“I need sugar”, is something I hear on weekly basis. Technically speaking we all need sugar as glucose, you know the simple sugar our brain and cells use as primary energy source? But when someone tells me “I need sugar”, chances are that they’re referring to some type of sweet, carb-based food to satisfy a sugar craving. What’s a craving? Technically put, it’s an intense desire to eat a specific food. So are cravings common? Absolutely. But should they stop you from reaching your health goals? Absolutely not. If that’s your case, then it’s time to tame them.
What makes us crave sugar?
The sweet tooth was actually an important part of human evolution. If something tasted sweet, it was a sign that it had calories and that it was safe to eat, since sweet foods were rarely poisonous. But today, you might choose sweets or refined carbs for the pleasant taste or because they’re easily digested and provide a quick boost of energy. You might also be a victim of mindless eating, on the hunt for something sweet because with time, you’ve associated activities such as watching tv to eating cookies or chocolate. There is also research to suggest that some people may use these foods to boost their mood, since carbs stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Also, this month’s CSPI newsletter was very à propos, discussing the emerging and fascinating research on food cravings and addiction. They discuss how some foods (mainly fatty and/or sweet) can alter brain chemistry like an addictive drug would, but the jury is still out on this topic and they’ve only just scratched the surface.
Tips for getting over sugar cravings
Cut it out. The more you eat it, the more you’ll want to eat it, which is why cutting back is key. Going cold-turkey and eliminating all sources of added sugars can be effective for some but a gradual phase-out is perfectly fine.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Knowing that 1 teaspoon sugar = 4g, get into the habit of dividing the number you see on the nutrition facts table by 4. Note however that the sugars listed on the label also include the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and dairy. You want to limit sugars that were added into a product. For instance: a can of soda contains 32 g of added sugars = 8 teaspoons of the white stuff = Busted.
Keep it steady. Besides making you hungry, grumpy and irritable, dips in blood sugar will make you crave foods capable of picking you up quickly. Avoid this by eating regularly and by balancing each meal with fiber and protein for sustained energy.
Reprogram your habits. Many people struggle with sugar cravings immediately after a meal and in the evening. If you’ve conditioned yourself to receiving a sugary treat after a meal, you’ll never kick the habit. So when you get an urge to ravage the pantry for something sweet, stop and make a new habit: call a friend, clear the table, brush your teeth, read a book… read a blog!
Tame your tastebuds. If you really want something sweet, go for it. But you need to train yourself to accept the level of sweetness present in whole foods like fruit to calm cravings. This way, you’re also maximizing the nutritional impact of your treat. And who knows, maybe by using healthy, whole foods to calm your cravings you might find yourself craving them some day? I know I have a sweet tooth and often crave chocolate, but also find myself craving beets…what can I say.
Click here for some of my favourite, healthy sweet-tooth fixes.
Do you get cravings? What foods do you use to tame your cravings? Are there any healthy foods that you crave?