Many people nowadays have difficulty controlling their sugar cravings. Some days it’s easy to avoid things like chocolate and sweets, but then other days it feels virtually impossible.
With a modern lifestyle that often includes processed/refined foods, irregular eating habits, poor sleep schedules, artificial light and a lack of movement, it’s no surprise that many people struggle with sugar cravings.
So What Causes Sugar Cravings?
There are many reasons we crave sugar. Often it’s due to poorly balanced blood sugar levels as a result of not eating regularly, poor food choices or skipping meals.
It could also be caused by a lack of a specific nutrient or nutrients in the body; or perhaps it’s a result of stress or other emotional reasons.
And if you feel downtrodden by your perceived lack of willpower, don’t beat yourself up. It’s hardwired in your brain to crave sugar.
Humans are designed to crave sugar and carbohydrates from birth, and for good reason – survival.
Humans are designed to start their life outside the womb by consuming breast milk. This is naturally sweet and has important carbohydrates that not only feed the baby, but also stimulate the release of serotonin, endorphins, and promote relaxation. These carbohydrates even feed the baby’s gut bacteria too.
Breast milk also contains essential proteins and fats that a baby needs for growth, but the sweet taste is a dominating factor.
The taste for concentrated sweetness is often acquired in childhood and continues into adulthood. If sweet things were used as rewards or as a way to cheer someone up, they become emotional comforters.
As we enter adulthood, this natural desire for sweet foods continue to thrive and the body still gets this physiological sense of reward or gratification from eating sweets.
Although in the past, these cravings were lifesaving, resulting from a drop in blood sugar and a release of stress hormones to get you hunting for food; nowadays with sweets, chocolate, soda, chips, supermarkets and everything else available round the clock, the appetite, sugar and carb cravings kicking in is not a good match.
If sugar cravings are your daily struggle, here are 10 Tips to help beat sugar cravings naturally.
No.1 – Plan Your Meals Ahead
The key to reducing sugar cravings is to focus on having a healthy diet filled with real, wholesome foods. Having a major focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high quality protein, healthy fats and plenty of clean water is the best way to nourish your body and drive away sugar cravings.
When extreme hunger has you by the scruff of the neck, this is not the time to make a well-informed decision about your best food choices.
Planning ahead and even making your food ahead can be an absolute saviour when the hunger kicks in.
Simply heading to the fridge that contains your prepped foods that you can throw together, or grabbing a homemade meal out the freezer for when you get home will really help you out.
Grab a pen and paper and get meal planning. Simply spending a few minutes jotting out your meal plan for the week ahead so you’ll know what to buy, and then spending a few hours on the weekend preparing your meals for the upcoming week will greatly benefit you.
This is a great option to help you know what foods you need to buy and for what meals you will need it for. It not only saves you the headache of “what shall I eat?”, but it also helps prevent wastage.
Have the fridge filled with fresh fruit, raw and roasted veggies, pre-cooked grains, salad ingredients, dressings/dips/pestos etc; and a cupboard with your beans/nut butters and so on to make everything as easy as possible for you.
If you cook in bulk, you can freeze some meals so that you just need to take them out when needed.
When your blood sugar levels are balanced, this makes it much easier to choose healthy food options. When your blood sugar levels are low (like when you’re extremely hungry), this is when sugar cravings are more likely to occur, especially when this hunger is combined with stress, being upset or facing a lack of sleep.
No. 2 – Swap Refined and Processed Carbohydrates for Whole Foods and Whole Grains
Swapping refined ‘white’ carbohydrates such as white bread, cakes, cookies and sugary breakfast cereal for wholesome complex carbohydrates that are rich in fibre such as wholegrain breads and pasta, brown rice, whole oats and quinoa is key to blood sugar control.
These refined foods will only give you a short pick-me-up, before the sugar crash sets in. Once that crash arrives, you’ll be left craving more sweet things hours later.
Whole foods slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, thus helping you to avoid the sharp spike in blood sugar levels.
No.3 – Eat Protein and Good Fats
Eating protein with every snack/meal is an excellent way to keep your blood sugar levels stable and help you steer clear of the sugar attacks.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are an important component in balancing hormones and avoiding sugar cravings. And the good news is, pretty much every food has some protein in.
Some key foods to focus on would be lentils, chickpeas and beans (pulses), nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu and green leafy veggies; plus meat and fish if you’re not fully plant based.
Next up are healthy fats. These are not only a great source of energy for the body, but they also help provide satiety and help to keep your blood sugar stable. Healthy fats include those found in nuts and seeds (and their oils), coconuts, avocadoes, olives, algae oils, fish, and krill oil.
When you’re creating your meal plan as mentioned in point 1, note that combining carbs (e.g fruit) with protein (e.g nuts and seeds) can help slow down the release of sugar even further, therefore helping to release these sugars into your blood stream at an even pace. Slow release = happy blood sugar.
No. 4 – Get enough sleep
I think everyone has been privy to the effects of a lack of sleep and the feelings of extreme tiredness, moodiness and hunger.
We all know that when we’re tired, we tend to eat sugary fast energy food, so make sleep a priority if you’re trying to beat those cravings.
Sleep deficiency has been linked to all matter of things, but from a sugar craving perspective, sleep is vital for balancing blood sugar and maintaining insulin levels.
When your sleep is deprived, your hormones get completely out of whack, and these hormones play a major role in controlling hunger.
No. 5 – Manage Stress
Many people use food as a way to deal with stress or sadness. As we touched on earlier, maybe it’s a result of childhood behaviour patterns, or perhaps it’s something else.
When we feel stressed or under-pressure, we often turn to something else to distract us and food is one of those things.
Next time you’re reaching for something sweet, take a step back and take notice of what’s happening at that moment. Are you really truly hungry, or are you stress eating?
It’s important to understand ourselves and our behaviours so we can see what we truly need, instead of using food as a way to reduce stress and pain.
If you notice you do this every time you’re stressed, try taking a few deep breaths, or having a glass of water instead.
Addressing the problem is vital to be able to overcome this habit. Try doing more of what makes you happy and nourishes your body, mind, and soul. Take up a new hobby, try meditation, journal, or talk to someone about your troubles. Personally I find a nice yin yoga class a real treat for when I’m feeling stressed.
No. 6 – Stay Hydrated
Many people think they’re hungry when really they’re just dehydrated. Next time your hand reaches for the cookie jar, get up and make your way to the kettle instead.
Try herbal teas instead, like mint, tulsi, rooibos, ginger, lemongrass or a known blood sugar balancer like cinnamon.
If herbal teas aren’t your thing, try adding a slice of lemon, orange or cucumber to your water to jazz things up a bit.
Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body and can lead to mineral deficiencies, plus they can also throw your blood sugar way out of whack, so they’re a bit of a no go when it comes to blood sugar balancing.
Of course it’s OK to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine occasionally. It’s all about moderation. And if you really want a coffee, adding a teaspoon of both maca (an adaoptogen) and cinnamon can help keep your blood sugar levels from fluctuating too much.
No. 7 – Eat Foods that are High in the Minerals Magnesium, Zinc and Chromium
For magnesium, think dark leafy greens, raw cacao, nuts and seeds, brown rice, quinoa, and avocado. Fun fact: Sugar cravings could be caused by magnesium deficiency.
Chromium is a mineral that is important for balancing blood sugar levels and for curbing sugar cravings. According to Patrick Holford, taking 200mcg or chromium picolinate or polynicotinate can help balance your blood sugar levels and ward off blood sugar dips and spikes that lead to cravings.
Food options to chomp your way through for small quantities of this mineral include: broccoli, sweet potatoes, whole grains tomatoes, green beans and romaine lettuce.
Zinc is needed for insulin and glucose utilisation, and a deficiency can lead to sugar cravings. Zinc is abundant in whole grains, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, pastured eggs and oysters.
Optionally, you can go for a good multivitamin to help boost and support your levels until you have your diet well adjusted.
No. 8 – Cinnamon
Did you know just ½ teaspoon of cinnamon a day has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes?
Adding a teaspoon or so of cinnamon to your daily routine is super easy. This spice will not only naturally sweeten your food, but will also help balance your blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings.
Cinnamon is great in tea form, added to smoothies, sprinkled on apple slices, stirred into yogurt/coconut yoghurt, sprinkled over roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or added to higher GI foods like bananas in your porridge to help keep the GL balanced.
The active component in cinnamon is called MCHP and can also be supplemented in cinnamon concentrate. 150mg of cinnamon extract is equivalent of at least ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Sometimes you’ll find both cinnamon and chromium together in a supplement for an even better combo.
No. 9 – Consume Fermented Foods and Beverages
If your digestive system is unhappy, so will the rest of your body be. Start eating fermenting vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and cultured veggies and drinking kombucha, kefir and/or coconut kefir (see nourish fridges for all the goodies!).
These foods provide natural probiotics, which support digestive health and they even naturally help to reduce sugar cravings.
Interested to try making your own sauerkraut? Check out my blog here on how to do just that!
No. 10 – Get Moving
If there’s one thing that makes us overeat, it’s a definite lack of movement.
We all know that exercise releases endorphins, but did you know that it also releases some of the same ones that you get from consuming sugary foods?
Making exercise a priority is a great way to beat your sugar habit long term, so switch up your Netflix binge for a brisk walk every evening, a yoga class or a weekly house cleaning session – anything that you can routinely do to help keep you active.
You don’t have to go running for 10km or do anything incredibly intense to get the benefits. Just making the time to do something that gets you moving regularly is going to benefit you.
When it comes to sugar alternatives, please be aware that just because you’ve swapped out your refined sugar for honey or maple syrup, it doesn’t mean you’re not still getting a rapid increase in blood sugar.
It’s still a sugar, even if it is a natural form.
Just switching out sugar for a sugar-substitute also won’t address the underlying problem of why your blood sugar levels are imbalanced. If it’s a habitual intake of excess processed carbs, adding maple syrup laced cakes instead isn’t going to change anything.
If you need to sweeten anything, try natural sweetness from cinnamon, dates, apple puree or mashed bananas. These are still in their whole form and therefore your body can process them well.
Of course options like stevia, xylitol, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, raw honey and maple syrup are out there too, but try to remember you want to reduce the amount of sweetness in your overall diet to help curb the cravings. Overtime, after abstaining from all the sweetness, you’ll gradually begin to notice you don’t crave it as much.
And don’t fret, occasionally indulging in a high quality and nutrient dense treat, like raw chocolate or celebrating an occasion with family and munching on a bit of cake is ok. It’s simply the everyday sugar consumption and habits we want to address. Having an occasional sweet treat is allowed 🙂
So that’s my 10 Tips to Help Beat Sugar Cravings Naturally. I hope they help!
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*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication