A craving is an intense and sometimes uncontrollable desire for a particular item. In this case, the item is sugar. Sugar and sugary foods are one of the most craved types of foods, along with salt and fat and these cravings can be challenging to curb. Sometimes a craving can occur as your body feels a lack of this nutrient, such as low blood sugar or low blood pressure in the instance of salt. Don’t use this example as an excuse. For the majority, the craving of sugar has other causes. And these causes, can lead to a person consuming far more sugar than the daily recommended ‘dose’ of 30g (7 cubes) of free sugar per day (1).
Did you know? Chocolate is the most widely craved food.
It is important to get your sugar craving under control as this can lead to an array of health issues. These include poor energy control, tooth decay and weight gain which can lead to diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In this article we look at what these causes are and how you can kick your sugar cravings to the curb.
1. Start the Day Off Right
First up, you want to start your day on the right note. This starts with what you have for breakfast. Breakfast (breaking the fast) is the most important meal of the day for a reason. If chosen right, it can help keep you satisfied, feeling well nourished and healthy. And it is the base for your decision making when it comes to eating.
Having a breakfast containing some high fibre starch to give you steady energy, some protein to keep you more full, and some fruit or vegetables to give you extra fibre and nutrients makes for an all-rounded healthy breakfast. Examples include poached or scrambled egg with spinach and tomato on whole-grain toast, or a high protein plain Greek yoghurt with fruit and mixed nuts and seeds or oats.
2. Drink More Water
Most of the time, when the body is craving something, it might be that you are thirsty. When you start to feel a craving coming on, try drinking a glass of water. Wait for a few minutes and see if the desire goes away. You can also try adding a slice of lemon to the water, as the slight sour taste can often curb your cravings for those sugar-sweet snacks.
Research has shown that water keeps your stomach full and having two glasses of water before meals can significantly reduce your appetite (2). The same can apply to cravings. On a side note, drinking more water keeps you healthy, well hydrated and can help your skin complexion too.
3. Pick Foods that Battle against Sugar Cravings
There is a long list of foods that can help combat sugar cravings and all of them help in their own way. Pick some of these foods that you enjoy and have these on standby ready for when you get that craving. Here is a list of these foods.
- Fruit: This is the perfect, hassle-free snack or food to opt for when wanting something sweet. It is naturally sweet and filled with fibre and other healthy nutrients. Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, pick at some raspberries instead, or sliced apple with some peanut butter.
- Dates and Prunes: These are naturally sweet and high in fibre. Although they contain sugar, again these sugars are natural and a more healthy alternative to processed sugar foods.
- Fibre: Choose foods high in fibre. Fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans and pulses) and wholegrain carbohydrates all contain fibre. These foods help to reduce hunger and keep you feeling full and less likely to reach for a sweet snack (3).
- Yoghurt: generally high in protein, studies have shown that yoghurt can be a good snack to help keep you satisfied and full (4). Ensure to pick a no-added-sugar option (Greek yoghurt is a goodie) with live cultures for some probiotics.
- Protein-rich: Having a good protein intake is important to help keep your appetite satisfied. Make sure to have protein with each main meal, including breakfast, as it can keep you fuller for longer and less likely to crave that sweet snack. Eggs, yoghurt, meat, chicken, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds are all examples of protein.
4. Curb with Coffee
If you are a keen coffee drinker then this one is for you. Now just because you like coffee and want to curb your sugar cravings doesn’t mean you should go on a coffee bender. But having one to two cups a day can help. Studies show that coffee can have a positive impact on your appetite leaving you feeling fuller and satisfied for up to three hours (5). This is more prominent with decaf coffee. When you feel full, you are far less likely to want those sweet foods. Just make sure you are loading your coffee with sugar as this defeats the point.
5. Plans your Meals
When it comes to deciding what to eat, for many, the choices are close to endless. This can lead to poor meal choices and unhealthy snacking. By planning your meals, you take away the choice of reaching out last minute for something easy, and possibly unhealthy. Research shows that meal planning is linked to an overall healthier diet and weight (6). Try planning for your meals daily or for the week. Only have healthy snack options in your kitchen as a healthier alternative to processed sweet snacks. If it helps, write up a meal plan for the rest of the week. This way, you will buy, stock and prepare the right meals.
6. Shop on a Full Tummy
Walking into a supermarket or a grocery store is never a good idea when you are hungry. Hunger can cause you to have crave all sorts of foods, and you often leave the store with a lot more unhealthy food than you had wanted. Impulse buying of junk and sugary foods is a real thing. Often stores conveniently place foods so that when you see them, you want them. But if you are full, you are less likely to cave to the crave.
Make sure to visit the store on a full stomach. Also have a planned list of what you want to buy and make sure you stick to it!
7. Choose your Snacks Wisely
When you do buy your snacks to have at home, a little planning can go along way. Choose to buy snacks rich in protein such as high protein (low sugar) yoghurt, and crackers and cottage cheese. Making boiled eggs to have with some sliced avocado and spinach or having nut butter with sliced apple are some other snack ideas. ON a sweeter note, berries, bananas and grapes are an easy to eat fruity, no prep snack, along with dates and prunes – just don’t go overboard as these still contain sugar, albeit natural.
You can also try making some healthier snacks such as date and almond protein balls or several pieces of frozen sliced banana topped with almond butter. Get creative, you will appreciate your healthy snack more!
8. Avoid Getting Hungry
As the day goes on, you may feel time slipping away and you forget to eat. It dawns on you that you haven’t eaten in a while and are very hungry. At this point, it is almost too late, and you will reach for the easiest food option no matter the cost or consequence.
Making sure to have your three main meals a day that are balanced, a good variety of foods and filling is key. But if you find you are hungry in between meals, make sure to plan ahead and have those healthy snack options at hand. This will help you curb the cravings for those unhealthy sugar snacks.
9. Imagine It
If you can’t get the craving out of your mind, then imagine it being in front of you. Picture what it looks like, how it smells, its texture and finally the taste. Imagine eating it. Hmmm it tastes decadent. But now how do you feel after eating it? Guilty? Feeling the need to drown your sorrows or go for an impulsive run? if the answer is yes, then tell yourself, “that tasted nice, but I’m done with that for now”. Surprisingly, this psychological trick can have quite the impact.
If you still can’t get passed it, then maybe you have been depriving yourself for too long. In order to be successful at avoiding any foods we crave, it is important to plan to have them once in a while. This makes the food not seem like such a big deal and you may crave it less. Plan on having that dessert perhaps once a week (instead of daily) or a square of dark chocolate (a good option if you don’t eat too much). Then get back to following your generally healthy ways.
10. Play Tricks with your Mind
Whenever you feel your hand reaching out for that chocolate bar or cookie, try distract yourself by keeping busy. For most, boredom is the first step in the direction of those sweet foods. Keeping yourself entertained by reading or getting crafty (if not at work) to distract yourself. Exercise can help too, so why not go out for a walk or jog, or meet up with a friend (away from places where there might be distractions of course).
Another tactic is chewing gum, ideally sugar-free. As it tastes sweet, it can make you crave sweet snacks less. One study done showed that chewing gum, ideally for 45 minutes promoted fullness and contained hunger (7). Although most evidence around chewing gum is mixed, it still might be worth a try. Sugar-free soda can work in a similar way, but note there is mixed evidence around the health of diet drinks. As these often contain many unnatural ingredients, it is best to limit your intake.
11. Get Plenty of Sleep
Research shows that sleep plays a key role in the metabolism and poor sleep is may poor weight control (8). Furthermore, sleeping for short periods have also proven to affect certain hormone levels (leptin and ghrelin) which are likely to increase the appetite (9). This is likely to cause you to make poor food choices.
Try to get at least 6 – 9 hours of sleep each night as per the NHS guidelines. The amount needed will differ from person to person, but should be in this range. It is also important to adopt a good sleep routine and go to bed a regular times.
12. Control your Stress
It is well known that stress can cause many health problems and poor habits. Overeating is one of them. This happens more so for women. Several studies show that when someone is in distress, it is likely that they will reach out for food. This is those sugary junk foods are sometimes called comfort foods. The more stress that comes about, the more your cortisol levels rise in the blood. Cortisol, a hormone is often associated with weight gain, particularly around your abdomen (10).
There are many different ways to manage stress such as meditation, positive thinking taking control of things you can control and rest. Managing your stress can help you maintain your mental health and consequently help curb your sugar cravings.
The Final Word
Eating habits are generally a lifestyle decision. Having control over what foods you have and choose to eat can help. But other tips such as good sleep, low stress, and staying well hydrated are important to focus on too. Sugar can be tempting for everyone from time to time. Allow yourself to have it occasionally as a treat, but opt for healthy snacks such as fruit to make a healthier choice.