How to Stop Sugar Cravings

Three colorful donuts with colorful 'confetti' scattered al around the wooden table.

At a Glance

  • Sugar cravings are very common and can be triggered by a number of factors, including not eating enough, poor food habits and not eating a balanced diet
  • It is important to control sugar cravings as they can have a negative impact on our health
  • There are many ways to prevent, manage and reduce sugar cravings through an awareness of the facts and some good dietary planning.

It doesn’t matter where you are, who you’re with or what you’re doing. Once the need takes a hold of you, there’s nothing you can do – you can’t stop thinking about it, and it seems nothing will satisfy you except…

No! Not THAT!

I’m talking about sugar!

Most of us have experienced sugar cravings at one time or another, and they really can overpower us and make us stray from the straight and narrow path of healthy eating.

In this article I’m going to teach you how to stop sugar cravings once and for all.

What Are Sugar Cravings?

Sugar cravings are the urgent need for something sweet that can hit you at any time.

Everyone has their favorite foods and many of us are naturally fond of sweet foods because our in-built mechanisms tell us they’re a good source of energy.

Food manufacturers use this to their advantage, making sure that the food they produce tastes good and appeals to our biological reward system.

This results in biochemical signals in our brain being overpowered by the effect of sugary foods, which can create a food addiction. Believe it or not, some research suggests Oreos may be just as addictive as cocaine. (source)

Why Do We Get Sugar Cravings?

There are specific reasons why sugar cravings happen. Here are some things to consider:A box of bonbons with wrapped and unwrapped bonbons around it on light background.

Not Eating Enough

If you haven’t consumed enough calories, your body goes on the hunt for more, which can result in a craving for high calorie food.

Exactly how many calories we need varies for each individual as it depends on body mass, type and activity levels.

As a rough guide, the average woman needs around 2000 calories on a maintenance diet (as opposed to a weight loss plan), and the average man needs approximately 2500 calories a day. (source)

Feeding a Habit

Like it or not, we are creatures of habit. Doing things at the same time each day sets our bodies up to expect it.

Most people will be able to recall mornings when they didn’t have to get up and planned to have a nice long sleep in. But what actually happens? You wake up at the same time as usual as if you had set your regular alarm clock – annoying!

Food is no different – we create food habits, just like everything else. If part of our routine is to snack on a chocolate bar on our 11am break our body comes to expect it. If you happen to be busy and not take a break one morning, most people will feel that sugar craving start to kick in. (source)

Eating the Wrong Foods

There are a variety of different points to consider here. Let’s look at some of the main ones.

Consuming Unbalanced Meals

High carb foods are actually packed with sugar – it’s hidden in the form of longer molecular chains which don’t initially taste sweet but are broken down into smaller segments during digestion.

You can test this for yourself by holding a small piece of a savory cracker in your mouth. As the digestive enzymes in saliva get to work, the taste of the cracker changes from savory to sweet.

Eating lots of starchy food, like a bowl of pasta, without much protein and other food groups means the high sugar content is absorbed quickly by the digestive system, causing a rapid increase in blood glucose. This doesn’t keep you feeling full for very long.

The increase in blood sugar causes a large amount of insulin to be released to help decrease blood sugar, and this can result in cravings for more sugar. (source)

Too Much Salt

Salt is a component of many different foods; processed foods in particular usually contain high levels of salt. Many of us consume too much sodium – in the form of salt – without even realizing. It’s easily done.

Scientific studies indicate that consuming high levels of sodium are linked to a need for sweet, sugary foods. (source)

Underlying Medical Problems

Food allergies, mineral deficiencies, adrenal problems, bacterial and fungal infections, hormonal imbalances and premenstrual syndrome, among other medical conditions are all possible triggers for sugar cravings.

If you notice a sudden increase in cravings for sugar or you’re really having trouble controlling your need for sugary foods, the best advice is to see your doctor for a checkup. (source)

Why Do We Need to Stop Sugar Cravings?

Aside from the fact that sugar doesn’t provide us with the essential nutrients we need for good health, rather it provides a lot of empty calories, sugar comes with some major health concerns.

The refined sugar in many foods has a whole host of harmful effects on health. Not only has research linked high sugar consumption with weight gain and obesity, it can also contribute to poor liver health, increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. (source)

What Can We Do to Stop Sugar Cravings?

In the moment we get a sugar craving, it can seem like there’s no way out except to give in and satisfy your sweet tooth.

However there are some things you can do both in the moment and to stop sugar cravings from hitting in the first place. Here are some practical tips:

How To Stop Sugar Cravings

A bowl of Thai soup with all kinds of vegetables and pasta to help to stop sugar cravings.

#1 – Eat Regular Healthy Meals

We are much more likely to have a sugar craving jump out of the bushes and grab us at three o’clock in the afternoon if we haven’t had lunch, so making sure we eat regularly can help to avoid that mid-meal feeling that we need a sugary snack.

#2 – Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods are stripped of many beneficial nutrients and contain a lot of sugar and salt. Keeping your diet filled with lots of healthy whole foods means you’re less likely to suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies which can lead to sugar cravings.

#3 – Drink Lots of Water

Research tells us that when we feel hungry, what we actually need is hydration. The body’s signaling system when it needs more water is actually quite poor; by the time you feel thirsty, you’re actually already dehydrated.

Water requirement varies between individuals, but the general rule is around six cups per day to maintain normal body functions and maximize nutrient uptake from foods during digestion. (source)

#4 – Eat Well-Balanced Meals

Just as a meal based mainly on carbohydrates can lead to sugar cravings, eating meals which include all the main food groups gives with all the nutrition we need – energy, protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients – has the opposite effect

A balanced meal will be digested more slowly which has the effect of making us feel full for longer. It also helps us to avoid large increases in blood sugar and makes cravings for sugar less likely.

#5 – Eat Several Small Meals

Eating large infrequent meals can cause a roller coaster effect on energy levels, blood sugar and metabolic functions; this can lead to sugar cravings between meals.

Instead try eating more frequent, smaller meals. In this way, you consume roughly the same amount of calories, but they are more evenly spaced throughout the day, which will reduce the likelihood of a sugar craving.

#6 – Eat Fermented Foods

Foods like kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut not only boost the immune system and help fight disease, they can also help prevent sugar cravings.

Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet, observes that once people start to consume fermented foods regularly they often find that their cravings for sweet foods decrease and even disappear.

In addition, fermented foods increase the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system. They can use the sugar as a food source, which lessens the negative impact of the sugar in our diet on our bodies.

#7 – Include Quinoa in Your Diet

A seed which is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients, quinoa can be eaten as part of a salad and replace rice or pasta in a number of different dishes.

Not only is quinoa lower in carbohydrates (aka sugar), the high fiber and protein content help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, so can help to keep that mid-afternoon sugar craving on hold. (source)

#8 – Eat Breakfast

Breakfast gives your metabolism a kick start and provides energy for the day.

Eating a healthy, satisfying breakfast like oatmeal and fruit makes a great start to the morning. This kind of breakfast provides energy coupled with protein and fiber, which can help to reduce mid-morning sugar cravings.

#9 – Plan Your Mealtimes

If you can identify specific times during the day when you regularly experience sugar cravings – mid-afternoon, for example – consider eating lunch a little later.

This means that you feel full at the time you previously got a craving, and helps to break the cycle of sugar cravings.

How To Manage Sugar Cravings

When a sugar craving hits, you need to have a plan in place that you can put into action immediately. Here are some tips on how to deal with a sugar craving:

A mason jar full of water with ice.

Hydrate Yourself First

Before reaching for a sugary snack, drink two big glasses of water. This contributes to a fuller feeling in your stomach and can take the edge off a craving.

Keep Busy

If you know your danger time for sugar cravings is mid-afternoon, make sure you are busy during that time to keep your mind occupied and reduce your chances of giving in to the urge.

Meditate

This is a healthy habit to get into which can help us to make many positive changes in our lives. Once you learn how, meditation is easy to do, needs no special equipment, and can help to refocus and re-energize.

When you feel that craving start to kick in, take a few minutes in a quiet spot to meditate. Many people find it shifts the focus off their craving which gives them enough time to prepare a healthy snack or meal instead.

Select Your Snack with Care

Instead of grabbing the nearest chocolate bar or donut, have a mixed nutrient snack on hand. Whole fruit protein smoothies work really well – the sugar in the fruit will help to satisfy the craving, but the fiber and protein will help to fill you up and slow down the digestion of the sugars, which avoids a big spike in blood sugar levels.

Fill up on Healthy Snacks

Nuts, seeds, olives and avocados can make a satisfying nibble and are packed with essential fatty acids.

If you really want a sweet tasting snack, try avocado slices sprinkled with a little stevia, a natural sweetener which is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It might sound like a strange combination, but it actually works really well as a sweet but healthy snack!

Dates work really well as a snack too. They are naturally sweet and a good source of fiber to help fill you up and slow down digestion. Try pitted dates stuffed with a little almond or peanut butter for a tasty, healthier treat.

Try a naturally sweet herbal tea – cinnamon, for example, is a good one to have on hand. Cinnamon can have the effect of convincing your body that you’ve had some sugar. It also optimizes the effects of insulin within the body, helping to control blood sugar effectively. (source)

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