7 Ways to Beat Sugar Cravings

Easy and Natural Ways to Beat Sugar Cravings

Based on the number of candy bar commercials that exploit apparently insurmountable sugar cravings that can only be alleviated with the help of a candy bar… sugar cravings seem to be a big problem. After all, you aren’t yourself if you don’t eat a packaged candy bar. (sarcasm)

Sugar cravings can certainly be a problem, and many people struggle with them. With a modern lifestyle that often includes processed foods, irregular sleep schedules, artificial light and lack of movement, hormone imbalance is a growing problem and cravings are a growing symptom.

What Causes Sugar Cravings?

There are many reasons we crave sugar. Humans are somewhat wired to crave sugar and carbohydrates from birth for a good reason. Breastmilk is naturally sweet and has important carbohydrates that not only feed the baby, but feed the baby’s gut bacteria as well.

The carbohydrates in breast milk stimulate the release of serotonin, endorphins, and promote relaxation. These are all important reactions in babies and contribute to the bonding process between mother and child. Of course, breastmilk also contains necessary proteins and fats that baby needs for growth, but the sweet taste is prominent.

Later in life, this natural desire for sweet foods continues and the body still gets this physiological sense of reward from eating sweets. In times when food was scarce or immediate energy was needed, these cravings were life saving. Today, where there are 90 types of candy bars and 40 kinds of soda at every checkout counter, they can do more harm than good.

Habitual consumption of sugar and excess carbohydrates can perpetuate this craving cycle, and statistically, habitual sugar consumption is exactly what many of us do. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day in the form of foods, drinks and sweets (according to the American Heart Association).

Of course, occasional indulgence in a high quality and nutrient dense treat, like homemade chocolate or coconut milk panna cotta, is  perfectly fine unless there is another health issue, but everyday sugar consumption and cravings are a big struggle for many people.

If you struggle with cravings, these are a few things that I’ve found helpful for beating sugar cravings naturally.

1. A Little L-Glutamine…

This was a tip I first encountered when reading Dr. Julia Ross’ book The Mood Cure. This book is a gold mine of information about neurotransmitters and amino acids, but I found her tips for avoiding sugar cravings especially interesting.

Her theory about intense sugar cravings is that due to stress, poor diet or environmental factors, some people are deficient in certain amino acids to the point that diet alone may not be enough to reverse the problems. As Food Renegade explains in depth, any of us with severe amino acid deficiencies and neurotransmitter imbalances can’t overcome sugar addiction with willpower alone.

Fortunately, her solution involves short term supplementation with the amino acid L-Glutamine. In fact, she claims that a few 500mg doses of L-Glutamine per day when sugar cravings occur is enough to rid a person of sugar cravings in only a month or two.

In hindsight, I noticed that when I was taking L-Glutamine as part of my protocol to improve my gut health and manage my autoimmune thyroid disease, I also lost all cravings for sugar. I hadn’t connected the two and just figured the absence of sugar cravings was due to the dietary changes, but I haven’t craved (or even wanted) sweet foods since then.

I personally took this L-Glutamine twice a day when I was working to reverse my leaky gut symptoms, but some people prefer the powdered version that can be added to drinks. As a side note, L-Glutamine is often used for building lean muscle mass in athletes and I noticed that I also had a faster recovery time from difficult workouts while taking L-Glutamine.

2. Protein and Good Fats

Sometimes, sugar cravings may be from something as simple as consuming too many processed carbohydrates on a regular basis and not getting enough protein and fats.

Carbohydrates provide a quick and easy source of energy for the body, and they certainly have their place, but when a person gets in a habit of carbohydrate consumption, the result can be blood sugar fluctuations that lead to cravings.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which I already mentioned are vital for proper neurotransmitter production, an important component in balancing hormones and avoiding sugar cravings. Beneficial fats are a source of energy for the body and help increase satiety and ward off immature feelings of hunger.

Over the long-term, consuming enough beneficial fats and proteins (along with lots of vegetables) is an important step to providing the body the essential fatty acids, amino acids and micronutrients it needs to remain in balance and not crave foods unnecessarily.

3. Eat When Hungry

And plan before you are…

Times of intense hunger are not times to make level-headed decisions about the best foods to eat. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In this case, that means planning (and even pre-making if needed) healthy meals so you’ll have them on hand when you get hungry.

Like I mentioned above, eating enough nutrient rich foods like proteins, healthy fats and vegetables will help stop extreme hunger and blood sugar swings. This makes it easier to choose healthy options as sugar cravings are more likely to occur when a person gets extremely hungry (especially when this hunger is combined with stress or lack of sleep).

4. Get Moving

Exercise releases some of the same endorphins that sugary foods release and can be a great substitute when done consistently.

You don’t have to go running or do anything incredibly intense to get the benefits. Even just a brisk walk or a few minutes of intervals with a jump rope or just your body weight can be enough to get the endorphins moving and dodge the sugar cravings.

My favorite exercise these days is a walk or jog with my dog, or a quick kickball game outside with the kids, but there are endless options. Planning exercise is also a great way to beat the sugar habit long term, especially if you can train your body to love the endorphins from exercise as much as those from sugar.

5. Get Some Sleep

It is no secret that sleep is important. Sleep deficiency has been linked to just about every chronic health problem and the list keeps growing. In fact, not getting enough sleep can:

  • Increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer
  • And the risk of high blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes
  • Increase the risk of obesity and hormone problems

From a sugar perspective, sleep is vital for balancing blood sugar and maintaining the correct levels of the hormones that manage insulin. In fact, just one night of impaired sleep can leave a person with the blood sugar levels of a pre-diabetic. Not the best idea for someone trying to master sugar cravings.

For this, and a million other reasons, make sleep a priority. It is one of the few silver bullets in health and it is totally free!

6. Chromium

A solution often recommended by doctors, and one I’d check with a doctor before using. Chromium is used in insulin regulation of blood glucose and is important for balancing blood sugar levels.

Some evidence shows that taking small doses of Chromium can help ward off blood sugar dips and spikes that lead to cravings. A doctor once recommended that I take 200 mcg of Chromium once a day in the morning to help balance blood sugar levels.

7. B-Vitamins

B-vitamins are said to help with carbohydrate metabolism and are also important for many other reactions in the body. B-vitamins are depleted by excess stress, carbohydrate consumption and environmental stressors. I found that I had much more energy when I took a fermented live-source b-vitamin complex.

Note on Sugar Substitutes

There are many sugar substitutes available now, but just switching out sugar for a sugar-substitute won’t address the underlying problem and may lead to more serious problems, depending on the sweetener. Two that I use on occasion are xylitol and stevia, and I avoid all others.

Ever had sugar cravings? What helped you?

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Reader Comments

  1. Should l-glutamine be avoided while pregnant?

    • I also want to know if it safe when breastfeeding?

  2. Great info! I use L-Glutamine too!

  3. Can you please provide a link to the fermented live-source b vitamin complex that you mentioned? Thanks!

  4. Hello! I loved your article. I used to be a sugar addict. In fact I had eating dissorders for 10+ years. The only thing I didn’t see you mention was the awesomeness of raw, local honey for a sweet treat option. Thats my go to if I really feel a need for sweetness. By the way, you are one of my favorite bloggers. Keep helping people! 🙂

    • That was my question to wellness mama… What is your take on raw honey? It is still very high in sugar, but is it ok In small amounts for its benefits?

      • I do use raw honey medicinally for its benefits but not often as a sweetener.

  5. Is l glutamine ok to take if breastfeeding?

  6. Did you take L-Glutamine while nursing? If so how much did you take per day?

  7. Love this article! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Do you recommend erithritol at all?? If not, would you share why?

  9. Thank you for this very informative article. After a week away on vacation, and an unfamiliar diet of heavy rich and sweet foods, chased by wine and beer, I find that my head is foggy and I am in constant desire of sweets! I’m going to give l-glutamine a try! Many thanks!

  10. Thanks so much for writing this. So glad I caught it on the weekly recap.
    I’ve experienced the cravings really, REALLY, go away when I have taken basic sugar out (like not eating sweets like cakes, cookies, choc., even basic cereals, like corn flakes, etc., instead eating fruits). Also, when I have eaten bread (even if it was totally natural and grain loaded), my cravings came back and came back BIG…like suddenly I wanted cake the next eating opportunity.

    Love to you all,

    • Jasmine, I’m the same, and what I found to cut cravings the best (and within a day) is a dose of probiotics (for me, about 50 billion active cells per day, but every body is a bit different). With probiotics, I don’t even crave the sweets or the bread, and cutting them out is easy. I completely agree with you that cutting them out is what keeps the cravings away. Yeast bread feeds a yeast imbalance in the gut which brings on sugar cravings, no matter how healthy of a bread it is.

      • Hey Sarah, Thanks for the confirmation and info!
        I tried some probiotics once, but had a bit of an allergic reaction the same day (itchy under my skin around scalp and ears…) and the only thing I thought I did different that day was that pill. Could it be I took too much, or was it maybe a fluke? I have a pretty sensitive system so I chocked it up to God telling me something I already knew…(girl, quit messing about and trying to correct afterward, and just eat the way you know you should–) Ouch!. .but with heaps upon heaps of Love and Mercy!
        All the best to you all and your precious bodies… as “my momma says” -take care of yourself, your body is a temple…so, not taking care of yourself is sacrilege (add twang)”

  11. we’re the same! I used xylitol and stevia too as a sweetener! Because they cannot cause a spike up in my blood sugar compared to the other natural sweeteners.

  12. Is coconut sugar good for a sub for sugar when baking etc.

  13. What about this Swerve, (Erythritol) I’m hearing about?

  14. Hi, Katie.

    When you say “occasional indulgence” and “in moderation” when it comes to healthy desserts, how often do you mean? Once a week? Once a month? Before discovering stevia, I just enjoyed regular treats every once in a while, but now I find myself enjoying stevia-sweetened treats every day. I’d like to go back to not having much of a sweet tooth! I also think the stevia is messing with my hormones. Any advice you could give is much appreciated 🙂

    • My general rule is that we can have fresh or baked fruit any night after dinner for a treat with no added sweeteners (baked apples, berries and cream, etc) but actual treats are once a week or less. The book “The Adrenal Reset” talks about how small amounts of natural carbs at night can help balance hormones, so we try to eat fruit and night (or any treats). My kids love berries or melon for dessert.

  15. Thank you for sharing your successes; this is a great article. Another really successful strategy is to eat the right kind of breakfast. Katie discusses proteins and beneficial fats; these are important always, but most especially at breakfast if you’re prone to sugar cravings. In fact, I advise my patients who struggle with sugar cravings to do their best to avoid carbs at breakfast, and focus on protein and fats (and vegetables always earn major bonus points, and don’t count as “carbs” here in the sense that they’re generally pretty low-carb, and they arrive with fiber).

    Here’s why: protein, fat, and fiber all slow “gastric emptying,” which affects the speed with which sugar in the diet turns into glucose in the blood. Slower is better. When you eat a high-sugar meal (including a meal or snack high in refined carbs, like flour), your blood sugar will spike quickly. High blood sugar stimulates the release of insulin. This is beneficial, in the sense that it gets that sugar out of the blood and into your cells, where it can be burned for fuel. BUT. High blood sugar is followed by high insulin, and this will rapidly escort the sugar into the cells, resulting in LOW blood sugar. Low blood sugar is the #1 reason you crave more sugar – your body doesn’t want you to reach dangerously low levels, so a craving is adaptive. Or it was, back in the days when there weren’t “90 types of candy bars and 40 kinds of soda at every checkout counter” as Katie points out. In the old days, before all that sugar was available, a craving impelled you to go eat more food. All food available in hunter-gatherer days was healthy, so this worked out fine.

    If you start your day out with a high-carb meal (like, heaven forbid, donuts), you inadvertently set yourself up for a blood-sugar spike, followed by a blood-sugar drop, which brings on a craving for… more sugar, to ostensibly correct that problem. If instead you start your day with a healthy meal involving protein, fat, and fiber, you never get a blood-sugar spike in the first place, so you don’t get the blood-sugar low that creates a craving. This morning I ate 2 eggs over a warmed leftover massaged-kale salad. Holy moly, yum. And more importantly, no cravings at all.

    Hope that additional strategy helps someone!

    • Hi Dr Deborah. I just read your comment on eating low carb for breakfast. I’m diabetic..kinda new..but long enough that I Shld have gotten my numbers under control by now…anyways I’m thinking maybe taking your advice on breakfast will help. Can you give more food ideas please? many times I just grab toast with P.B. Or cream cheese which is 15g but of course it doesn’t hold me for long. I sometimes do eggs but many mornings I’m in a hurry getting kids out the door(6) school kids). Any hints or idea would be appreciated to get my A1C down!

  16. Oh, one other quick comment since it looks like nobody’s been comfortable addressing the question about safety of L-glutamine in pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s just an amino acid, so is present in protein sources you eat every day, so it’s safe, as long as you aren’t overdoing it. The dose and product Katie links to above is safe. (The potential problem with overdoing it is that it could interfere with absorption of other amino acids.)

  17. BS”D

    Thank you for the good advice, i really need it! even though i eat really healthy i still crave sweet, someone recently introduced me to coconut sugar to use in cooking instead of suger i did not see it on your list , should i stop using?

  18. The sweeteners of choice in this household are raw honey, pure maple syrup, & molasses. Katie, I’m curious why you don’t use honey as a sweetener when it is so nutritious. As an Herbalist, I also use it medicinally.

  19. Would taking I-Glutamine help with my cravings for soda? I’m trying to cut back on sodas and eventually not drink them at all but I’m having a hard time especially with the side effects with quiting. I get migraines naturally and trying to quit sodas just makes that worse plus I feel tired and have mood swings.