Well, there is no magic pill to take to stop your sugar cravings. However, sugar cravings are easier to handle when you know what’s causing them in the first place, according to Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO and author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan and a member of our medical expert board.
“While sometimes a craving for sugar is a sign that your body needs more energy and carbs, it can also be prompted by stress and strong emotions,” says Moskovitz. “That said, the first step to managing sugar cravings is to learn more about the why behind them.”
Here are the methods Moskovitz recommends for eliminating a sugar craving before it takes over. After, for even more healthy tips, check out our list of 9 Healthy Eating Habits to Live Over A Century.
“Journaling can be an effective modality to explore why you’re making certain food choices and if you’re lacking anything from your diet that can trigger strong cravings,” says Moskovitz. “If you can pinpoint the cause, or even if you can’t, it may still be hard to shut it off.”
Once you’re aware of the certain triggers (like not getting enough of those satiating macronutrients, like protein and healthy fat), then it can be easier to make some switches to your meals to help with sugar cravings long term.
“For that reason, finding alternatives to satisfy a serious sweet tooth may help prevent excessive added sugar consumption,” says Moskovitz. “Examples include fresh or dried fruit, salted nuts, light ice cream, low-sugar chocolate, chocolate-covered fruit or nuts, and high-fiber cereals or chips.”
If you’ve seen some health guru tell you to drink water in order to suppress your food cravings…well, they aren’t completely wrong. One study published in Physiology & Behavior found that hydration status does alter one’s desire for food. While the study participants ate similar amounts of food, their cravings for food did change when properly hydrated. Researchers also found that water can help with feelings of satiety, which helps with managing sugar cravings for the longer term.
Yes—your blood sugar and your food cravings are certainly linked. Data published in Nutrients in 2020 concluded that those who followed a lower-carbohydrate diet (which won’t cause massive spikes and dips in blood sugar) had a greater reduction in sugar cravings. A healthier diet high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats will help with controlling blood sugar spikes, which in turn helps with sugar cravings during blood sugar dips.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you’re truly looking to stop a craving in its tracks, many dietitians would say simply eating a portioned size of the food you are craving will help with feeling satisfied, instead of trying to satisfy the craving with a healthier alternative.
“Some people may take the road of complete sugar avoidance. While this may work for some, it can backfire for others,” says Moskovitz. “In that case, going for the real deal might be the only way to indulge your craving so you can move on. As long as your sweet treat doesn’t replace other nutritious foods in your diet, it’s perfectly healthy to incorporate desserts or anything sugary-tasting into your diet. Having that after-dinner dessert to look forward to can often be a helpful habit to regularly consume a more balanced, nutritious diet.”
Another nifty trick for eliminating a sugar craving is to pair that sweet treat with something nutritious and filling.
“If you notice that allowing any type of added sugar tends to lead to more sugar cravings, combine what you’re craving with foods that are nutritious and filling, says Moskovitz. “For example, instead of just eating chocolate or just eating an apple, combine the two. Instead of only opting for ice cream or nuts, top your ice cream with fiber and protein-rich almonds or walnuts.”
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more