The facts about sugar
The root causes of sugar cravings are most often lifestyle-related. You stop sugar cravings by making lifestyle-related changes, so there's usually no quick and easy way to reduce them.
It's only human to crave a chocolate-chip cookie or slice of cake once in a while. However, uncontrolled sugar cravings can sometimes push you into unhealthy dietary patterns and even contribute to significant health problems like diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.
Luckily, with a little mindfulness and some lifestyle management techniques, you can continue to treat yourself to the odd desert while maintaining good health.
While adult men and women should have no more than five teaspoons and nine teaspoons respectively of sugar per day, the average adult actually consumes 22 teaspoons. The most common sources of sugar in the American diet are:
- sweetened cereals
- cookies and cakes
- fruit juices
- flavored yogurts
Processed savory foods like bread, soup, lunch meats, and sauces also contain quite a lot of sugar. Sugar reacts with bacteria in dental plaque to form acid, which in turn dissolves tooth enamel and causes tooth decay.
You probably know that eating too much sugar contributes to chronic health conditions like obesity and Type 2 diabetes, but a high-sugar diet also has negative effects on heart health. One study showed that people who eat a lot of added sugar have a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.
If you're trying to cut down on sugar intake, it's important to read food labels and avoid products that contain the following ingredients:
- corn sweetener
- high-fructose corn syrup
- brown sugar
- fruit juice concentrates
- malt sugar
Causes of sugar cravings
The root causes of sugar cravings are most often lifestyle-related, so there's usually no quick and easy way to reduce them. The main culprits behind sugar cravings include:
When you don't get enough sleep, a hunger hormone called ghrelin increases while an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin decreases, making you feel hungrier. This increase in hunger can lead to cravings for sugar. Getting good quality sleep for seven to nine hours a night can help regulate your appetite and reduce sugar cravings.
Stressful situations trigger an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to hunger levels. It's easy to give in to cravings when you're stressed because eating sweet foods releases dopamine, a hormone that creates a feeling of enjoyment and pleasure. Opt for healthier methods of stress management, like exercise, meditation, and socializing with friends.
When you're hungry, you may find yourself reaching for simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice. Although these foods fill you up temporarily, your body digests them quite quickly. You may feel hungry again not long after a meal. Eating balanced meals that contain healthy fats and proteins in addition to simple carbohydrates will keep you fuller for longer and away from sweet snacks.
Consider adding the following protein and fat-rich foods to your meals:
- red meat
Feeding studies in animals show that sugar can be an addictive substance, so you may find that you've gotten into a bad habit of eating sweet treats a little too regularly. Switching to a more mindful approach to eating — which can involve setting aside enough time for eating and really savoring your food — will make you more conscious of your eating habits and can help you alter them for the better.
13 ways to fight sugar cravings
If you've implemented the above lifestyle measures, but still find yourself yearning for one too many candy bars, here are some more immediate methods to consider:
- Opt for fruit. Fruits contain natural sugars that can satiate your sweet tooth. Nuts and seeds are some other healthy snacks to keep on hand.
- Give yourself a treat. Going cold turkey on sugar can backfire because you may eventually just give in to strong cravings. Instead, try giving yourself a little bit of what you're craving — whether it's half a cookie or a square of chocolate — on occasion in a way that's sensible but sustainable.
- Chew gum. Research has shown that chewing gum can help reduce food cravings.
- Eat consistent meals. Eating meals every three to five hours regulates blood sugar and keeps those cravings at bay, helping you avoid sugary binges.
- Work it off. Next time a craving hits, go outdoors, walk around the block, and get some fresh air to distract yourself.
- Splurge properly. When you do decide to give yourself a sweet treat, pick a super luxurious and sugary food that you can really savor every bite of.
- Mix and match. If you really struggle to limit your sweet treat intake, consider combining them with healthier and more satisfying options, like dipping a banana in chocolate.
- Ditch the sweeteners. Contrary to popular belief, artificial sweeteners don't reduce cravings for sugar and haven't helped improve obesity levels.
- Target the root cause. Sweet cravings often hit us when we're upset or stressed, so think about whether you could talk things out with a trusted loved one instead of reaching for the candy bar.
- Give yourself positive reinforcement. It's perfectly fine to reward yourself with a little dessert if you've successfully managed to cut back on sugar as planned.
- Just quit. While the first 48 to 72 hours of going cold turkey are pretty tough, some people find that their sugar cravings are completely gone after this period.
- Plan and prepare. Avoiding sweet treats is so much easier when you know what you're going to eat instead and when, so consider planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks in advance.
- Switch things up. Any one of the aforementioned strategies may work at first only for the craving to return — don't be afraid to switch between the methods and experiment with what works for you at a given time.