The average American woman consumes 48 pounds of added sugar every year. That’s four pounds a month! And dental cavities aren’t the only potential health problem we have to worry about. Eating too much sugar significantly raises your risk of life-shortening obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who exceeded the recommended daily limit of added sugar (10% of total caloric intake) increased their risk of death due to heart disease by at least 30%.
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Putting an end to sugar cravings and cutting back on added sugar is hard — sweet foods tempt us at every turn and for many people, consuming those foods is a longtime habit associated with comfort or celebration. Sometimes sugar whispers at you from the grocery store aisle; other times it screams at you from the freezer. The good news is, with some smart sugar strategies, you can significantly reduce your sugar cravings and take back your health.
Why do we crave sugar?
The first step in regaining your power over sugar is understanding why cravings happen in the first place — and there are a number of factors at play.
“We crave sugar for a variety of reasons, from hormones to habits to the psychological impact of simply seeing a decadent donut or a drizzle of caramel,” says Marisa Moore, M.B.A., R.D.N., L.D., a culinary and integrative dietitian. “The preference for sweet-tasting foods is innate.” That means sugar cravings are drilled into our bodies at an early age.
“The presumption among scientists seems to be that sweet tastes exist as a way to identify sources of digestible carbohydrates and importantly, glucose-based energy,” adds Moore. That evolutionary drive to nourish your body is strong and hard to overcome so don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to cut back on your sugar intake — and know that completely eliminating sugar from your diet isn’t worth it.
“Because humans enjoy sweets, it is difficult to cut them out entirely and doing so can sometimes lead to feelings of deprivation which might sometimes lead a person to go overboard when they finally have it,” says Moore. This fuels a cycle of guilt and shame so Moore recommends giving yourself some grace during this process.
How to stop sugar cravings:
Listen to your body.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a craving as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.” Synonyms include yearning, hankering, wish, want, and lust. However, just because you’re having a craving or want something sweet doesn’t mean you have to eat sugar — or even pop a sugar replacement, such as a piece of fruit — on impulse. Take a minute to understand what’s really going on in your body. Do you have a headache? Are you stressed out? Do you feel physical hunger? Are you bored? Do you need an energy boost? Or do you really want a sweet treat?
Buy yourself some time.
Drink a glass of water, take five deep breaths, or go for a short walk. If you are truly hungry, it’s okay to reach for a snack. Your best bet for stamping out a craving may be to have a snack that includes protein or a source of healthy fat. Prepping your own at the beginning of the week will enable you to be proactive and prevent trips to the vending machine for sugar-filled packaged foods.
Pay attention to patterns.
If you notice that a sugar craving hits you at 3 p.m. daily without fail, that’s a good sign you should add a protein-filled snack at this time to power through the day. Not only will this make you feel better instantly, it also sets you up for a better evening with fewer cravings around bedtime.
Balance your meals.
Make sure every meal you eat (including breakfast and lunch!) contains protein, veggies, or other healthy carbs and healthy fats. This will keep you fuller for longer and stabilize your blood sugar.
Identify your faves.
Figure out what you love to eat so that you feel satisfied — not deprived — at the end of a meal. It might help to keep it simple and pick two go-to breakfasts, two go-to lunches, and two go-to dinners and have those ingredients on hand so you can stay consistent.
Spice things up.
We sometimes get stuck in an eating rut, sticking to the same simple meals every day because we know they’re “safe.” But as they say, variety is the spice of life — and spice is a savior when you’re swapping out sugar. Some of the most unique flavors are derived from easily accessible spices that don’t contain any added sugar, such as red pepper and cinnamon.
While it helps to have enjoyable staples to turn to, getting curious in the kitchen can provide a fun outlet and instill healthy eating habits. Explore recipes, eat some new vegetables and fruits you’ve never tried before or combine different ingredients to create new dishes. By switching up what you’re eating from day to day, you might find a new delicious dish that gets you excited about dinner.
Dodge sugar pushers.
While most people will support your get-healthy mission, there will be a few who try to derail your efforts. At a birthday or holiday dinner, you might notice your mom trying to persuade you to eat dessert — or your friends eye-rolling because you turned down a cocktail. Even your spouse can morph into a sugar pusher when he or she wants to hit that all-you-can-eat pasta joint.
While you should definitely tell your friends, family, coworkers and significant other what you’re trying to accomplish, you need to go the extra step and actively ask them for their encouragement and cooperation. If they still try to lure you to eat sugary foods, stay strong and know this: It’s not about you. It’s about them not feeling fantastic about their own choices and not wanting to be left behind. Stick to the plan, and they will likely stop trying to lead you astray. Better yet, your compliance could inspire them to make some positive changes of their own.
Foods that help stop cravings:
Craving something sweet? Try:
Sliced apples with nut butter
Fresh berries with a handful of nuts
Whipped ricotta with roasted cherries
Baked cinnamon apples
Herbal tea that has a sweet note such as vanilla
Craving something salty? Try:
Guacamole and cucumber “chips”
Veggies or crackers (without added sugars or refined flour) and hummus
Biltong (an air-dried beef jerky) or turkey or salmon jerky
A handful of nuts or seeds
Hard-boiled egg with Everything but the Bagel seasoning
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