Have you tried to cut back on sugar, but always seem to find yourself knee-deep in a tub of ice cream by the end of the week?
If so, you’re not alone. Craving sweets is extremely common, but if you give in too often, you could be setting yourself up for a slew of health issues, including weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, heart disease, and cavities.[*][*][*][*]
So, how can you reduce your sugar intake when it seems like some almighty force beckons you to eat it? This article will include strategies to significantly reduce your sugar cravings and regain your power over sugar.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
Before we dive into the tips, let’s answer an important question: why do humans crave sugar?
Our bodies preferred source of energy is glucose (sugar). Sweet tastes exist as a way to help us identify sources of glucose-based energy. Once we consume a sweet food, our brains release feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which motivates us to seek more of that food.
This evolutionary drive is strong, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to reduce your sugar intake. The problem is, most people are consuming way more sugar than they need for energy—and the wrong type of sugar.
The average person consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, despite the American Heart Association recommending a limit of nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women.[*][*] Added sugar (aka refined sugar) refers to sucrose and high fructose corn syrup that is added to food and drink products like cookies and soda during manufacturing.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings
While we may have a biological instinct to consume sugar, the following tips can help you reduce your cravings and, consequently, your sugar intake.
1. Have a Piece of Fruit
It’s important to understand that there are different types of sugar. Sugar is naturally found in foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Unprocessed sugar from whole foods can be a part of a healthy diet in moderation and can help stave off cravings for sweet treats like cookies, candy, and soda.
The next time you feel inclined to grab a sugary baked good or a can of soda, reach for a piece of fruit with a few nuts instead. Fruit contains natural sugar, but unlike a candy bar, it also contains health-supporting fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar to prevent blood sugar spikes. Eating a few nuts with your fruit will further slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
2. Quit Processed Sugar Cold Turkey
Unlike natural sugar, processed sugar doesn’t do your health any favors. It’s easy to overconsume, and because it doesn’t contain fiber (like fruits and whole grains), it can cause significant blood sugar spikes.
Many people find that taking a cold-turkey approach to eliminating processed sugar works best—like ripping off a Band-Aid. About one to two weeks into a no-sugar-added diet, you’ll likely find that your taste buds have adjusted and your cravings are significantly reduced.
3. Spice Things Up
While spices don’t contain any sugar, some have a mildly sweet taste, which can help tamp down a sugar craving. Good options include cinnamon, cardamom, pumpkin spice, and coriander. Use these sweet spices in warm drinks, oatmeal, and yogurt instead of sugar and syrup.
4. Go Keto
Those on a keto diet eliminate all high-carbohydrate foods, including bread, rice, sweet treats, soda, and most fruits, instead focusing on animal protein, dairy, low-carb fruits and veggies, and healthy fats.
By consuming no more than 50 grams of carbs daily, a person’s body shifts from burning carbs (its typical fuel source) to burning fat. This fat-burning state is called ketosis and offers many benefits, from improved blood sugar levels to weight loss.
Many people find that once they enter ketosis, their sugar cravings all but disappear. If you think about it, this makes sense: the body stops craving glucose because it’s running on fat instead.
5. Pay Attention to Habits
While we’re physiologically designed to crave sugar, a lot of the time, sugar cravings are due to habit. If you have a sugary treat every time you come home from work, you’re conditioning your brain and body to expect sugar at that time, which stimulates a craving.[*]
The next time you’re about to engage in a sugar-eating habit, reach for a protein-filled snack instead. Protein is great for satiety and will help you break your sugar habit.[*]
A small handful of nuts, turkey and cheese roll-ups, peanut butter on celery, and low-carb protein bars like IQBAR are all excellent options. Available in flavors like Banana Nut, Almond Butter Chip, Chocolate Sea Salt, Lemon Blueberry, and Matcha Chai, IQBARs will satisfy your sweet tooth cravings while giving you a brain and body boost.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep and sugar cravings go hand-in-hand.[*] When you don’t get enough quality sleep, the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin increases while the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin decreases.[*] This can stimulate your desire for calorie-dense, sweet foods.
When you’re tired, you also may turn to sugary foods because they give you quick energy. That’s why many of us crave sweets after a long, tiring day.
Aim to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep nightly for the sake of reduced sugar cravings and better overall well-being.
7. Manage Your Stress
Ever notice how you’re more likely to polish off a sleeve of cookies when you’re feeling stressed?
This is because when your body is under stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol, which increases blood sugar and alters carbohydrate metabolism to provide the body with energy.[*] These changes can lead to carb cravings, as your body attempts to increase its energy sources to deal with the stress.
To combat stress, take time each day to unwind, engage in activities you enjoy, and learn to set boundaries.
8. Stay Hydrated
That granola bar, cookie, or latte you crave for an afternoon pick-me-up is often a signal of dehydration—not a need for food or sugar.
Dehydration can make it more difficult for the body to metabolize glycogen (stored glucose) for energy. As a result, the body craves sugar for quick energy. In reality, you might just need more water and electrolytes.
Instead of reaching for an afternoon sweet treat, try mixing a packet of IQMIX into a glass of water and enjoy. IQMIX is a sugar-free electrolyte drink formulated with sodium, potassium, magnesium L-threonate, and lion’s mane mushroom.
A Final Word
We've all dealt with a sugar craving at one point or another. It’s part of the human experience. Some people only experience a craving here and there while others would likely say they have a full-blown sugar addiction.
Fortunately, by addressing the main factors leading to sugar cravings, you can break free from the sugar trap and open the door to a healthier, happier you.