Tons of companies are getting on board with the idea of creating “Keto Friendly” treats (cookies, cakes, brownies, pancakes.. you name it!).. But can you really lose weight while you eat these kinds of treats? Are they safe for keto dieters?
Can you lose weight eating these “keto treats”?
In short: Maybe. Sometimes. It depends.
Most people who eat them regularly (or sometimes, even once) report that their weight loss stalls out.
In fact, for people doing a keto-based diet who hit a weight loss plateau, the first thing I tell people is to eliminate ALL of the “fake junk food” from their diet. (In other words, stop trying to eat forbidden foods by finding “keto friendly” substitutes for those foods).
In most cases, getting rid of the “keto-friendly” junk food causes weight loss to resume.
So how can these treats be Keto friendly?
Traditional treats universally use two things: Flour and sugar — both of which are forbidden on keto, since they’re pure carbs. Which means anyone following a ketogenic diet (or, frankly, ANY responsible diet) will find that these kinds of junk foods cause weight GAIN rather than weight LOSS. (Donuts, pie, cookies, cinnamon rolls, pancakes..)
However, the traditional keto diet has a “carb loophole” — known as “net carbs”. It’s a fancy way of saying that any carbs that come from fiber or from sugar-alcohols don’t count.
The “treat makers” leverage this loophole by trading out the bad ingredients for things that allow them to be subtracted. For example, sugar is usually replaced with sugar-alcohols, and traditional wheat flour is often replaced with things like almond or coconut flour. (Literally, almonds/coconut that are ground up to be the consistency of regular flour).
So as long as they can swap ingredients for things that keto allows them to “subtract”, they can create a treat that, while still VERY high in carbs, might be low in net-carbs (once you subtract all the stuff that keto says you can subtract).
Genius, right? Swap a few ingredients to make it “keto friendly”, and you can eat junk food and still lose weight!!
Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?
The first catch is that the calories in them still count. And some of these treats have a LOT of calories — even more than the food they’re replacing. (I once saw LITTLE TINY keto-cupcakes that were over 300 calories.. EACH!). People eat them in bulk because they’re “keto”, and before they know it, have eaten an entire day’s worth of calories in just a few minutes.
The other (more important) catch is that the net-carb formula is broken. And if you follow it strictly (meaning, you subtract ALL fiber, and ALL sugar-alcohols, no matter what) you’re probably getting more sugar/carbs in your system than you think you are. (A lot more, actually… and too much to keep your body in ketosis).
Not all sugar-alcohols are created equal
In the keto world, the holy-grail of staying in ketosis is to eat so few carbs, that your body never produces an “insulin reaction”. (You don’t want glucose in your blood stream. You want your body to have to get glucose by breaking down fat). If you cause an insulin reaction, you ate too many carbs, and your body stops relying on fat for energy.
You can measure the glucose reaction of the foods you eat with a blood-glucose meter, which I talk about here. And we did a podcast on it, here. And yes, anyone doing a ketogenic diet who’s experimenting with different foods should own one. There’s also more on glucose, here. All well worth the time to read.
The problem is this: Some sugar-alcohols cause an insulin reaction, and some don’t. Some cause a HUGE reaction, some cause a small reaction, and some cause no reaction at all. Xylitol and Malitol are particularly problematic — causing almost the exact same blood-sugar reaction as real sugar! And then others, such as erythritol, are often fine for (almost) everyone!
So while the “net carb” formula says “all sugar alcohol is okay”. The truth is that it depends on the particular sugar-alcohol, it depends on what else you’ve eaten with it, and it depends on the person. It depends. It depends. It depends.
Best bet? Avoid ALL sugar-alcohols if you can.
Second-best-bet? Invest in a glucose meter so you can see for yourself how your body is responding to them.
Not all fiber is equal, either.
There are actually two types of fiber. Soluble and insoluble. The “net carb” formula treats them them same, stating that it’s okay to subtract ALL carbs from ALL fiber.
However, your digestive system disagrees.
Soluble fiber can and is digested by the body, and does provide carb-based energy. It’s about half as “potent” as regular carbs. Therefore, you should subtract it at 50%, rather than 100%. (In other words, if something contains 10 grams of soluble fiber, you should subtract just HALF of those carbs).
Insoluble fiber can safely be fully subtracted. Your body cannot digest it, and it provides no energy or calories.
The tricky part is knowing which is which, since the FDA does not require food makers to differentiate. The only way to know for sure is to google each of the ingredients that contain fiber, and figure out how much is soluble vs. insoluble.
Another (less precise) method is just assume that it’s all soluble, and subtract only half the carbs from fiber, instead of all the carbs.
Forcing junk-food into a healthy diet might make it harder to break your addiction to junk-food.
Even if you’ve found the perfect treats, with the perfect sugar-alcohol that keeps you in ketosis, there’s one other reason you might consider trying to skip them.
The point of weight loss is to try to change your life. You’re trying to become a fitter, healthier person who makes better choices about what foods to eat.
If you’re constantly trying to figure out how to make the “old you” fit into the “new you” world, you’re going to struggle with maintenance (and weight loss). Stop fighting with your old self, your old habits, and your old cravings and try to build meals that help you “move on”.
Certainly use the treats as desert for a simple “once a week” cheat meal (One treat. Don’t binge on them!!), but avoid them in your every day eating. Think of them as “training wheels” to help you get OFF the treats, rather than an excuse to keep eating the treats.
Your goal should be to break your addiction to junk food — rather than finding new, more creative ways to eat it. And for most people, these kinds of treats ensure that the cravings never really go away.
So what’s the so what?
Some “Keto Treats” are probably going to stall your weight loss. (And of course, some are going to be completely fine.)
But if you DO want to experiment with them, here’s how I’d do it:
- Only eat a small portion of them once a week as part of a cheat meal, in order to commit to your new life, and to try to break the junk-food-addiction cycle.
- After you eat a new kind of treat, use of a blood glucose meter to observe your body’s reaction and see if it’s working for you.
- The next day, use a ketone tester to confirm you’re still in ketosis.
- Take note of the ingredients. Specifically, what sweeteners and “flour substitutes” were used. That way, regardless of whether the treat was a success or a failure you know in the future how your body is likely to react to those particular ingredients.
Once you’re out “weight loss” mode and back into “weight maintenance” mode, these kinds of treats are a FANTASTIC alternative to the high-sugar traditional ones! Again, kept in moderation and part of a “once a week treat” strategy, they can be a great tool once you find treats that work for you and your body.