Now that January is in full swing, a lot of people are trying to improve their diets. While I’m not a huge fan of “diets,” I completely understand the desire to want to eat better after indulging in a few too many treats over the last couple months. You want to feel your best, which means cutting back on foods that don’t do that for you. Most often, high-sugar foods make us feel crappy, and oddly enough that icky feeling keeps us wanting more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle. Which is why today, I’m bringing you some of my top-notch tips for reducing sugar cravings! But first, I want to dive into the facts about where sugar might be hiding in your diet.
Where is Sugar Hiding?
You’re probably already aware that sugar is found in most baked goods, desserts and candy. Surprisingly, it hides in many other food items, which is why it’s important to check food labels on everything if you’re trying to cut back. Here are some of the top culprits that commonly contain added sugar:
-Soda, fruit juice and other flavored beverages.
-Salad dressing and sauces.
-Boxed and packaged snacks, including granola bars and crackers.
-Some processed meats: deli-meats, sausages, etc.
-Many products that are labeled as “low-fat” and “fat-free”
-Fruit snacks and dried fruit.
Keep in mind that the sugar I’m talking about here is added sugar, which is not present naturally in foods. However, many foods such as fruit, vegetables, dairy products and whole grains contain natural sugars. You don’t have to worry about the sugar in these foods, as they are high in nutrients and fiber, which reduces the impact that sugar has on your blood sugar levels.
To figure out if your food has added sugar instead of natural sugar, check the ingredient list for the following words: sugar (duh), cane sugar, honey, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, sucrose, maple syrup and all 61 of these words. You read that right. There are SIXTY-ONE (at least) different names for added sugar that food manufacturers can hide on labels.
Now, let’s get onto the crave-zapping tips now, shall we?
1. Stop Eating Sugar.
Okay, I know this one is pretty obvious. But our bodies crave what we give them, and if you keep eating sugar, there’s no doubt that you’re going to keep craving it. Take a look at your diet and figure out how much sugar you’re really eating. I’ve said it time and time again: check food labels on everything. Is it hiding in your breakfast cereal? Are you eating a sweet treat every night before you go to bed? Figure out where you can cut back, and replace sugary foods with something a bit healthier. This sounds overwhelming, but just keep it simple: focus on whole foods that don’t have any added ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables!
2. Eat More Fat.
Many of us fall short in the fat department because we’ve long been told that fat is scary and causes heart disease and makes us fat. Well, I’m here to tell you that these are simply myths and you NEED fat to be healthy. It may help reduce your sugar cravings because it promotes fullness and keeps your blood sugar levels stable, so you won’t be as likely to experience those pesky afternoon energy crashes or night-time hunger pangs.
Omega-3 fatty acids are what I call the ‘gold standard’ of fats because they’re a piece of the “anti-inflammation puzzle,” which means they help heal your cells from damage and may prevent certain illnesses from developing. There are a number of other lifestyle and environmental factors that can contribute to inflammation, but the foods you eat can play a huge role.
You can get Omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon, flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds. Other good sources of healthy fat include avocados, olives/olive oil and all kinds of nuts/nut butters. And don’t forget about grassfed butter, ghee and coconut oil which are excellent sources of fat. I know, I know, “but I thought saturated fat was bad?!” Stay tuned for a future post where I bust that myth, too! In the meantime, read this article, or this one, which explain why saturated fat is not to be feared.
3. Up Your Intake of Nourishing Foods.
I believe a common reason why so many of us crave sugar and other quick sources of calories is because we simply aren’t getting the nutrients our bodies need to function optimally. If you typically rely on junk food, fast food, refined carbs (see below) and other convenience foods, try switching it up. Incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into your diet, especially plant-based ones like fruits and vegetables (especially vegetables! I can’t emphasize that enough!). Some legumes, nuts/seeds and whole-grains can be great, if you tolerate them. Unprocessed meats, poultry and seafood are also super healthy and high in protein. I encourage you to try to make your diet more based on whole, natural foods, and see how that makes you feel.
4. Make Sure You’re Eating Enough.
If your sugar cravings are driving you crazy, you simply might not be eating enough. Your body could be short of energy and it’s looking for a quick-fix, which often ends up being sugar. To figure out if this is the problem, try eating a bit more and see if that helps. Every meal and snack that you eat should be balanced with some healthy carbs, protein and fat. These are the 3 macronutrients that provide your body with energy, or calories. If you fall short in any of them, you may experience endless cravings for sugar.
5. Treat Yourself Sometimes.
Now, this one really depends on what works best for you. Some people do OK with having a treat every so often, while it sends others on a binge cycle. The reason why I think it’s fine to indulge every once in awhile is because you don’t want to feel deprived. If you absolutely love dark chocolate or ice cream, you’re probably going to miss them if you completely give them up. And also, let’s face it: treats are THEE BEST. What’s life without them?
The key to including treats in your diet is to enjoy them mindfully. I know it sounds kind of woo, but hear me out. When you sit down and really taste & savor what you’re eating, you’ll be more satisfied with a smaller amount and you probably won’t feel the need to eat whatever it is every single day. You see, when you eat really fast, your brain is unable to register that you ate and the craving will remain. No matter how badly you want that piece of cake, take your time!
6. Cut Back on Refined Carbs.
Refined carbs are those that have been processed and stripped of their natural, healthy fiber. Foods like white bread, white pasta, white rice and baked goods fall into this category. They can contribute to sugar cravings because they lack fiber, which is needed to keep you full. Additionally, they’re just very high in carbs and low in protein and fat, which can put you on the blood sugar roller coaster if you eat them frequently. Blood sugar roller coaster = blood sugar dips = sugar cravings. And…these foods just aren’t all that healthy to begin with. In fact, they’re one of the first things I recommend for people to limit because consuming excessive amounts of them has been linked with several health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
7. Find a “Go-To” Treat or Snack
A lot of times, sugar cravings result from that desire to snack many of us feel in the afternoons or evenings. If you get hungry between meals, then by all means, have a snack! But it can be a good idea to have some low-sugar snacks on hand that will satisfy without leaving you with more cravings. My favorite healthy and convenient snacks: energy balls! These are a fabulous way to get in some good nutrition and filling fiber which will be sure to zap your cravings. Try this recipe for no-bake almond joy energy balls from one of my favorite food blogs, The Healthy Maven! They’re sweet because they’re made with dates, which are high in natural sugar, but there is not any sugar added to the recipe.
I know that energy balls don’t cut it for everyone. In that case, find a treat that you really love to enjoy a little bit of every day when you feel the need. This is sort of along the same lines of treat yourself sometimes. Dark chocolate works really well for a lot of people because it’s so rich, which reduces the likelihood that you’ll feel like overindulging.
That’s that! Reducing sugar cravings is really as simple as reducing the amount of sugar you eat, not depriving yourself and making sure you’re filling up with nourishing foods each and every day.
Now I want to hear from you! What tactics do you have to combat sugar cravings? Do you have any “healthy treat” recipes?
Xoxo, RD Bri