There is nothing wrong with enjoying some sweet treats. Food is designed to nourish us, but it’s also meant to be enjoyed! But when sugar cravings occur on a regular basis and we reach for highly refined, highly processed sugary foods like biscuits, chocolate, lollipops, soft drink, ice-cream, cakes, muffins, and brownies, this can create a sugar-craving cycle.
The Sugar-Craving Cycle
Foods high in sugar can make us feel better at the time we eat them. They periodically bring our blood sugar levels back up, which might make us feel energetic. They also stimulate our brain’s reward system, reducing our cortisol levels and making us feel less stressed. If we do this enough, we can condition ourselves to reach for these high sugar foods whenever we are feeling tired, anxious, or unhappy.
The problem with these highly processed sweet foods, however, is that the feel-good effects are only temporary. Besides quickly raising our blood sugar levels, they also quickly drop them, making us feel tried and lacking energy again. They don’t address the root cause of the cravings such as stress, hunger, inadequate nutrition, or dehydration. So when we feel tired, unhappy, or stressed, we eat sweet things repeatedly, creating a sugar-craving cycle.
In order to stop craving sugar, we need to prevent the sugar craving cycle from occurring in the first place! These are 5 practical ways to stop your sugar cravings from occurring:
1. Keep your blood sugar levels stable
When your blood sugar levels drop too low, your brain sends out signals telling you to eat more sugar in order to bring your sugar levels back up. So keeping your blood sugar levels stable helps stop sugar cravings from occurring in the first place. To help keep your blood sugar levels stable, you should:
- Avoid skipping meals.
- Choose low-glycemic index (GI) foods. These include oats, wholegrain bread, quinoa, sweet potato, lentils, milk, yogurt, and many fruits (including bananas, mandarins, kiwis, mangoes, and pears).
- Include a source of protein with your meals and snacks. This could be fish, legumes, or chicken.
- Include some healthy fat with your meals and snacks. This could include some avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, or seeds.
2. Don’t cut carbs
Unless you’re slicing toast or pizza, you don’t need to cut carbs. Carbs are essential for providing your brain and muscles with energy. In fact, your brain runs purely off glucose (a.k.a. sugar), which is broken down from carbohydrates. So if you eliminate carbs from your diet, you will undoubtedly crave sugar! Choose to consume healthy sources of carbs like wholegrains (wholegrain breads and cereals), starchy veggies (potato, sweet potato, and corn), lentils, beans, brown rice, quinoa, fruit, milk, and yogurt.
3. Find the cause of your craving
When you crave sugar, take a minute to stop and think about “why” you are craving it. Are you craving sugar because you are stressed or tired? Do you want to eat something sweet because you’re upset or bored? If you think you are craving sugar for a reason other than true physical hunger (for example, if you are bored or stressed), then this is called non-hungry eating or “mind hunger”, and you need to address this first.
If you are bored, find something non-food related that you can do to keep your mind entertained. If you are stressed, remove yourself from the stressful environment and do something that can genuinely help reduce your stress levels; you can go for a walk, get some fresh air, listen to some music, talk to a friend, or seek the help of a health professional who can help you manage your stress.
4. Eat fiber rich foods and drink water
There are three types of fiber in food – insoluble fiber, soluble fiber, and fermentable fiber/resistance starch. When it comes to stopping sugar cravings, consuming soluble fiber is key.
Soluble fiber swells with water in your gut and helps you feel full. It also helps stabilize your blood sugar levels and manage your sugar cravings. Soluble fiber can be found in fruit, veggies, and grains (like oats, wholegrain pasta, legumes, and seeds). Have a think through what you eat each day. If you regularly consume foods like white bread, white pasta, and biscuits, swap these for higher fiber options. Replace white bread with wholegrain bread, swap your white pasta for brown pasta, and choose to eat fruit as a healthy snack.
You also need to ensure that you are drinking enough water for the soluble fiber to be effective. As a rough guide, you should aim for 8 cups of water per day. Water is attracted to and swells the soluble fiber in your gut, helping to stabilize your blood sugar levels and keeping you feeling full. Drinking enough water can also help stop your sugar cravings, as dehydration can often be confused with sugar cravings. Try carrying a water bottle around with you to help reach your daily water target.
5. Eat fruit
Fruit, lovingly referred to as nature’s candy, contains natural sugars that can help stop sugar cravings. This occurs because fruit also provide nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Due to the fiber content of the fruit, your body processes the natural sugars in fruit differently to how it processes foods that are high in processed sugar.
By consuming fruit and providing your body with natural sources of sugar, you can prevent sugar cravings from occurring. Aim for at least 2 servings per day. Here are some ways you can add fruit into your day to help stop sugar cravings:
- Snack on fresh fruit – ensure fresh fruit is readily available and accessible to snack on at home and work. Keep a big fruit bowl, bunches of grapes, a fruit salad, or chopped up fruit in containers in the fridge.
- Add fruit to your cereal or porridge – think sliced banana, stewed fruit, berries, and dates.
- Add fruit to your salads – think pears, peaches, mangoes and cranberries. These fruits all make delicious additions to salads.
- Make fruit smoothies – smoothies are a great way to get more fruit into your day, especially for busy moms and kids! They can be enjoyed for breakfast (including when you’re heading to work), as a snack for kids after school, as a pre- or post- workout snack, or as a delicious dessert.
- Add fruit to your snacks & desserts – add fruit to your yogurt, ice-cream, and smoothie bowls.
- Make fruit a key ingredient in baking – fruit can be used in place of sugar in baking. Try swapping sugar for mashed banana in your cakes, muffins, and pancakes.
Use the above 5 practical strategies to stop your sugar cravings from occurring. It will take time to break old habits and form healthy new habits, so stay committed and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if necessary.
Read more from our “Eat Well Series”: