How To Deal With Sugar Cravings

While the occasional sugar craving affects most of us, dealing with a rather persistent sweet tooth can be a challenge. Eating too many sugary foods not only leads to weight gain but can increase the risk of several chronic conditions such as heart disease.

If you are ready to eliminate all the unnecessary sugar from your diet, here are five ways you can ease your cravings:

1. Get enough sleep

Poor sleep can end up influencing your appetite by increasing the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. In other words, not getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night could be worsening those junk food cravings during the day.

In a 2012 study, the mere sight of candy and pizza activated the reward centers in the brains of sleep-deprived participants. This effect was not observed in the brains of well-rested participants.

2. Read nutrition labels

This is because a lot of the sugar you eat may actually come from hidden sources such as salad dressings and bread. As a result, the taste of such products can become somewhat "ingrained" given the effect of sugar on the reward system in the brain. 

"The first thing people notice when they limit added sugar is that their cravings are reduced," says David Ludwig, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

3. Quality over quantity

Of course, you need not go cold turkey when it comes to sweet treats. "If you need a sugar splurge, pick a wonderful, decadent sugary food," says Susan Moores, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minnesota.

But make sure you don't go overboard in terms of quantity. Moores advises people to pick a small-sized snack and "savor every bite — slowly," instead of indulging in a large king-sized chocolate bar or several treats. These act less like rewards and more like triggers for your cravings.

4. Consider alternatives

If you would like to hold onto sweet flavors in a healthier way, try opting for natural sources of sugar while reducing added sugars. This can be done by making a few food and beverage swaps in your diet.

For example, replace your usual flavored yogurt with Greek yogurt, which can be given a sweet taste by adding some fresh fruit. In the same way, avoid buying sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks. Instead, enjoy a glass of seltzer with a hint of your preferred fruit.

5. Consume more protein

Along with fat, protein tends to digest slower than carbohydrates as noted by Alissa Rumsey, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

"If you eat a meal that is mostly carbohydrates, with not enough protein, it will digest more quickly and will cause your blood sugar to rise," she says.

This spike is followed by a drop or crash in blood sugar levels, which may contribute to your cravings. To counter this effect, stabilize your blood sugar by including more protein in your diet.