It’s no secret Americans consume way too much sugar—about 66 pounds of added sugar per year per person[note]http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.W3SJ-8InbIU[/note].
And despite the plethora of new research, news reports and experts warning us against sugar’s woes, most of us still consume entirely too much of the sweet stuff.
Why is this?
Why can’t we stop eating sugar even when we know it’s hindering our health?
One big reason for this is: sugar can be highly addictive
And while nutritionists and integrative health practitioners have warned about the addictive nature of sugar for decades, science is finally starting to catch up.
As reported by the University of California San Fransisco, Scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, used brain-scanning technology to show that sugar causes changes in subject’s brains in a similar way cocaine and alcohol affect the brains of addicts.
These changes within the brain are believed to cause increased cravings for more sugar, trapping many individuals in a downward spiral of sugar binging[note]http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.W3MmdcInbIU[/note].
So if you’ve ever joked about being “addicted to sweets”, now you know there’s something to it.
This is important to understand, as it appears will-power is not the only issue at play when it comes to kicking sugar cravings.
Other common reasons people experience sugar cravings are: habit and comfort
This may sound simplistic, but we all know habits are powerful creatures.
Since childhood, most of us have been rewarded for good behavior, hard work, good grades, a trip to the dentist or doctor, getting through hard times and celebrating happy occasions with sugary treats.
This programmed us to view sweets as a reward and a comfort.
Got a big promotion at work? Celebrate with a margarita.
Stressed out with a new baby? A chocolate binge will fix that.
It’s your birthday? Eat all the cake and ice cream you want.
Habits like these are powerful, but they are habits nonetheless.
And unhealthy habits are often best overcome by replacing them with better habits.
Let’s look at 3 simple nutritional strategies that can help you overcome sugar cravings and adopt healthier eating habits.
#1: Stabilize your Blood Sugar
Imbalanced blood sugar can cause us to reach for all sorts of unhealthy sweets in an attempt to boost energy levels.
And while a candy bar or trip to the vending machine may provide a temporary fix, chances are you’ll find yourself crashing an hour two down the road…
…which will lead you to seek another sugary fix, and so on.
If you’ve ever experienced the 3 o’clock munchies, you know what we’re talking about!
If you’re an otherwise healthy individual without diabetes or another chronic blood sugar issue, a simple way to keep your blood sugar stable is to eat every 3-4 hours, and include a little protein at each meal and snack.
This could mean an egg on toast for breakfast, an apple with almond butter for snack, a salad with chicken or steak for lunch, a protein shake for afternoon snack, a piece of wild-caught salmon with brown rice and vegetables for dinner and (if you wake up hungry) you could include a small handful of nuts before bed.
Another key in keeping blood sugar stable is to get enough sleep.
Multiple studies have shown even one night of interrupted sleep can have dire consequences on your insulin sensitivity[note]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151104134039.htm[/note].
Therefore, commit to getting 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night (for more info, check out our previous article: Trouble Sleeping? Try These 5 Simple Sleep Hygiene Tips).
Finally, getting the right type of exercise…regularly will do wonders for blood sugar stability
The best sugar-busting, blood-sugar balancing exercises are high intensity interval training exercises (AKA: HIIT)—where you workout hard for 1 minute, rest 2-3 minutes, then do another burst and rest, etc.
HIIT workouts have been proven to improve insulin sensitivity[note]https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00479/full[/note], improve appetite control[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885625/[/note], reduce stress[note]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030715091511.htm[/note] and offer a super-convenient way to stay fit.
Learn more in: How to Exercise Less (and be healthier for it).
#2: Eat Whole, Naturally-Sweet Foods
Many of our Knew Health clients ask us: if I can’t use sugar, what natural sweeteners can I use to sweeten my coffee, drinks, desserts, etc.
Our suggestion is: if beating sugar cravings is your goal, try to use any type of natural sweetener sparingly (if at all).
The strategy here is to retrain your taste buds to be satisfied with the natural sweetness found in whole foods.
For example, we often recommend substituting sugary desserts for naturally-sweet alternatives like baked fruit with walnuts, sweet potato puree with cinnamon or banana “ice cream” made by pureeing frozen bananas and enjoying like soft serve.
If you find you need to add a little something sweet to help tame those cravings (especially in the beginning), a little bit of pure Stevia goes a long way.
And remember, the more whole, fresh foods you eat the less room you’ll have for junk food.
#3: Get Enough Healthy Fat
While protein helps stabilize your blood sugar levels, enough of the right fats can go a long way in satisfying hunger and sweet cravings.
Unlike highly processed carbs and sugar, fatty foods like nuts, olive oil, wild-caught salmon and full-fat dairy satisfy our desire for rich food without spiking our blood sugar.
For example, the cravings you may have for ice cream, can very often be satisfied by eating some healthy fat.
Examples of healthy fats include:
- Wild-caught fish
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Butter and ghee (preferably from grass-fed cows)
- Full fat, no-sugar-added dairy products (preferably from grass-fed cows)
- Coconut oil
A Final Word About Sugar Addiction vs. Habit
If you are truly addicted to sugar and/or have a history of addiction in your family, today’s advice is a great starting point.
However, since true addictions often require an individual approach, you may need to seek additional advice from an integrative functional medicine practitioner.
If you suspect your sugar cravings are more the result of habit or comfort, by following these tips you should expect to see some pretty amazing results.
That said, old habits die hard! And if you’re still struggling we’d love to help through our Health Coaching programs.
By analyzing specific lab markers and taking the time to get to know you as an individual, we can identify any causal factors (nutrient deficiencies, gut health imbalances, etc.) which may be hindering your success.
And remember, the best way to overcome unhealthy habits is to replace them with healthier habits. Today’s tips will help you do just that.
To your sweet success,
-The Knew Health Team