The reasons you crave sugar (and 6 tips to help)
For most of us, sugar has been a guilty pleasure since the day our grandmothers first said, “All that sugar will rot your teeth.” We may have resisted grandma’s advice then, but it seems like every day there’s more science to back up the argument that we should be eating less of the sweet stuff.
The World Health Organization recommends that free sugars (sugar added to foods) should make up no more than 10 percent of our daily energy intake. A 2019 study in France found an increased risk of cancer linked to the regular consumption of sugary drinks. And they aren’t just talking soda, but a morning glass of OJ, too.
Resisting sweet treats can be tough. According to advanced sports dietitian Lisa Middleton, sometimes a craving is the body’s way of chasing nutrients we need.
“We might crave sugar because our blood glucose levels are low and we need an energy boost,” Lisa says. That’s no reason to reach for the candy bar, though – more often, there’s a host of other factors at play in driving our sugar urges. Depending on the cause of your craving, we have a few tips to help you fight back.
1. You’re actually thirsty
Sometimes, what seems like a hunger pang or sugar craving is actually thirst. If gulping down water isn’t your thing, Lisa says tea and coffee (minus the spoonful of sugar) can help hydration – and quell those cravings.
“There is also a huge range of herbal and fruit teas out there that can hit the spot rather than reaching for a cookie,” she says. While fruit-based herbal teas are often sweet, most don’t contain sugar. You can also make a cold water infusion with fresh fruit.
2. You’re skipping meals
Does your urge for the sweet stuff appear alongside a bad mood and growling belly? You might be going for too long without eating.
“If you’re skipping lunch, you could be setting yourself up for low energy levels and sugar cravings later,” Lisa says. The solution? Low-GI meals with a good balance of protein and healthy fats – like our hunger-busting Barbecued Chicken with Grilled Broccoli & Lemon Salad – will keep you feeling full until you next sit down at the dining table.
You're likely to forget all about your sugar craving when you taste our BBQ chicken.
3. You’re chasing higher highs
You know what we mean: That burst of energy, the spike of feel-good chemicals rushing in to say, “Yes, that’s the good stuff!” Well, what goes up must come down, and that makes an endless cycle.
“Sugar can make us feel good, temporarily, so sometimes we’re just craving the high,” says Lisa. “Because the feeling fades after the spike, we seek out more sugar to repeat it. And if you eat a lot of sugar regularly, your tastebuds will expect more intense levels of sweetness.”
To lower your sugar threshold gradually, choose lower-GI snacking options. Try Darren Robertson’s Bird Seed Bars for a snack that’s easy to make and even easier to keep on-hand (or in-pocket).
4. You’re making up for lost sleep
If that sugary breakfast muffin looks more tempting after a poor night’s sleep, you’re not just imagining things.“As well as making us seek out a quick energy fix, a lack of sleep increases our hunger hormone, grehlin, so our appetite increases,” Lisa says.
One study also suggests that poor sleep can make high calorie foods – including sweet treats – seem more desirable. The key to curbing your cravings might just be prioritizing some good quality shut-eye. If you’re struggling to switch off, try a sleep visualization.
5. You eat your feelings
There’s a reason chocolate cake is called ‘comfort food’.
“We often eat sweet things when we’re bored, stressed, angry, sad or frustrated,” Lisa explains. “Emotional eating is a common cause of weight gain, and can be a major challenge when it comes to trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
If you notice that your cravings hit during stressful times, try doing a guided meditation like this one with Sergio Perera..
Step away, calm down and put the cookie back in the jar.
6. You pick the wrong treats
When you want to treat yourself, you’re probably heading for the candy aisle. It’s easy to understand why: processed food is a heavily marketed, easily available quick fix. But cheap junk food can have a steep health cost – and artificial sweeteners aren’t always a healthier choice.
If you want a little sweetness, try reaching for a piece of fresh, whole fruit first. The sugars in fruit are processed differently by your body when eaten as a whole food with fiber. When fruit won’t hit the spot, treat yourself to something high quality and indulgent – like a slice of Dan Churchill’s Double Chocolate Brownies with Caramel Sauce – and really savor the moment. “It’s all about being mindful,” Lisa says. “Eat it slowly, and remember that the most pleasure is gained from the first one or two mouthfuls.”
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