Learning how to beat sugar cravings can be a key step in your health journey. Thing is though, many of us can find sweet treats very difficult to give up…. or even just to enjoy in moderation. This is especially true when dealing with sugar cravings.
Why do we crave sugar though? Largely because glucose, a type of sugar, is used as a source of energy for the body and in particular, the brain. When your brain feels like glucose is running low, you become hangry (or, hungry/angry) and cravings arise. They can feel almost impossible to overcome at times.
Glucose is made from the digestion of carbohydrates – which include starchy carbs like grains, vegetables, breads, and cereals, along with sugars such as fructose, glucose, and lactose. It would be no surprise to anyone I’m sure when I say that your brain functions best on the carbohydrates you get from wholefoods. Things like vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and legumes serve us well. This is because they also contain nutrients that are supportive to the body and brain (like magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C). In contrast, sweet treats like lollies (candy), chocolate, cakes and biscuits (cookies) give us little more than a sugar fix. A very good quality dark chocolate with minimal unrefined sugar may be one of very few caveats here.
Can anything contribute to sugar cravings?
With good health and a well-balanced, wholefoods diet we are less likely to be affected by sugar cravings. When either of these are a little off though, we’re more likely to regularly seek out something sweet. This is why understanding some of the drivers behind sugar cravings is important. Doing so can help you manage them long-term. Things that could contribute to sugar cravings include:
- Hormonal imbalances leading to low blood sugar
- Poor diet and/or poor gut health
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Mineral deficiencies like magnesium
- Lack of sufficient protein and fat intake
With all of the above in mind, I have a few key hints and tips to share with you to help you kick those sugar cravings to the curb once and for all!
Top tips to beat sugar cravings
- Know the cause of your cravings – Work with your GP and/or Naturopath to determine if factors like hormonal imbalance, mineral deficiency or poor gut health are contributing to your cravings
- Keep your stress in check – Most importantly, know your stress triggers. What makes you reach for the sugar? Work, difficult friends/family, overcommitting yourself? Could you calm yourself with deep breathing, a quick walk or a cup of tea instead?
- Plan meals and snacks – Last minute meal decisions at the end of a long day can lead us to make less than nutritious choices. Avoid this by planning your meals and snacks in advance. A weekly meal planner is ideal. You can find my template here if you need one
- Look for hidden sugars – They’re everywhere! Start becoming familiar with some of the other names for sugar (see my list of Sneaky Sugar Names below) and look out for them on product ingredient lists. Choosing products that don’t contain hidden sugar will significantly reduce your overall intake
- Eat plenty of protein and good fats – Protein and good fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds will help keep you full, stop the blood sugar imbalances and curb those sugar cravings. Make sure you’re having some form of protein and fat at every meal + snack. And of course, switch to a wholefoods diet in general with plenty of colourful vegetables and fruit too
- Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated herbal tea each day. Dehydration can lead us to feel fatigued, which drives our sugar cravings
- Get plenty of sleep – When tired we look for things that will give us energy fast – sugar is often top of that list. Ensuring you get plenty of restful sleep can help you curb the sweet cravings
- Avoid temptation – If you know having chocolate or your sweet treat of choice in the house is far too tempting for you…. avoid buying them regularly and make it an ‘occasional’ addition to your shopping.
If you’d prefer all of that in a visual to stick on the fridge…. I put it all in an infographic here that you can print out!
A note on natural sugars
When reducing sugar intake, the first step people often try is moving to more natural sugars. This is great of course! Natural sugars like molasses, honey and maple syrup tend to contain higher amounts of nutrients such as minerals and antioxidants. They’re also much less processed compared with highly refined sugars (like white sugar) that are stripped of all their nutrients. However, natural sugars are still sugars and you can still overdose on them. Reducing your sugar cravings and breaking your dependence on sugar should be the overall goal. With that in mind, keep an eye on your natural sugar intake too. And consider that cutting natural sugars out while addressing your cravings may be needed.
And a little note on fruit
Whilst fruit does contain sugars, I don’t believe it should be removed from the diet when trying to reduce your sugar intake. This is because fruits provide us with an abundance of vitamins and minerals, fibre and disease fighting antioxidants. It’s also very filling so it would be extremely difficult to consume excessive amounts of sugar by eating whole fruits. Two pieces of fruit each day is recommended for good health so stick with this as your guide.
If you want to get to the root cause of your sugar cravings book in for a consultation. We can work through any of the contributing factors I mentioned above and stop those sugar cravings for good!