Eight Ways to Fight Sugar Cravings
Deciding to reduce or eliminate certain types of sugar from your diet is a huge step in improving your health. But, it’s easier said than done. Sifting through the offerings at the commissary or traditional grocery store in search of healthy items is a learned skill. Then, learning how to manage powerful sugar cravings is paramount to supporting your decision. One of the critical steps to fighting off sugar cravings is to prevent them from occurring to begin with. Here are some tips on sugar craving prevention:
Boost your serotonin. Low levels of serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and regulates hunger, can trigger cravings for sweets. Heighten your serotonin levels naturally by getting sufficient sleep, exercise, and sunlight.
Get your protein. Protein contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin (see above). Since this conversion process is most efficient in the presence of a small amount of carbohydrate, be sure to pair your protein source with a small portion of a whole food carb, such as your favorite vegetable.
Stabilize your blood sugar. There are many ways to approach this one, including:
- Incorporate a quality source of fat, such as grass-fed butter (or ghee if you don’t tolerate dairy), coconut oil, nut butter, or avocado, when consuming a carbohydrate source. This will slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing wild swings in blood sugar levels. This will also aid you in feeling fuller longer than you would if you were to eat a carb-rich food in isolation. This same approach can be used with protein, where you would incorporate a high-quality protein source with your carbs.
- Avoid highly-processed carbs that quickly raise blood sugar since the rapid raising and lowering of blood sugar will result in hunger and sugar cravings. This includes most packaged foods, such as conventional muffins, cereals, bars, pastry items, and fruit spreads, as well as frozen yogurt, candy, and soda.
- Incorporate cinnamon into your diet. This practice has been shown time and time again to lower fasting blood glucose levels.
- Don’t allow yourself to reach the point of feeling famished. Ensure you always have some whole food snacks on hand when meals are likely to be spaced far apart. This can prevent the occurrence of the blood sugar roller coaster that many people experience when skipping meals. Some examples of such snacks are pre-cut veggies with nut butter, tuna, boiled eggs, sardines, or a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts.
- Incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet by adding it to food or drinks. This practice slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Simply add one teaspoon to one tablespoon of apple cider vinegarto water if you can tolerate the taste, or incorporate it into recipes, such as my Garlic Lemon Tahini Salad Dressing.
Improve your gut health. Impaired digestion can be a source of cravings for sugar, as it results in poor absorption of nutrients from food. There are many steps that can be taken to improve digestive/gut health, including:
- Incorporate grass-fed butter, coconut oil, wild-caught fish, grass-fed bone broth, resistant starch, and fermented vegetables into your diet.
- Removing sources of omega 6s (such as safflower, canola, grapeseed, soybean, and sunflower oils), NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory drugs), and refined carbs can also support this process of healing.
- Explore supplements such as L-glutamine and high quality fish oil.
Enhance your digestion with enzymes and apple cider vinegar. Digestive enzymes are produced in our bodies and break down the food we eat so that we can absorb the nutrients. However, low-grade inflammation, low stomach acid, stress, pancreatic problems, and a variety of other factors can hamper digestive enzyme production in the body. In that case, digestive enzymes can be incorporated via a supplement to support digestion when the body cannot do it alone. Another approach to enhancing digestion is to incorporate apple cider vinegar into the diet. ACV contains acetic acid, which can increase the body’s absorption of minerals from the foods we eat.
Manage stress. Chronic stress increases your body's secretion of the hormone cortisol, which suppresses your immune system and allows yeast to run rampant, resulting in heightened sugar cravings, among other issues. Find what works for you in terms of stress prevention and management, but some common tactics include :
- Account for and manage your time. Not having sufficient time to do the things you want and need to do can be a significant source of stress. Be realistic about how much time you have after accounting for sleep, work, self-care, exercise, family, and other critical needs, and be cautious about how you allocate the time you have remaining once your basic needs are met.
- Allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy. Do not feel guilty for sitting and relaxing, going to a movie, or doing other things that allow you to relax and have fun. We all have a human need for some decompression, and allowing ourselves to cut loose every now and then can do wonders for the soul - and the stress level.
- Don’t overcommit. Learning to say no to taking on more commitments than you can reasonably handle is a great tool to preventing stress from arising in the first place.
- Stop yourself from worrying about those things you cannot control. While this is easier said than done, reminding yourself of this can be helpful when stress rears its ugly head.
- Engage in exercise that you enjoy. This might mean taking a walk, doing a yoga class, or dancing. Exercise does not have to hurt or seem like a chore to be beneficial.
Stop the vicious dopamine cycle. Eating sugar stimulates the production of dopamine, our pleasure transmitter. Once dopamine drops, however, we again begin to crave sugar to restore the dopamine level. Stopping this vicious cycle can be difficult, but knowing what is happening behind the scenes can be one more helpful tool, in terms of arming our minds to say no to the cravings.
Eat some sugar. Yes, really. But the type matters. Sometimes, eating sugar from a whole food source, such as a piece of fruit, can satisfy a craving for sugar, while providing a whole host of other nutrients that will contribute to a greater feeling of satiety than if you were to eat a piece of candy, for example.
What are some practical strategies you use to stay on top of your sugar cravings?