Intense Sugar Cravings? Here's 5 tips to break the cycle…
We add sugar to our coffee, bake it into our favourite sweet treats, and spoon it over our cereal. It’s fair to say that we enjoy the sweet stuff. While an indulgence here and there is part of a balanced diet, many people with a sweet tooth may be wondering: can you become addicted to sugar?
Well, as it turns out, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that eating too much refined or added sugar is addictive in the same way as tobacco or alcohol. But, we can develop intense sugar cravings, which may feel as though it’s an addiction.
How sugar affects us
When we eat foods packed in refined or added sugars, they quickly convert to glucose and cause our blood sugar levels to spike right up. And the higher your blood sugar rises, the louder those cravings and hunger pangs can become.
Once our blood sugar levels spike, insulin is produced to level out the blood sugar – but it’s playing catch up. If the insulin brings your blood sugar level a bit too low, as often happens after consuming sugary treats, it can leave you in a low blood sugar ‘slump’. The blood sugar crash leads to fatigue and food cravings, which usually lead to unhealthy snack choices for that next glucose spike. This explains why one biscuit can quickly turn into the whole packet disappearing!
Why do we crave sugar?
When we eat sweet foods or highly refined carbohydrates, our body releases feel-good chemicals as part of the reward system hardwired into the brain. These foods activate the release of dopamine, which drives us towards consuming more for the same feel-good sensation. However, repeated activation of this reward system can cause the brain to adapt to regular stimulation, leading you to crave far more for the same feel-good sensation.
How much sugar do you need in your diet?
Now if you’re unsure about how much sugar you should be consuming in your diet, you’re not the only one! With countless names for sugar used on the packaging and somewhat inconsistent labelling between brands, I know it can be really confusing.
As a general rule, current EU guidelines suggest anything containing less than 5g of sugar per 100g is classed as 'low in sugar', and those containing more than 22.5g per 100g are classed as high. And in the UK, the reference intake for total sugars is 90g a day. But 30g of that are "free sugars" that come from your cakes, biscuits or those additional extras to your food, like honey or maple syrup.
Try to remember that ultimately a healthy relationship with food means everything in moderation. And it’s all about striking a balance that works for you!
Five ways to curb those sugary cravings
1. Check the packaging
There are a range of foods and drinks on supermarket shelves these days, and it can be quite difficult to determine just how good they are for us.
Some drinks may appear to be a good choice, but actually contain 20-30g of sugar per serving. That’s why it’s always best to check the back of the packaging and take a look under ‘carbohydrate: of which sugar’. And if you look at the sugar content per 100g, you can easily compare the sugar content of one product to another, helping you choose healthier options.
2. Cut out fizzy drinks
Most fizzy drinks have a lot of added sugar. Take a can of Coca-Cola, for example, each can has 35g of added sugar, which is more than the recommended limit for an adult! It’s best to switch your high-calorie fizzy beverage to tea, water, or sparkling water, which are free from added sugar.
3. Be prepared and plan ahead
We’re most susceptible to cravings when hunger strikes. Prepare yourself a meal plan in advance, as you’re far less likely to reach for unhealthy options. I recommend planning out each week’s meals, including snacks on Sunday, and only go grocery shopping for what you need.
When planning your snacks, the key is to choose snacks that are high in fibre, protein and healthy fats. These nutrients will help stabilise blood sugar levels and manage your appetite. Try to include snacks which are high in fibre, such as apple and peanut butter, fruit and yoghurt, dried fruits, homemade fruit leather, dark chocolate or chia pudding.
4. Practice mindful eating
Paying attention to how your food looks, smells and tastes could be a handy tool to help you curb those cravings. Mindful eating can help bring your awareness to the physical sensations of hunger and fullness, to help you learn to differentiate between eating to nourish your body and emotional eating.
The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all your senses. You might even find when you eat with fewer distractions and more awareness, you are satisfied with a smaller amount of your favourite sweets.
5. Embrace the power of protein
Researchers have found that a higher protein breakfast improves fullness, decreases food cravings, and mindless snacking on high-sugar, high-fat snacks. It’s worth experimenting with including more protein in your meals to curb those sugary cravings.
If you’d like to boost your protein intake, why not try our Vegan Protein Blend? We’ve made it using pea protein, brown rice protein, and hemp protein, and also includes digestive enzymes to help you get the most from the blend. You can blend it into a smoothie, pop it into your overnight oats, or add it to some pancakes for a protein boost!
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.