Is it possible to indulge your sweet tooth on a low-carb diet? You wouldn’t think so, given that sugar is, after all, a carb…but where there’s a will, there’s a way. And when it comes to indulging our low-carb sweet tooth, there is definitely a will. The goal of this article is to show you the way…with the usual disclaimer that the options mentioned here should be enjoyed in moderation, as with all treats.
And no, I’m not providing some miracle way to eat sugar without metabolising it (the person who figures THAT out is going to end up with a Scrooge McDuck-style tower full of gold, and rightfully so). I’m just providing some healthy workarounds that should hopefully keep your cravings in check – if you can satisfy the sweet cravings, you’re less likely to cheat on your diet, which obviously slows your progress.
First things first…
If you’re just starting your low-carb journey and still craving sugar hits, your best bet is actually to stay strong and NOT indulge in sweet treats – even low-carb ones. Your craving for sweet treats is basically a learned response from the brain: the more often you indulge, the stronger the reward pathway for sweet food gets, which in turn drives your cravings. Manage to fend it off for a while, and the urges will begin to diminish as the reward pathway weakens (in psych, this is known as extinction). So if you can avoid indulging your sweet tooth, you’ll actually find it easier to KEEP resisting…making your diet easier to stick to!
The other upside of giving up sugar for a while is that you end up becoming more sensitive to sweetness in general – so it should take less of a sweet treat to satisfy your cravings.
But let’s say that you can’t resist the urge; it’s too strong. Or you’re well in the groove of your low-carb diet, but you want to mix up your desserts a bit…what are your options? Well, while this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should at least give you some ideas. Onwards!
Your low-carb sweet tooth primer
1. Store-bought bars
If you can’t be bothered making anything, or you just want a handy supply of ready-to-go snacks, a great option are low-carb bars like Quest bars (magical sticks of wonder food), Atkins “Endulge” bars (also delicious), or any other protein bar of preference .
The upside of these are that you know exactly what the macro breakdown of the bar is, you can generally barcode-scan them directly into MyFitnessPal (you are tracking macros and calories, right?), they require zero prep, they’re often high in fiber, and if you pick the right ones, they’re delicious.
The downsides are that they can be expensive (you don’t want to know how much my partner and I spend on Quest bars every month…), and they’re often sweetened with substances known as “sugar alcohols”, which although generally not counted in the net carbs can STILL kick you out of ketosis (assuming ketosis is your goal. If not, this is less of a concern). So be careful with them, and eat in moderation.
Hells yes to this stuff. It’s exactly like normal jello, but sweetened with aspartame instead (which is not the devil people think it is – there’s no good evidence that it causes any health problems). It’s delicious, and pairs extremely well with whipped cream. Speaking of…
3. Homemade whipped cream
Don’t get the store-bought whipped cream in a can (is it called Cool Whip in the States? Here in Australia it’s just “whipped cream”), as it’s usually loaded with sugar. Instead, get a carton of thickened cream, or whipping cream. Pour into a bowl. Add some sugar-free sweetener (stevia, Splenda, etc.), then beat until it whips. Voilà. A delicious high-fat snack, and a great way to both satisfy your sweet tooth (although depending on the sweetener there can be a bit of a bitter aftertaste) AND hit your fat target for the day.
Another option that I’ve fallen in love with is to, instead of adding sweetener, add a scoop of protein powder (chocolate is my preference), for the ultimate dessert meal ever. Fats and protein and practically zero carbs. If you put it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes after whipping, you end up with a sort-of chocolate ice-cream substitute. Try it.
Also pairs well with…
You do have to be careful with these, as they contain around 11g net carbs per hundred grams (3.5oz). However, a handful of these in a bowl covered with that whipped cream you just made is another amazing dessert. Particularly because, with your increased sensitivity to sweet things, each one is like a burst of blueberry sweetness in your mouth.
5. Cream cheese and honey
Sound weird? Try it – take two tablespoons of regular cream cheese (NOT a low fat one, as that usually has added sugar), and whip it with a teaspoon of honey (which is quite carby, so don’t go overboard). Presto, you have a sweet and creamy dip for your…I don’t know. Whatever you want to dip. Celery, I guess.
No, not the store-bought stuff – it’s loaded with sugar. But the basics of just about any cheesecake are cream, eggs, and cream cheese (all very low-carb friendly). Substituting sugar for a sweetener works fine, which only leaves the base…which you can make with low-carb alternatives like almond flour and crushed pecan nuts (see here for a great recipe). You’re welcome.
7. Root beer float
OK, I’ve tried root beer and found it AWFUL. I don’t see the appeal, so feel free to substitute for your diet soda of choice (yes, it has to be diet).
Are you ready? You take your diet soda…and you add either some plain heavy cream, or some of your delicious homemade whipped cream. Done. It’s not quite the same, I know, but it TASTES exactly like a standard ice-cream soda after the ice-cream has melted.
8. Strawberries topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings
You see how versatile whipped cream is? It goes with everything. Strawberries do have carbs (around 6g net per 100g), so eat in moderation. For dark chocolate, you should be aiming for at least 70% cocoa, but the higher the better. The bitterness should be offset by the sweetness of the strawberries and cream, and provide a nice counterpoint.
So there you go. As I said, not an exhaustive list, but honestly, 90% of the sweet desserts I eat these days consist of whipped cream and blueberries, or whipped cream with protein powder – it’s just such a delicious way of hitting my macro targets. If you’ve experimented with any delicious low-carb desserts of your own, let me know in the comments below, and as always, I hope you found this helpful!