The majority of people have a sweet tooth. Who doesn’t enjoy occasionally raiding the biscuit tin, tucking into treats at break time or adding an extra spoonful of sugar to your tea or coffee? Over the years, sugar has become a predominant ingredient of the modern-day diet. Everyone can benefit from limiting our sugar intakes, but how can we overcome the urge? What are the best tips for killing them sugar cravings?
Whether it’s on your work break, after a long day or at the weekend, it is perfectly natural for us to crave and enjoy sweet food. Sweet, sugary foods act on the reward system of our brains, and has an immediate positive impact on our mood. When we eat sugar, our brain receives serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. This explains the big smiles and happiness we have after indulging in that tub of ice-cream or that chocolate dessert. Sugary foods are also associated with happy memories, such as birthday parties, which may also be another reason which makes them very tempting. Firstly, you need to be aware of the difference between a craving and normal hunger.
So, what is the difference?
A food craving is an intense desire to eat a specific food, usually for comfort foods such as chocolate, sweets and fatty foods. Cravings are often caused by negative feelings, they lead to eating that makes you feel immediately good but later turning into guilt. Cravings can occur even after you’ve recently eaten and soon pass with time.
Whereas, normal hunger isn’t just for one particular food, it can be satisfied by a healthy meal or snack. Hunger only occurs when you haven’t eaten in a few hours, resulting in a rumbling stomach, headache or feeling of weakness and doesn’t go away with time.
How cravings happen?
Carbohydrate foods, especially sugary ones cause a spike in blood glucose levels, followed by a crash, that leaves you with cravings soon after.
There is no single explanation as to why cravings occur, below is a range of possible explanations.
- Chromium deficiency
A deficiency of chromium often triggers your body to send a signal to your brain that it needs more sugar, when craving sweets. Chromium is proven to stabilise blood sugar levels and curb carbohydrate cravings. The recommended dosage is between 200 mg – 1,000 mg per day, and is often taken in small doses throughout the day and on a full stomach. Chromium is also available through the diet by eating specific foods, such as beef, dark chocolate, chicken, eggs, etc.
- Low levels of serotonin
Serotonin is the “feel-good” hormone, which is produced mainly in the gastrointestinal tract and affects our mood, appetite and digestion. Carbohydrate and sugary foods increase the release of serotonin, giving us the feel-good factor. Low serotonin levels are caused by a variety of things, including poor gut health, alcohol consumption, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). So, when our levels are low, our brains immediate crave sugary, starchy foods, “Oh! That candy bar, tub of ice cream or bagel is going to fix this!”
- Endorphins and Food Addiction
Sugary, salty foods such as chocolate and crisps, increases the production of endorphins within the body. Endorphins are basically opiates that make us feel relaxed, therefore causing us the need to eat more, eventually leading to a sugar addiction. Recent studies show that highly processed fatty and sugary foods cause addictive eating due to their rapid rate of absorption. Ideally, it is best to avoid packaged and processed foods, therefore you will have more control over your food choices.
- Emotional Triggers
Negative feelings of emotion, such as sadness, boredom, stress, poor self-esteem and negative body image can push you to the treat cupboard. Who doesn’t want a tub of ice cream, or a packet of biscuits whist going through a tough breakup, a hard day at work or a general bad day?
But since food cravings are often pass within an hour, choosing to eat healthier food or choosing a mood-boosting activity can satisfy you till the craving passes.
Tips to Avoid Cravings
- Eat regularly throughout the day
Ideally, we should intake 5-6 small meals a day. This will maintain hunger and avoid significant declines in blood sugar levels, reducing those cravings.
- Increase fibre intake
Focus on a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lentils, beans and other high-fibre foods such as fruit and vegetables. These complex carbohydrates release more slowly into the bloodstream, which allows our bodies to manage them better. Meals made up of complex carbohydrates and protein will keep you fuller for longer and keep blood sugars balanced, avoiding that spike and crash.
- Avoid sugary foods and processed carbs.
To avoid increases in leptin and crashes in blood sugar levels, which pump up your appetite, it is best to limit or completely avoid processed carbohydrates and sweets. Sometimes healthy protein snacks, like a handful of almonds or sunflower seeds is enough to keep away from the sugary snacks. And you can still enjoy tasty treats, just make them up with lower sugar, higher fibre and higher protein ingredients, like dark chocolate, almond flour, cassava flour and bean flours. These ingredients won’t trigger cravings and feed an appetite that just won’t quit.
- Stay hydrated
It is essential to be drinking enough water, it is recommended to drink at least 2 litres a day. Thirst and dehydration make you feel hungry, and may increase your food cravings. Drink water routinely throughout the day to help you stay hydrated and control your hunger.
Tips for sensible snacking
Many times, it feels like cravings just won’t go, you can’t fight it anymore and you’re just about to reach for that chocolate bar. STOP! For these times when the hunger simply won’t go away, keep healthy snacks on hand.
Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your snack attack:
- Whole fruits are good choices, such as apples, bananas, pears and kiwi, etc. They’ll give you fibre along with natural sugars.
- When it comes to chocolate, select the darkest option possible. Dark chocolates have the lowest sugar content.
- Avoid eating while watching the TV. It’s all too easy in those situations to keep snacking way beyond what you really need for satisfaction, you open that share bag of crisps, BOOM suddenly you have ate the whole packet on YOUR OWN. So take a break from your activity, give yourself a small portion of your snack, and really focus on enjoying it! You’ll be much less likely to take it too far. Therefore, put a handful of crisps into a bowl and put away the packet.
- Spice it up! Reduce the sugar in your recipes and replace it with spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. These will give your treats plenty of taste with less of the consequences.
Take home messages
- Resist Cravings
When a craving comes along, try your best to fight it off. Don’t just immediately give in! Your first move should be to ask what exactly it is that you want. Are you sure you’re not thirsty? Or comfort eating?
Try waiting it out. Set a timer and give yourself 15 minutes to let it pass. Your craving might have been triggered emotionally or psychologically, and after a few minutes the urge may fade.
- Clean out your cupboards
Toss anything sugary or carb-heavy. When you don’t have anything in the house, you’re far less likely to drive to the supermarket to satisfy a craving. Then replace those low-quality snacks with better nutritional ones. Keep a few favourites in your cabinet for when the odd craving hits hard enough that you don’t want to cook. Some ideas, include dark chocolate, nuts, fruits, chickpeas, etc.
- Avoid stress and don’t be too hard on yourself
If you’re working long days and pushing yourself in the gym, all on a few hours of sleep, sugar cravings are going to be your worst enemy. Whenever you’re making a major lifestyle change, reduce all the other stressors in your life and add in things like yoga, meditation, sleep hacks, forest bathing, and other stress relievers. Take it as easy as possible on yourself until your cravings disappear.
- Failure is a temporary state of rest!
If you completely succumb and eat the whole tub of ice cream or 3 packets of crisps, don’t make the situation worse by allowing yourself to be consumed by guilt. Set a day -next morning to start over. If you have eaten a load of processed foods, your body will take a few days to detoxify, so you won’t feel great but stick with it. Know that all fail and you will fail again. The difference between people who make it and people who don’t is not that they fail, it is the fact that the failure does not consume them and they try again -usually pretty quick. So just ty again!