I have an overwhelming craving for sugar, especially in the afternoons, what can I do to stop this?
Great question. Sugar cravings affect so many of us. They are most likely caused from a diet high in processed foods which is subsequently quite high calorie and has a very low nutrient density. An unbalanced diet, like this, can leave us with hormonal imbalance as well as blood sugar imbalance, which result in a deprivation mentality.
Its no secret that reducing refined sugar has us feeling healthier, happier and more balanced. So what do we need to do…?
First things first, we need to address why you have the sugar cravings in the first place? This could be due to many reasons…:
- Perhaps you are experiencing high stress or lack of sleep?
- Perhaps your diet isn’t up to scratch?
- Perhaps you have created a habit for yourself…3pm every afternoon at work is biscuit and tea time or you’ve been having that ice cream after dinner more often than not?
- Perhaps your gut microbiome is out of balance?
- Perhaps you’re eating too much sugar?
- Perhaps you’re extra hormonal?
If you’re having trouble identifying why your cravings exist, it is best to talk to your nutritionist and/or healthcare practitioner who can look at your case holistically and make any required tweaks.
My key points to stop your sugar cravings:
Start your day the best possible way – with a balanced, nutritious breakfast. Aim to eat your fruit in the morning, on an empty stomach, as it digests the fastest.
Lunch is perhaps the most important meal to avoid that mid-afternoon slump. Aim for a lunch rich in fibre, good quality fats, complex carbohydrate and protein. One example being a big green salad with roasted sweet potato, some poached chicken or a tin of salmon, some olives, and a drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Another more seasonally-appropriate example is a hearty bowl of veggie-packed soup with beans and/or lentils and a side of sourdough with avocado.
Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, therefore, ensuring a source with each meal will ensure satiety, sustained energy and balanced blood sugar levels.
Aim to drink plenty of water/herbal tea between meals rather than during, to promote optimal digestion. Dehydration often mimics hunger, hence we often think we’re hungry, when we are actually just thirsty. If you feel the need to indulge, drink 1-2 full glasses of water. If after 10 minutes you still feel hungry, eat something then.
Avoid chewing gum as it causes the production of insulin which subsequently increases hunger for quick fixes which are often our sugary foods.
Aim to incorporate as much nude food as possible, avoiding anything that comes from a packet as this further triggers cravings. If this means cleaning out your pantry or cupboard, then make it a job for the forthcoming weekend.
Add cinnamon to your foods (aka Cinnamomum cassia, not cinnamon sugar!). This has a blood sugar balancing effect, reducing any potential cravings. I like to add cinnamon to porridge, on my apples, to warm almond milk, before roasting pumpkin and carrots…there are so many ways to enjoy it!
Avoid skipping any meals as this can wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels.
Getting adequate sleep helps to regulate the hormones that control our appetites. When we don’t get enough sleep, this balance becomes interrupted and the body releases the nasty ‘ghrelin’ hormone which stimulates our hunger for sugary, refined carbohydrate rich foods.
Reduce caffeine to 1 coffee per day and watch your alcohol intake. Caffeine produces adrenaline in the body, hence that rush of energy we get when we drink coffee. Adrenaline can increase blood sugar levels, which when in excess, gets stored as fat. Many alcoholic drinks also contain high amounts of sugar, causing the same insulin spike that you would get from say eating an ice-cream or a handful of M & Ms.
Adding more magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables to your meals will mean that your taste buds will overtime adapt, making them more sensitive to overly sweet foods. Furthermore, magnesium also helps with blood sugar level balance, a major key to reducing sugar cravings.
Low chromium and magnesium levels are often correlated to sugar cravings. Talk to your nutritionist or health practitioner about supplementing if you feel this is the case.
If you are out shopping and are after a quick fix, read your labels and look for food items that have less than 5g sugar per 100g or less than 10g sugar per 100g (enjoy the latter less often). For drinks, less than 7.5g sugar per 100mL is a good guide.
For more on sugar check it the following post on sugar and its many names.