Everyone can experience a craving of ‘something’. It may be a type of food or drink, attention and affection, or a hug from a loved one. Although cravings aren’t all bad, certain cravings such as one for sugar can be. Sugar cravings can be hard to combat, but not impossible. There are many strategies in place to help you curb those sugar cravings, but this post primarily focuses on the foods you choose to eat to help fight back against the craving.
Before we tackle the list of food options that turn that sweet tooth into a mostly savoury one, let’s discuss some other key factors:
- Cravings can occur because you are hungry. If you are hungry outside of mealtimes, perhaps your previous meal wasn’t nutritious enough, and in turn you tend to snack between meals.
- Your cravings and snacking could be out of habit such as having to have those biscuits with your afternoon tea.
- If your snacking is unplanned, or you are stressed out, these snacks often are a quick fix, and somewhat an unhealthier choice
- Sugar cravings can also occur due to lack of sleep, poor hydration, and unplanned meals and shopping
- It is important to take care of yourself, shop on a full stomach, and plan what groceries to buy and meals to make in advance
Make sure you are having at least three main meals a day. These meals should all include protein, a source of high fibre carbohydrate, and fruit or veg. Throughout your day, you should also include in at least some of your meals a small amount of healthy fat and some dairy. If you feel hungry enough to have a snack in between meals, it is important to have a light and nutritious one to help with weight control and improve overall health. Let’s take a look at which foods can help you kick those sugar cravings out of the park and how you can have them as a healthy snack option.
This unique savoury fruit is made up of healthy fats, fibre and many important nutrients. It has many health benefits including helping to lower cholesterol, and good for heart and gut health. It can even help aid weight loss (if that’s your goal) if eaten in a moderate way (1). This is because they help keep you full and feeling satisfied for longer which makes it a perfect food to add to your meals or as a snack to help combat those cravings for sugar-sweet snacks. Try having 1/4-1/2 an avocado on a slice of wholegrain toast with lemon juice and toasted seeds as a snack or add it to a salad or with your eggs at a main meal.
The common denominator of good fats and bad fats = FAT. Try eating mostly healthy fat, but be sure to have these in small amounts. Eating too much of any fat can make weight control more difficult.
Full of antioxidants, these sweet-tasting little fruits are high fibre and low in sugar. This makes them the perfect snack to pick on instead of processed sugary foods. As berries are rich in fibre, this helps keep you fuller for longer. Fibre can also help lower the amount of calories you absorb from eating a mixed meal. The antioxidants can help fight against free radicals and may protect against cancer, and they are dense with multivitamins.
You may not be able to dunk them in your tea or coffee, but they are a good snack to nibble at while working or watching TV. Have them plain, with a Greek plain yoghurt and cinnamon or blended up in a smoothie.
3. Beans and Pulses
Legumes include beans, lentils and chickpeas. These plant-based grains are suitable for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters. They are a great source of protein and fibre-rich, thus making them nutritious and a good option to keep you satisfied and full.
It is easiest to include these in a main meal, which should keep you fuller for longer and less likely to reach for an unhealthy snack. For a snack suggestion try carrot or celery sticks, or chopped up pita bread with a hummus dip made from chickpeas or fava beans.
This sweet in scent and strong flavoured spice has been used medicinally for centuries and is known for its numerous health benefits. Though some of these health benefits may present with limited evidence, research has shown that cinnamon has an effect on blood sugar levels. It is also rich in fibre, with 1.6g of fibre per 1 teaspoon. Although on its own it is not proven to aid weight loss, due to its fibre content it may support weight loss if added to a balanced meal along with exercise (2).
As cinnamon has a slightly sweet taste, it is a great addition to foods such as plain yoghurt with fruit as a snack or with your breakfast. You could also make cinnamon-covered almonds to much on between meals.
Cinnamon consumed in high doses can be dangerous. Use sparingly.
This may be a drink on the list and not a food, but this hot beverage can be a good alternative snack option to keep you full and satisfied in between meals. Research has shown that coffee can help fill you for up to three hours (3). It can be even more effective if you choose decaf coffee, which is great if you want to avoid snacking on chocolate later in the evening. Having one to two coffees during your day is a great way to combat those sugar cravings, just avoid adding sugar, or this defeats the point!
6. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is one of the most popular sweet choices people prefer to eat when picking something sweet to nibble on. Although you may be trying to stay away from all things naughty, every now and then you may feel the urge and cave in. If you do want a chocolate treat on that odd occasion, opt for dark chocolate instead.
Dark chocolate has an array of health benefits. The cocoa is rich in flavanols which has been linked to heart health and lowering of blood pressure (4). Research has also shown ties with insulin sensitivity. It is rich in antioxidants, contains 11 grams of fibre per 100g bar and also is rich in iron, selenium, zinc and other minerals. With its slightly sweet taste (depending on its cocoa percentage), it makes a perfect small snack for that sweet tooth. Opt for a 70 – 90% range for more nutrients and lower sugar.
The higher the percentage dark chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. If caffeine affects your sleep, you may not want to have this in the evenings. Pregnant women should also be aware of this, since they should be limiting caffeine to no more than 200mg per day.
7. Dates and Prunes
These are two dried fruit snacks that are very sweet in taste and a perfect sweet snack to have with an afternoon tea. Even just one date or prune can hit that sweet spot while giving you healthy nutrients at the same time. But don’t go overboard. They may be a healthier option than sweets or chocolates, but they are sugary. Limit your portion to three or less.
These foods are high in fibre, iron and potassium and also a great help with anyone suffering from constipation.
Eggs are a high-protein food containing approximately 13 grams per egg, depending on its size. These are very versatile and can be cooked in numerous different ways with different types of food, sweet or savoury. Studies have shown that having breakfast high in protein can help keep you more full and satisfied during the rest of the day, making it another perfect food choice to have with a meal or as a snack (5). A good snack option is a one to two boiled eggs with some raw spinach and sliced avocado.
9. Frozen Banana Slices with Almond Butter
Such a simple sweet treat to make that is healthy too. Slice up the banana, around 1cm thick and freeze. When you are ready to eat them, top them with almond or peanut butter and enjoy as a healthy snack. If you don’t like them frozen, then eat freshly sliced. Bananas, in general, are an easy and quick healthy snack. As bananas are naturally sweet, high in vitamins and minerals, and hit the spot for that sweet food craving. The nut butter, being rich in protein and healthy fat will help satisfy you for longer, at least until your next meal.
10. Fruit and Veg
As mentioned with berries, bananas and grapes, fruit, in general, is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The same applies to vegetables. You should be aiming for a minimum of five fruits and veg daily, but ideally you should be aiming for much more. Fruit and veg are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals and low in calories too, especially veg. Not to mention their importance on your gut and bowel health, immunity, skin and the rest of your body).
Try including a variety of different colour fruit and veg in your intake. The more colour, the larger the variety of different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
As fruit is naturally sweet and hydrating, it can help you to kick that craving for processed sugar to the curb. Its fibre content will help keep you satisfied for longer too. Try to include fruit with your breakfast and at least one snack. You can also add fruit to a salad or a cooked meal such as mango chicken.
Vegetables may not taste sweet (unless you are eating a delicious tomato from the Mediterranean), but are still important. Having these with each meal, or at least lunch and dinner can help sustain your energy and feeling of fullness. They should make up at least half of your plate. As a healthy, savoury snack, try carrot sticks or sliced peppers with hummus, or celery sticks with peanut butter.
Another very simple food to have mixed with a main meal or ideally as a snack are grapes. Grapes have many benefits (6). They are high in vitamin C and K as well as containing other important nutrients. Grapes may help with longevity, inflammation and even improve memory and mood, however evidence around these topics is limited. You may have heard that grapes are bad for you as they are high in sugar. Albeit true, grapes have a low glycaemic index (a measure of how fast your blood sugar rises to certain foods). This means that despite their high sugar content, they won’t cause as much of a spike in your sugar levels compared to a processed sugar food.
Grapes are fairly versatile. You can add them to savoury or fruit salad, or add them to a smoothie. As for snacking, try frozen or fresh grapes instead, or grapes with cheese and crackers.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that contains probiotics which are good for gut health and your immunity (7, 8). The same goes for other fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir and yoghurt. Fermentation is a natural process where sugars and starch are broken down into acid or alcohol through bacteria or yeast. As it is good for gut health, there have been suggestions that it can influence food cravings and appetite. However, it is not fully understood and more evidence is needed to back this up.
Putting cravings aside, there is supporting evidence that including some of these foods in your diet is good for you. So it’s worth including anyway!
13. Lean Protein
As mentioned previously, protein is an important nutrient. Is helps keep you full and satisfied, and less likely to binge throughout the day. Protein is also important for building and repair muscles, cartilage, bone, blood and skin.
You should try to include protein with each main meals of the day. You may require a little extra protein if you do a lot of exercise and muscle training. However, you should be able to meet all of your protein needs through your regular diet. You should not need to waste money on or rely on protein shakes. Too much protein can be harmful and have a negative impact on your kidneys.
Try opting for leaner options where possible. Fish, lean cuts of red meat and poultry (without the skin) all cooked in a healthy way are good options. You can include some of these as part of a snack to help keep those cravings at bay.
As smoothies contain fruit which are full of fibre and other nutrients, they make a good alternative to junk food. With so many flavour options to choose from, it will be hard to get bored of these. From strawberry or mixed berry shakes, to tropical ones, the smoothie world is your oyster. Blend up your chosen fruit with some ice and water for a fruity style shake, or mix your fruit with yoghurt of a more filling, high-protein option. For something a little more indulgent, blend a banana with ice, cocoa powder, peanut butter and milk.
15. Sugar-free Drinks and Chewing Gum
If you are a lover of fizzy drinks and chewing gum, then this one is for you. Fizzy drinks are usually loaded with sugar or corn syrup making them taste very sweet and addicting. It is something you should want to avoid. Apart from being linked to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, it can also cause tooth decay. Fortunately for some, with recent sugar tax laws that are in place, most of these drinks have a little less sugar. But opting for a sugar-free drink would be your better bet. There is mixed evidence around the safety of diet drinks and artificial sweeteners, so it would be wise to limit these.
As for chewing gum, opt for sugar-free gum over sugary gum to help combat sugar cravings. Although the research shows mixed results, some studies show that chewing gum can enhances feelings of satiety (9).
16. Whole grains
To add to the list of all the other foods high in fibre, are whole grains. They are also rich in vitamin B’s, selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese and iron. A large amount of the starchy foods you buy can come as a whole grain option, or a more processed ‘white’ version. These include bread, pasta, rice and more, so opt for wholegrain for most of your starch intake. Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah and no other way), couscous and bulgar wheat are some other filling and high fibre options.
As these foods are rich in fibre, they generally keep you fuller for longer. Try to include these with every meal if you can. As a snack, opt for wholegrain crackers with light cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes.
The final food on the list to combat those sugar cravings is yoghurt. A good source of protein, calcium and sometimes probiotics (depending on the type), this food offers some good health benefits. If a high protein yoghurt, it can be more filling and can leave you craving those sugary snacks less. One study done showed that higher-protein snacks such as yoghurt improved satiety and appetite control compared with lower protein or higher fat snacks (10). Yoghurt can be had as part of a breakfast, or is a good alternative to mayonnaise in your sandwich. You can also have it as a snack with some nuts or chopped up fruit to naturally sweeten it.
The Final Word
Sweet cravings can seem like an impossible task to overcome, but with the right foods, it is much easier than you may think. Choosing foods rich in fibre and protein can help keep you more full and less likely to crave snacks such as sweet treats. For times when you are craving something sweet, go for a healthy sweet option instead like fruit, smoothies or a little dark chocolate.