Sugar cravings are a major problem for many people, even those who otherwise eat sensibly, exercise, and take care of their bodies in every other way. The average consumption of sugar in the Standard American/Canadian Diet (SAD) is in excess of 130 pounds per person, per year – think of that as more than one bag of sugar a month – SAD indeed!!
Make no mistake about it, sugar is a drug, albeit a legal and acceptable one, but one that can have severe, even deadly, health consequences. Sugar has absolutely no nutritional value. It compromises immune function, assists germ growth, causes inflammation, stimulates yeast overgrowth, and has a deleterious impact on virtually every organ in the body. We know that addiction to sugar is a contributory factor in degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity. Sugar increases the production of adrenaline, disrupting the normal function of the endocrine system. It saps the body of minerals and vitamins necessary for normal, healthy functioning. There are also mental and emotional symptoms associated with excessive sugar consumption such as mood swings, learning disorders, irritability and insomnia.
Unfortunately, an addiction to sugar can be as difficult to shake as an addiction to less socially acceptable drugs. Breaking the vicious cycle of consumption and craving takes consistent, focused determination. Below are 15 suggestions for helping to break your sugar addiction – some of which you’ve heard before, others that may be new to you.
1. CLEAR YOUR HOUSE OF SWEETS
Once you’ve made the decision to kick the sugar habit, get rid of all temptation. This seems obvious, but it falls into the “I know I’ll want it some day” category. Get rid of all of it – including cereals and drinks with sugar, any prepared sweet treats, snacks, cookies, candy, and all highly processed carbohydrates (white stuff). White pasta, bread, crackers, bagels act like sugar in the body and need to be avoided if you want to regulate your cravings for sugar. If possible, don’t shop hungry – go after you eat when you will be able to exert more self-control. Once sugar is out of the house, keep it out.
2. DETOX YOURSELF
Having cleared your house of sugar, embark on clearing yourself. A detox is an excellent way to start the process of breaking your addiction to sugar. Detoxing has the benefit of breaking the habit cold-turkey– pushing the “reset” button. After a 5-day detox you will find that your need for sugar is much reduced. The trick is to continue with healthy habits once you finish your detox. A detox is not for everyone, but if this is something that appeals to you, go to a good natural health practitioner for help in selecting a healthy 5-day detox.
3. BECOME A SUGAR DETECTIVE
Start reading labels when you shop. You will be surprised when you look closely that most prepared foods, including products like peanut better and salad dressings have sugar in them. Look closely at any food labeled “low fat” – sugar is often used to replace the flavor that is lost when fat is removed. Glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, are some of the many other words for sugar in nutritional terms. Shop with caution. If possible, avoid grocery stores and shop at farmer’s markets – buy unprocessed, fresh, unprepared foods and know that you are doing your body a huge and happy favor.
4. FRUIT AND OTHER NATURAL SWEET TREATS
Initially after stopping sugar you are likely to still crave something sweet at times. Go to the fruit bowl. The naturally occurring sugar in ripe fruit is a healthy and delicious alternative to processed white sugar. Dried fruits, especially dried dates, are extremely sweet. While you want to limit the quantity of dried dates that you eat, an occasional single date can be extremely satisfying. In a craving emergency (or once you have reasonable control over your cravings), a single square of extra dark chocolate (70% chocolate or more) can satisfy your craving for sweet at the same time as providing you with antioxidants and some extra Magnesium. Finally, some people find that eating spicy food replaces their need for sweets.
5. EAT SMALL AMOUNTS OF WHOLE FOODS FREQUENTLY
One of the common reasons people crave sugar is that their blood sugar levels drop if they do not ear regularly, and then, reaching for a sugary snack is the easiest and quickest way to satisfy hunger and raise blood sugar. This establishes a dangerous cycle of soaring and dipping blood sugar levels, constant hunger, excessive sugar intake, insulin peaks and troughs, and poor nutritional consumption. Aim for three small meals and two to three healthy snacks a day. Whole foods in their natural, least processed forms contain virtually no unhealthy sugars and maintain stable blood sugar levels. Favor foods that are high in fibre. The higher the fibre content, the slower the food metabolizes into sugar in the bloodstream. Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole grain breads, lentils, beans, fruits with skin on, and raw vegetables are all high in fibre. Learn about the glycemic index and eat foods low on the glycemic index to increase satiety and stabilize blood sugar levels.
6. DO NOT SKIP BREAKFAST – EAT A PROTEIN-RICH BREAKFAST
A good breakfast is essential to limit sugar cravings throughout the day. Many people start their day with a breakfast high in sugars and processed carbohydrates (which are essentially the same as sugar once in the blood stream). Protein is an essential part of any healthy breakfast – it gives your brain an amino acid burst which will help mental function throughout the day, helps curb sugar cravings by regulating blood sugar as well as filling your body with healthy building blocks for the remainder of your day.
7. CONSIDER ADDING WHEY PROTEIN TO YOUR BREAKFAST
Whey protein can help reduce carbohydrate and sugar cravings and is an excellent protein to consume at breakfast. Try a fruit smoothie with whey protein, yogurt, nuts, oats, fruits, even veggies. Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production. While it comes from a dairy source, casein (the most common protein in milk and the one that is often the source of dairy intolerance) has been removed. People with dairy sensitivities are often able to tolerate whey protein, although people with lactose sensitivity may want to moderate the amount of whey protein they consume. Whey protein offers a high degree of satiety that can help reduce over-eating during the day. 20-25 grams of whey protein a day can help to decrease carbohydrate cravings. Whey protein also contains high levels of tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin. Increased blood levels of serotonin and tryptophan bring about improvement in mood and memory for those who are mildly depressed, as well as decreased physiological responses to stress. Be sure to read the label carefully when purchasing your whey protein – sugar lurks in many inferior products.
8. TAKE YOUR SUPPLEMENTS
Nutritional deficiencies can make cravings worse. There are some nutrients that seem to be especially useful in controlling blood sugar levels. Chewable vitamin C tablets help control sugar cravings. Magnesium is also helpful in regulating blood sugar levels, as are B vitamin. The best place to start in assuring appropriate nutrient levels is a good, food-based multi-vitamin. Our food, no matter how good our diet, is lacking certain nutrients (due to soil depletion) and a good multi can often go a long way to rectifying this problem. Your multi-vitamin must be food based, as opposed to synthetic, to get the nutrients in a bio-available form. Isolating supplemental nutrients at the expense of a multi-vitamin is not necessarily a good idea as nutrients work optimally in symbiotic cooperation with others.
9. TAKE SUPPLEMENTAL CHROMIUM PICOLINATE
Once you’ve got a good multi-vitamin going you may want to consider supplementing with Chromium Picolinate. Chromium curbs excessive levels of insulin and makes insulin receptors cells more responsive to its effects. By helping the body regulate insulin peaks and troughs as well as blood sugar levels, cravings for sugar and highly processed carbohydrates is reduced. Try taking 200 mcg of Chromium Picolinate before your three major meals daily.
10. AVOID THESE SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
Sugar substitutes are touted by the food industry as healthy substitutes to sugar. While they may have fewer calories and carbohydrates, they are dangerous products and should be avoided completely. Some of the most common sugar substitutes are Aspartame (aka Nutrasweet), Saccharin (aka SugarTwin or Sweet ‘N Low), Sucralose (aka Splenda), and Acesulfame Potassium (aka AceK). There is a long list of side effects that can be associated with these products including headaches, asthma, manic episodes, hallucinations, insomnia, diarrhea, depression, and cancer. Look carefully for these products and their relatives in any prepared product that is labeled “sugar free” – and avoid them.
11. ACCEPTABLE SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
You will find that reducing your sugar intake will increase your sensitivity to sweet, and you will, over time, want less of it. However, there are times when something sweet is in order. The following sugar substitutes are acceptable, responsible ways to cater to your (hopefully diminishing) sweet tooth, and for those occasions (birthday cakes are fairly important things in life) when a bit of sweet is appropriate. Stevia is a natural sweeter with no side effects. It is extremely sweet and a small amount goes a long way to sweetening drinks or for use in baking. 10-15 drops of Stevia in a little water taken before a meal can help reduce sugar cravings – especially that need for dessert at the end of a meal. Stevia has the added benefit of lowering high blood pressure. It contains no calories and will help reduce your craving for sweets. Agave is another product useful for baking. Unprocessed honey is full of delicious nutrients and health benefits, but high in calories. Maple syrup is likewise natural and delicious, but also high in calories. Other healthy natural alternatives to refined sugars are barley malt, rice syrup and coconut sugar.
12. EXERCISE REGULARLY
Regular exercise helps to boost energy and decreases the need for bursts of energy from sugar. Exercise also has the obvious benefit of helping with weight loss. After exercise rehydrate thoroughly. Thirst can often feel like a need for sugar, especially for those inclined in that way.
People often deal with their exhaustion with sugar and caffeine — not helpful approaches to regulating blood sugar levels. Sugar at the end of the day can impact sleep by overstimulating the adrenals. Be sure to get a solid night’s sleep every night.
14. BE AWARE OF YOUR PATTERNS OF EMOTIONAL EATING
This can be the hardest part of the sweet addiction to break – eating sweets for emotional gratification. From the first sweet breast milk of infancy, we learn that something sweet is a treat and a reward. Almost all parents reward children with sugary snacks, and we learn to associate a harmful substance with comfort. Over time, we start to expect something sweet to feel satisfied, and self-dose ourselves with sugar to temporarily boost our mood or energy. The cycle starts to look like any drug addiction. As you feel your craving for something sweet, ask yourself if there is an emotional need that could be satisfied in some other way.
15. HOMEOPATHY CAN HELP
There are a number of homeopathic remedies that can be extremely beneficial in helping reduce sugar cravings. Because sugar cravings/addiction are a deep-seated disorder, it is not suggested that you self-medicate homeopathically. Call your favorite homeopath to discuss homeopathic remedies for this problem.