13 Ways to Fight Sugar Cravings
Sweet tooth raging out of control? Here's how to tame those sugar cravings.
Does that morning Danish leave you craving another treat two hours later? Do
you grab a candy bar to cope with your afternoon slump -- and then reach for a
cola to get out of your post-slump slump?
If you’ve found that munching sugary snacks just makes you crave more sugary
snacks, you’re not alone. Eating lots of simple carbohydrates -- without the
backup of proteins or fats -- can quickly satisfy hunger and give your body a
short-term energy boost, but they almost as quickly leave you famished again
and craving more.
How can you stop sugar cravings once and for all? Here's expert advice.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
There are many reasons why we go for sweet things.
That appetite may be hardwired. "Sweet is the first taste humans prefer from
birth," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a dietitian and American Dietetic
Association (ADA) spokeswoman. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of the
feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but carbohydrates
come in other forms, too, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us, and
offer a natural "high," says Susan Moores, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and
nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minn.
Sweets just taste good, too. And that preference gets reinforced by
rewarding ourselves with sweet treats, which can make you crave it even more.
With all that going for it, why wouldn’t we crave sugar?
The problem comes not when we indulge in a sweet treat now and then, but
when we over-consume, something that’s easy to do when sugar is added to many
processed foods, including breads, yogurt, juices, and sauces. And Americans do
overconsume, averaging about 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day, according to
the American Heart Association, which recommends limiting added sugars to about
6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings: 8 Tips to Use Right Now
If you're craving sugar, here are some ways to tame those cravings.
- Give in a little. Eat a bit of what you’re craving, maybe a small
cookie or a fun-size candy bar, suggests Kerry Neville, MS, RD, a
registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. Enjoying a little of what you love
can help you steer clear of feeling denied. Try to stick to a 150-calorie
threshold, Neville says.
- Combine foods. If the idea of stopping at a cookie or a baby candy
bar seems impossible, you can still fill yourself up and satisfy a sugar
craving, too. "I like combining the craving food with a healthful one," Neville
says. "I love chocolate, for example, so sometimes I’ll dip a banana in
chocolate sauce and that gives me what I’m craving, or I mix some almonds with
chocolate chips." As a beneficial bonus, you'll satisfy a craving and get
healthy nutrients from those good-for-you foods.
- Go cold turkey. Cutting out all simple sugars works for some people,
although "the initial 48 to 72 hours are tough," Gerbstadt says. Some people
find that going cold turkey helps their cravings diminish after a few days;
others find they may still crave sugar but over time are able to train their
taste buds to be satisfied with less.
- Grab some gum. If you want to avoid giving in to a sugar craving
completely, try chewing a stick of gum, says nutrition advisor Dave Grotto, RD,
LDN. "Research has shown that chewing gum can reduce food cravings," Grotto
- Reach for fruit. Keep fruit handy for when sugar cravings hit.
You'll get fiber and nutrients along with some sweetness. And stock up on foods
like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, says certified addiction specialist Judy
Chambers, LCSW, CAS. "Have them handy so you reach for them instead of reaching
for the old [sugary] something."
- Get up and go. When a sugar craving hits, walk away. "Take a walk
around the block or [do] something to change the scenery," to take your mind
off the food you’re craving, Neville suggests.
- Choose quality over quantity. "If you need a sugar splurge, pick a
wonderful, decadent sugary food," Moores says. But keep it small. For example,
choose a perfect dark chocolate truffle instead of a king-sized candy bar, then
"savor every bite -- slowly," Moores says. Grotto agrees. "Don’t swear off
favorites -- you’ll only come back for greater portions. Learn to incorporate
small amounts in the diet but concentrate on filling your stomach with less
sugary and [healthier] options."
- Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals may set you up to
choose sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger, Moores says. Instead, eating
every three to five hours can help keep blood sugar stable and help you "avoid
irrational eating behavior," Grotto says. Your best bets? "Choose protein,
fiber-rich foods like whole grains and produce," Moores says.
But won't eating more often mean overeating? Not if you follow Neville's
advice to break up your meals. For instance, have part of your breakfast -- a
slice of toast with peanut butter, perhaps -- and save some yogurt for a
mid-morning snack. "Break up lunch the same way to help avoid a mid-afternoon
slump," Neville says.