain any preservatives or additives, and it is lower on the GI than refined sugar.
However, one tablespoon of coconut sugar contains 12 grams of carbohydrates. This is about the same as one tablespoon of refined sugar. While coconut sugar is a healthy alternative to refined sugar, it is not keto-friendly.
What about Brown Sugar?
Brown sugar is similar to white cane sugar, but the way it’s made is slightly different. It’s created directly from boiled sugar cane juice, which is then left to cool and crystallize over a period of time. Brown sugar also contains between three percent and seven percent molasses, which gives it its color. Molasses contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B3, vitamin B6, thiamine, calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium and potassium, so brown sugar does contain these key vitamins and minerals, but in minimal amounts.
While there are benefits to using and consuming brown sugar, they are outweighed by the sugar element. Brown sugar, like white cane sugar, is high in carbohydrates. A typical serving of brown sugar is two tablespoons, amounting to about 96 calories, 22 grams of carbs, 22 grams of sugar, zero grams of fat and zero grams of protein. In the standard ketogenic diet, the average daily limit for carbohydrate consumption is 20 to 50 grams. Just one serving of brown sugar could put you into your carb limit for the day, making it not a very keto-friendly option.
Is Fruit Keto-Friendly?
Certain fruits work better for keto than others. Berries generally have the lowest amount of carbs. Raspberries and blackberries contain 5 grams of carbs per 100 grams, and strawberries contain 6 grams of carbs for the same serving size. Blueberries should be eaten sparingly, as they contain 12 grams of carbs per 100 grams (which amounts to about three handfuls of berries).
Generally speaking, the larger or sweeter the fruit, the greater the number of carbohydrates that fruit contains. For instance, a mango contains about 13 grams of carbs, a pineapple has about 12 grams of carbs and a banana contains 20 grams of carbs. Consuming a medium-sized banana could put you close to your carb limit for an entire day on a keto diet.
Fruit is healthy to eat, but consuming a lot of fruit results in consuming a lot of sugar. Stick with berries because they are lowest in carbs and allow you to easily stay in ketosis.