Who doesn’t love sugar? We know it tastes amazing, but the sweet flavour actually plays a major role in our sense of well-being and satisfaction, thanks to the chemical serotonin being released into our brains. In the days when sugar wasn’t refined, we looked for sweetness in fruit, vegetables and grains. Today, how many of us eat ketchup as a condiment? Drink juice? Eat bread? Even some so-called “healthy foods” contain sugar. Sugar is everywhere—and our sugar cravings have never been more out of control.
For instance, your day is going great: a cup of oatmeal and some fruit for breakfast, a snack of some almonds at mid-morning, and a salad for lunch. You feel proud about how well you’ve eaten throughout the day, and at about 3pm…the urge hits. Your mouth starts watering as you daydream of something sweet! You grab for the first sweet thing you can find and feel as though you have no control over yourself as you indulge and try to satisfy that wicked need for sweetness. A guilty feeling descends, but you promise yourself to try harder tomorrow.
Breaking down the need for sweet
To satisfy a sugar craving, we usually reach for something indulgent, like cake, ice cream, or chocolate. In reality, a sugar craving is actually the body trying to send us a message about what it needs. Most sugar cravings are simply our body asking for energy—but not necessarily asking us to feed it sugar! Perhaps it is trying to balance out a stressful or boring lifestyle, or maybe it is signalling that it is dehydrated or needs more exercise. All of these can trigger a sugar craving, and the key to stopping it is to fully understand what our body really needs.
We often assume that sugar itself boosts our body’s energy, but it’s often just a very short-term win. Refined or processed sugar has very few vitamins and minerals, and quickly gets converted into glucose. Our bodies need to maintain a balanced blood sugar level, but eating too much refined sugar does not give our bodies the chance to process the sugars naturally or give us the long-lasting energy we desire. It’s a vicious cycle—we eat the sugar, it gets digested and enters the bloodstream at a fast rate, giving us a quick energy boost. The body works hard to burn it, and soon after, we feel the crash as our blood sugar level drops, making us feel tired and lethargic. Then, again, we feel hungry or crave more sugar to boost our blood sugar level. This see-saw pattern is unhealthy and often leads to health complications and various illnesses.
Today, we find sweet tastes in different sweeteners that are advertised as alternatives to sugar. However, there are damaging side effects and health risks from using refined sweeteners such as white or brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. These products have been wiped clean of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and can also raise blood sugar levels, which leads to further sugar cravings. Look out for these names that are often touted by manufacturers as alternatives to sugar: dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, glucose, and fructose, and avoid them as much as possible.
How to beat the cravings
The solution is to wean sugary and processed foods out from our diets and replace them with healthier alternatives. These alternatives need to be high in nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help balance and regulate our blood sugar, and healthy options can even help to deconstruct sweet cravings. Natural sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and stevia can help reduce our cravings for sugary things.
The next time you’re hit with a sugar craving, don’t feel badly about it, because it’s not a weakness. Our body is simply sending us a message of love, so pause and think about how you can truly nurture it and supply what it really needs.
Here are some tips to minimise sugar cravings:
- Have a glass of water and wait 10 minutes before reaching for something sweet
- Eat a healthier version of what you crave. If you crave chocolate, try eating some fruit or a sweet root or vegetable
- Eliminate or reduce caffeine from your diet
- Get physically active
- Get some rest, sleep and relaxation
- Eliminate low-fat or fat-free packaged food/snacks
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet
- Become in-tune with yourself and your feelings to figure out what may be out of balance in your life
- Find a hobby; be creative. Find the sweetness of life in a ‘non-food’ way