The average American eats three times the recommendation of added sugar each day. That added sugar is about 350 extra calories each day. Sugar cravings are very common and can have many different causes. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce your sugar cravings.
Added sugar is any sugar or syrup that is added to food during processing or preparation. There are many names for added sugar such as corn syrup, molasses, malt sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar and sucrose, to name a few. Added sugar is found in most processed foods such as sodas, cookies, yogurt, and even ketchup. Sugar adds flavor to food but lacks important micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Naturally sweet foods like fruit and milk also contain sugar but, unlike foods with added sugar, they contain important nutrients. These nutrients, such as fiber and protein, help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Too much added sugar is associated with serious health problems such as excess weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Sugar cravings are common. Here are 4 ways to manage your sugar cravings.
One of the best ways to reduce sugar cravings is to eat well-balanced snacks and meals. When we crave sweets, we tend to turn to simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates like crackers, bread, and pasta which are broken down by the body into sugar. These types of foods are digested quickly by the body and leave you feeling hungry soon after. You can easily fix this by balancing out your snacks and meals with the addition of healthy fats and protein. Healthy fats and protein are digested slower by the body keeping you satisfied longer. For example, add cream cheese to a bagel or enjoy your toast with avocado and an egg. Try adding one of more of the following healthy fats and proteins to your next meal:
Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds
Healthy proteins: peanut butter, eggs, beans, tofu, fish, and chicken
Research suggests that getting enough good quality sleep can increase energy levels and impulse control while reducing sugar cravings and appetite. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep 7-9 hours each night. Quantity and quality of rest are both important factors in overall health. If you are getting enough sleep, but not sleeping well, you could still experience sugar cravings. To improve sleep quality, address any underlying sleep disorders and create healthy sleep habits. The National Sleep Foundation has many great recommendations for improving sleep including reducing screen time and beginning to wind down about 30-60 minutes before bed to improve sleep.
For many people, stress can trigger sugar cravings and for a good reason. When we eat sweets, our brain releases a hormone called dopamine which is associated with feelings of enjoyment and pleasure. By addressing stress, or the trigger that is leading to your sugar cravings, you may reduce your overall sugar cravings.
Treats in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. A well-known principle of Intuitive Eating explains making peace with food. The principle explains that if you deprive yourself of certain foods, you are going to crave them even more. This deprivation and craving cycle can lead to overeating those foods later. Truly enjoy the sweets you chose to eat by experiencing the food with all of your senses. How does the food look, smell, sound, taste, and feel. Chew your food slowly to fully experience it. By truly enjoying the food and experiencing it you might find that you eat less of it or enjoy it more.
Sugar cravings are common and have many causes. Sugar can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. If you experience sugar cravings, try balancing your meals with healthy fats and protein, getting good quality sleep, managing your stress, and mindfully eating your favorite sweets. For information about reducing your sugar cravings, make an appointment with the nutrition team at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health or Bastyr University Clinic.
Taylor Eovacious, M.S., Dietetic Intern
Taylor Eovacious is a Dietetic Intern at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA to become a Registered Dietitian. She believes that the key to a healthy life lies in the careful balance of the pillars of lifestyle wellness - healthy eating, physical activity, stress management, sleep, and relationships. She is an advocate for treating the root causes of chronic disease and illness using functional and integrative nutrition approaches.