Do you have a sweet tooth, or know someone who has one? Fondant-coated cake oozing with frosting, double choc-chip cookies, soda, ice cream and candy - these are just some of the more obvious foods that are so readily available and packed with addictive sugar. But hidden sugar can also lurk in our diet, in the guise of what at first glance looks to be healthy foods, such as pasta sauces, salad dressings, yogurt, cereal and granola bars. Highly processed foods often contain a high sugar content, too.
How Sugar Might Be Hiding in Your Food
It is easy to overlook sugar when skimming ingredient lists on food packaging as it may be listed in many different ways. Here are some of the most common ways you might see sugar listed in the nutritional content information on food and beverage packaging.
- Sucrose (the most common form of sugar)
- Glucose/glucose syrup
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup (this is highly processed)
- Barley malt
- Cane juice
- Evaporated cane juice
It is well documented that over recent decades, serving sizes have dramatically increased, both at home and in restaurants. For instance, in 1955 a popular fast-food company used to sell soda in 7-ounce containers. Nowadays, it is not difficult to buy soda in 85-ounce containers. The average American now consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, according to the American Heart Association, when the limit is recommended to be 6 teaspoons for women (100 calories) and 9 teaspoons for men (150 calories). This is clearly a health risk and increases the incidence of a multitude of health problems such as dental issues, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
What Is a Sweet Tooth? Why Do We Like Sweet Foods?
We are born with an innate preference for sweet foods, suggested by experts as being due to endorphin and serotonin release. Release of these chemicals can be calming and give a natural “high” or burst of energy. Also, many of us choose to reward ourselves with sweet foods, or eat them for emotional comfort.
What Constitutes a Sweet Tooth?
Unfortunately, many people admit to having a sweet tooth. This is a common scenario where sugar cravings occur relatively soon after consuming a sweet product, accompanied by withdrawal symptoms such as lethargy, headache and mood changes. This cycle leads to the regular consumption of sweet foods and/or drinks through the day to ease symptoms, and so on.
What Causes Cravings?
Cravings can be caused by overconsumption of sugar, poor eating habits, emotional reasons such as social isolation, boredom, loneliness or stress, insufficient sleep, and maybe even lack of essential nutrients in the body.
How to Beat the Cravings
The good news is that this is such a common problem that we can turn to a plethora of remedies to reduce cravings. Here are 24 ways you can beat your sweet tooth.
Go for natural sweeteners such as cinnamon (Ceylon rather than Cassia cinnamon if you can find it), nutmeg and cardamom. Ceylon cinnamon is purported to help stabilize blood sugars and be healthier for the pancreas that produces insulin after meals. Stevia is a great sugar substitute that also has zero calories. Being naturally sweet, these will not cause sudden spikes of sugar leading to cravings.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. Though popular, it has been shown that they don’t actually reduce cravings for sugar, and haven’t been shown to reduce obesity.
Healthy Eating Behavior
If you must give in, choose a rich and decadent version of the food you are craving; rather than quantity go for quality. Eat a small amount and fully savor each mouthful. Go for a dark chocolate truffle instead of the family size milk chocolate bar.
If you have a craving, drink a glass of water or go for a walk until the craving subsides.
Try to eat every three to five hours, to help keep your blood sugars stable. It will help if you plan your meals and snacks too, so you don’t risk reaching for the easy sugary foods when you are hungry.
Have complex carbohydrates in each main meal. This could include sweet potato, butternut squash, whole grains, pulses, rice and oats. These produce a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream, reducing cravings.
Optimize Your Animal Protein Intake
Some people crave sugar if they have too much, or too little, animal protein in the diet. By keeping a diary of your sugar cravings and animal protein intake, adjustments can then be made to the amount of protein.
Try Fermented Foods and Drinks
Sour foods can help reduce sugar cravings as well as supporting digestion. Examples include kefir (a fermented milk that tastes a little like yogurt), sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and miso.
Reduce Processed Foods
Often high in sugar and salt, they contribute to the cycle of cravings and over consumption of sweet foods.
Wean Off of Sugar
People who do this “cold turkey” may find the first two or three days are the hardest, but still doable. Others find it easier to reduce sugar intake more gradually over many days or even longer. Do what works for you.
Have a Little of What You Are Craving
Stop after a small cookie, or fun-sized candy bar. Limit to 150 calories if you can.
Mix It Up
If your sweet tooth is giving you a serious craving for chocolate, why not combine a few chocolate chips with something healthy like almonds, or have some fruit too, like a banana? That way, you get to eat what you are craving but you will also feel full.
Reward Your Efforts
Keep yourself motivated by rewarding each successful attempt at beating a sugar craving. Remember to be patient and be kind to yourself. It isn’t easy for everyone, and will take time.
Reward with Non-Sugary Treats
If you have done something that took some effort, like a household chore, instead of rewarding yourself with a sweet treat, think of some non-food alternatives that will give you a feeling that your hard work has been worth it.
Carry some chewing gum for when you have a sugar craving.
Drink enough water. Some people enjoy drinking mineralized water which includes trace elements that may reduce sugar cravings. Add a slice of lemon or lime or a herbal tea bag to flavor the water if you like.
Reduce caffeine. If you can’t give up your morning coffee, try having it with breakfast that includes healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and make sure to add some protein too. Swap black tea and coffee for herbal non-caffeinated teas such as Rooibos, chamomile, lemon and ginger and peppermint tea. Reduce alcohol. Not only are some alcoholic drinks full of sugar, they can also cause dehydration, increasing sugar cravings.
Try amino acid L-glutamine supplements. This can help reduce or stop sugar cravings. Check with your physician if you are taking other medications. In addition, ensure sufficient magnesium in your diet. Some people have cravings with magnesium deficiency. Magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, legumes, tofu, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, avocado, brown rice and nuts and seeds.
Ensure sufficient chromium in your diet. Chromium helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol and reduces cravings. It can be found in whole grains, eggs, pears and potatoes, Brazil nuts, and shellfish such as mussels and oysters.
Ensure sufficient zinc in your diet. Zinc is needed for the body to use glucose and insulin, and deficiency can lead to sugar cravings. Zinc can be found in eggs, beef, whole grains, beans, chickpeas, cashew nuts and fortified cereal.
Looking After Yourself
Sleep and exercise. People who are lacking sleep tend to reach for sugary foods to give themselves a quick burst of energy in an attempt to counteract their fatigue. Unfortunately, this burst doesn’t last long, and so more sugary food is needed a couple of hours later to get a quick hit of energy again. Use regular exercise instead to boost energy, and it will help you sleep better.
Always make sure you have adequate sleep. Take care of stress and emotional problems. Reaching for chocolate or cakes can be a way of trying to compensate for boredom, loneliness, unhappiness or stress for some people. Foster healthy and happy relationships, timetable in regular enjoyable activities, and connection to nature. Often in our culture, rest and relaxation are viewed as low on the list of priorities, but we do need to have downtime to function well, so don’t be afraid to go against the stream. Consider getting support, too, if you need it.
If you recognize some of the symptoms of sugar craving and suspect you have a sweet tooth why not try some of the tried and tested solutions to help regain your balance? Not only will you feel better, there are so many health benefits including better dental health, and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.