Can you learn to beat sugar cravings for good? I’m sure many of you have experienced that 2pm crash when you can’t seem to keep your eyes open at your desk. When all you want is that sugar rush to get you through. There’s nothing more annoying when you’re trying to be healthy and all you can think about is chocolate in that vending machine! The worst part is, the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we want! There are several reasons why sugar cravings occur so keep reading to learn how to finally beat sugar cravings!
1. You forgot to eat or ate the wrong foods
Sugar is used primarily as an energy source -- the brain relies on glucose to function properly -- so when this gets low we crave more sugar. When we forget to eat or have poor nutrition, such as a diet high in processed foods and sugar and low in nutrients, this can lead to sugar cravings. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which then travels around the body in our blood for use as energy. When there isn’t enough glucose in our blood, our brain sends a signal out to eat sugar so that it has energy to continue functioning. It can become challenging when the foods you are reaching for are high in processed sugar. This type of sugar causes a large increase in blood glucose levels. This results in fast energy that is used quickly, leading to a crash in blood glucose levels. This dramatic spike and drop in blood glucose results in our body craving sugar even more in attempt to bring these levels back to a normal range. What we don’t want!
An easy way to fix this is to eat regularly throughout the day and include whole foods (in its natural state) in your diet. These foods are digested and absorbed slowly, resulting in a slow rise in blood glucose levels (unlike highly processed foods which should be avoided when possible). This will help to stabilize your blood glucose levels and reduce sugar cravings. Whole foods include whole wheat, rolled oats, vegetables, legumes/lentils, and fruits.
2. What are your sugar triggers?
Identifying why you crave sugar is important. Are you craving sugar because you feel stressed? Because you skipped a meal? Or maybe you are just bored? Identifying the difference between psychological hunger (when you are physically full yet still crave food), and physical hunger (when you are truly hungry and need to eat food) can help to prevent the non-hungry eating that occurs when you give in to your sugar cravings. Once you identify your trigger, simply find an activity that you can do instead of eating. Feeling stressed? Do meditation. Skipping meals? Meal prep or pack healthy snacks in your bag. Bored? Go for a walk.
3. Eat foods that are high in fiber
Soluble fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, bulgur wheat, whole wheat orzo, and beans act to slow down the emptying process in our stomach, keeping us feeling full! By doing so, soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood glucose levels and reduce sugar cravings. The best way to increase our fiber intake is to increase our intake of wholegrains, beans/lentils and vegetables.
4. You ate too much starch not enough protein and healthy fats
When a complex carbohydrate is eaten with a protein and a healthy fat, this creates a balanced meal that will help promote satiety and keep you feeling fuller for longer, therefore helping to reduce sugar cravings. Protein is found in foods such as meat, dairy, soy, beans and legumes. Healthy fats (called polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) can be found in foods such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and oily fish including salmon. Aim to always eat your carbohydrates (sugars) paired with a serving of a healthy fat, lean protein, and lots of fiber. An example meal to stabilize blood sugar levels would be brown rice, grilled fish, vegetables and a few raw nuts on top or a breakfast of natural whole Greek yogurt with berries.
5. Remove temptation
Resisting chocolate which is waiting at home is much harder than simply saying 'no' to it at supermarket. Instead try fruit, a healthy snack that contains natural sugars. Since fruit contains other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, your body processes this type of sugar differently to the refined sugars found in processed foods such as chocolate. Providing your body with healthy amounts of natural sugar can indirectly help to manage your sugar cravings. Fruit isn’t a free all, you still need to be mindful of the amount you eat and aim to pair the fruit with a fat or protein to help with sugar cravings even more (for example banana +peanut/almond butter or berries + string cheese).
6. Move your body consistently, manage stress levels
Exercise releases some of the same endorphins that sugary foods release and can be a great substitute when done consistently. You don’t have to go running just a brisk walk can be enough to get the endorphins moving and dodge those sugar cravings. Combat stress and emotions by exercising regularly. Not only will the exercise improve stress, but it will also boost your energy, which is a major factor why people look to sugar in the first place. So, the next time you’re craving sugar, get outside and move your body!
So… Bottom line.
The key to reducing sugar cravings is to focus on having a healthy diet by adding real, wholesome foods to it. The more we eat whole and fresh foods, the more we nourish our body, and the more the desire for sugary foods decreases! Get back to basics and ditch the crap in a packet and eat real food! Remember to move your body each day and when you eat – remember to eat because you are physically hungry, not psychologically hungry. Making small, gradual changes to your diet and lifestyle based on the tips above will ensure you are well on your way to beating your sugar cravings for good!
By: Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN