Many opinions exist on what foods are healthy and what foods are not; however, most will agree that sugar is one food we should be eating less of. So, if we know that we should be eating less sugar, why is it so difficult to do so?
Humans are hardwired to crave sugar, which is a survival mechanism that worked well thousands of years ago during the period of hunting and gathering for every meal. These cravings led our ancient ancestors to nutritious foods that were key to their survival. Today, though sugary foods are often stripped of nutritional value and are highly concentrated with more sugar and less nutrition.
Sugar also signals the brain to release dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. When the brain releases dopamine after eating sugar, it is reinforcing this behavior leading to cravings for more sugar. Every time you act on your craving by eating a bag of cookies or a pint of ice cream, you have reinforced that behavior. So what can you do to break this cycle of sugar consumption and dopamine release?
Creating new connections in the brain with delicious and healthy foods will begin to change your habits. Here are five tips that will help break those sugar-craving habits and provide support to lose sugar cravings naturally.
1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Sugar cravings can often be confused with dehydration. Dehydration can manifest as sugar cravings, so when you find yourself with a sugar craving, drink a full glass of water. Even mild dehydration can alter the body’s metabolism, so aim to drink eight glasses a day and limit soda, caffeine, and alcohol.
2. Look for naturally sweet foods: Eat naturally sweet vegetables and fruit. These foods are naturally sweet, healthy, and delicious. The more naturally sweet foods you eat, the less sugar your body will crave because you are nourishing your body with nutrient-dense food. Incorporate naturally sweet vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and bell peppers into your meals and snacks and your sugar cravings will diminish.
3. Get Some Zzz’s: Get more sleep, rest, and relaxation. The most readily available form of energy for your body is simple carbohydrates, such as sugar. For an exhausted body and mind, that equals sugar cravings. If you are chronically stressed and/or deprived of sleep, your body will crave the quickest form of energy there is, which is sugar. Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep each night to keep your body well rested and free of sugar cravings.
4. Eliminate low-fat and fat-free packaged foods: Wait? Did you say to ELIMINATE low-fat and fat-free packaged foods? Why yes, I did! Let me explain: low-fat and fat-free packaged foods contain high quantities of sugar to compensate for lack of fat, and consequently flavor, which will send you on the roller coaster ride of sugar highs and lows. These foods tend to have a lack of nutrients and when your body doesn’t get enough nutrients it will crave sugar. Choose whole, unprocessed foods for cooking and snacks, and see your sugar intake wither away.
5. Find sweetness in your life: Slow down and find sweetness in ways that don’t include food. Every sugar craving you have is not a signal that your body biologically requires sugar. Cravings often have a psychological component. When you identify the psychological causes of food cravings and make lifestyle and relationship adjustments accordingly, you can start to find balance and take charge of your health. When life becomes sweet enough itself, no added sugar is needed.
Here are some of the 60-plus different names for sugar that may appear on your food labels.
Brown Sugar (light and dark brown)
Cane juice solids
Corn syrup solids
Dehydrated cane juice
Evaporated cane juice
Evaporated cane syrup
Evaporated sugar cane
Fruit juice crystals
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Here’s to your Sweet Life!