Craving ice cream or searching the pantry for a sweet treat every night after dinner? You’re not alone.
The truth is sugar is incredibly addictive, and in today’s world it’s easily available in many attractive forms! Whether it’s a quick stop at a drive-thru or raiding the pantry for a handful of chocolate chips, we all know how it is to suddenly “need” something sweet.
Many people struggle with sugar cravings. Our modern lifestyle often includes processed foods, irregular sleep schedules, artificial light, and inactivity. These factors all contribute to sugar cravings, weight gain, and mood problems.
Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to help ease those hankerings.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
Humans are somewhat wired to crave sugar from birth, and for good reason. Breast milk is naturally sweet and contains important carbohydrates that not only feed baby, but baby’s healthy gut bacteria as well.
The carbs in breast milk stimulate the release of serotonin and endorphins to promote relaxation. This contributes to the bonding process between mother and child.
Later in life, this natural desire for sweet foods continues. The body gets a physiological sense of reward from eating sugar, and when food was scarce, these cravings were life-saving. These days, our cravings generally do more harm than good.
Overdoing it on sugar and carbs perpetuate this craving cycle, and many of us fall victim to it. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day in the form of foods, drinks, and sweets.
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 at play. It’s habitual, everyday sugar consumption and cravings that pose a big problem for many people.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings
Ready to go sugar-free? I recommend starting with a sugar detox to break the habit and allow the body to heal. This can be difficult, but going cold turkey might not be as difficult as you think. Stock your fridge with low-sugar fruit, like berries, to help ease those cravings.
You can also slowly wean yourself by reducing your sugar intake over time. Start by replacing refined sugar with natural sources, like coconut sugar or maple syrup, before transitioning fully off the sweet stuff. Here’s how to tackle either kind of sugar detox.
Here are a few other things I’ve found that can help you curb sugar cravings naturally.
1. Briefly Supplement With 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 nutrition, and I found her tips for battling a sweet tooth especially interesting. (Also check out her most recent book The Craving Cure.)
Her theory is that stress, poor diet or environmental factors deplete some people of certain amino acids that create intense sugar cravings. In this case, a healthy 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, Dr. Ross’ solution involves short term supplementation with the amino acid L-glutamine. In fact, she claims that when a sugar craving hits, just a few 500mg doses of L-glutamine per day is enough to fix the problem 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 at the time. Amazingly, I haven’t craved (or even wanted) sweet foods since then.
I personally took these L-glutamine capsules twice a day, 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. Eat More Protein and Good Fats
Sometimes, the cause of food cravings might be as simple as snacking on too many processed carbohydrates on a regular basis and not getting enough protein and fats.
Carbs like sweet potatoes provide a quick and easy source of energy for the body, and they certainly have their place. When you get into a habit of eating too many carbs, however, the result can be blood sugar fluctuations that lead to cravings.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are vital for balancing hormones and avoiding sugar cravings. Healthy fats from whole foods like avocado help fuel the body, while increasing satiety to ward off immature feelings of hunger.
Over the long-term, eating healthy fats and proteins (along with lots of veggies) can help with sugar cravings. They provide your body with essential fatty acids, amino acids, and micronutrients it needs to remain in balance and not crave foods unnecessarily.
3. Eat When You’re Hungry (and Plan Ahead)
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 or prepping healthy meals ahead of time so you’ll have them on hand when you get hungry. A solid meal plan for the week will make it that much easier for you to stay on track.
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 hit stronger when you allow yourself to get extremely hungry. Especially when this hunger is combined with stress or lack of sleep!
4. Get Moving
Exercise releases some of the same endorphins you get from sugary foods 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. Just a brisk walk, a few minutes of jump rope intervals, or a few bodyweight exercises 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. Eventually, 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. Not getting enough zzz’s is linked to just about every chronic health problem. Specifically, not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of heart attack, cancer, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
Sleep is also 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 you 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! These are my best tips for optimizing sleep (even as a mom!).
6. Try Supplementing With Chromium
Doctors sometimes suggest taking chromium to regulate insulin. This essential trace element is important for balancing blood sugar levels.
In small doses, chromium may 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. However, you should check with your own doctor or registered dietitian before starting a new supplement.
7. Get Your B-Vitamins
B-vitamins are important for so many reactions in the body, including the way you metabolize carbohydrates.
You’ll deplete these important nutrients when you’re stressed or eat too many carbs. I found that I had much more energy when I took a fermented live-source b-vitamin complex.
8. Stay Hydrated
Hankering for a sweet afternoon snack? Pour yourself a glass of water instead.
Thirst might be the culprit behind your sugar cravings. When you’re dehydrated, your body has a harder time producing the glycogen you need to stay energized. Drink lots of water to make sure this isn’t adding to your sugar problem!
A Note on Sugar Substitutes
Many readers ask me if they should swap out their refined sugar for artificial sweeteners or other substitutes. Unfortunately, just switching out sugar for another kind won’t address the underlying problem. In some cases, it may even lead to more serious problems. I personally use xylitol and stevia as natural sweeteners on occasion. You can read my full take on sugar substitutes here.
Quitting sugar can be a real challenge, especially if you have children that crave it just as much as you do! Fortunately, adopting a healthy lifestyle, eating the right foods, and getting the right mix of supplements can really help.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Ever battled sugar cravings? What are some hacks that helped stop your sugar cravings?