FOOD

How To Beat Sugar Cravings

Plus why we crave sugar in the first place.

21/07/2017 7:30 AM AEST | Updated 21/07/2017 7:38 AM AEST

There's a plethora of reasons why we crave sugar, from stress and lack of sleep, to genetics and sugar's addictive nature. Thankfully there are a number of ways and strategies to help beat sugar cravings.

"We can crave sugar for several reasons, the main reasons being low blood sugar and low energy," nutritionist Fiona Tuck told HuffPost Australia.

"Sugar is used primarily as a fuel or energy source -- the brain relies on glucose to function properly -- so when this gets low we crave more sugar. Poor nutrition, such as a diet high in processed foods and sugar and low in nutrients such as magnesium and chromium, can also lead to sugar cravings."

Reasons why we crave sugar include:

Sugar can give us a feeling of increased alertness, mood and energy. But when we eat more sugar than our body needs, it gets stored in the body as glycogen as a fuel reserve.

"When glycogen stores are full, the body converts the excess sugar into fat and stores it as adipose tissue," Tuck explained.

"Sugar causes an increase in the hormone insulin, and the more sugar we eat, the more insulin is produced, which can lead to health problems such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes."

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How to beat sugar cravings

1. Consume foods high in magnesium, chromium and zinc

"Increase nutrient-dense foods, including magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate, and chromium found in whole grains, broccoli, green beans, bran and orange juice," Tuck said.

"These nutrients help improve your cells' sensitivity to insulin to maximise the amount of sugar your body is able to metabolise and burn. A deficiency in these nutrients may lead to sugar cravings," dietitian Robbie Clark told HuffPost Australia.

Foods high in magnesium: green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, raw cacao, dark chocolate, tofu, chlorella powder.

Foods high in chromium: broccoli, whole grains, wheat germ, brewer's yeast, bran cereal, orange juice, romaine lettuce, raw onions, potatoes, green beans, bananas, apples, raw tomatoes, black pepper, grape juice.

Foods high in zinc: oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, pork, chicken, beans, mushrooms.

2. Eat macro-nutrient balanced snacks and meals

For each meal of the day, aim for a balance of macro-nutrients. This will help keep you full for longer and your blood sugar levels more stable, therefore helping to reduce sugar cravings during the day.

"Balancing out blood sugar levels can help. Eat regular meals and include protein, good quality carbs and good fats to maintain satiety and prevent blood sugar crashes," Tuck said.

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Eggs (protein), good-quality carbs (rye bread) and healthy fats (avocado).

3. Add spices to your meals and snacks

To help avoid sugar crashes and cravings, add spices like cinnamon to your meals and snacks. Try banana, peanut butter and cinnamon on toast, vegetable curry with Indian spices, and baked pear with cinnamon and nutmeg.

"Cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg have shown some promise in improving blood sugar control, especially in people with poorly controlled diabetes," Clark said.

4. Manage stress levels

"High stress and cortisol levels can also lead to sugar cravings," Tuck said.

Try 10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing, go for a walk with a friend or family member, take a hot bath, drink herbal tea, and don't forget exercise.

"Combat stress and emotions by exercising regularly. Not only will the exercise improve stress, but it will also boost your energy, which is a major factor why people look to sugar in the first place," Clark said.

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Licorice tea is naturally sweet and can help satisfy a sweet craving.

5. Swap sugary junk food for naturally-sweetened alternatives

Instead of store-bought sugary food, make your own banana-sweetened muffins or loaf, colourful fruit salad, or homemade ice cream by blending frozen bananas with a splash of milk. Or try these seven easy, healthy desserts.

"Bake with overripe mashed bananas or unsweetened apple sauce," Clark said. "You could also snack on a few Medjool dates, which are not only naturally sweet but also contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants."

While fruit does contain sugar, it also comes with fibre, which is the way to make sugar safe for our bodies.

6. Add extra healthy fats to your meals

If you find you're still craving sugar after eating macro-nutrient balanced meals, Clark suggests to try adding extra healthy fats to your meals.

"Healthy fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, nuts and seeds provide satiety and they help to keep your blood sugar stable," Clark said.

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A handful of nuts can keep you more full than a handful of lollies.

7. Remove temptation

Resisting a block of chocolate which is waiting in the cupboard at home is much harder than simply saying 'no' to it once in the supermarket.

"A major reason why people flock to sugary foods is because it is there, right in front of them, or on the office desk or in the freezer. If you remove these temptations, it will be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Clark said.

8. Get quality sleep

As insufficient sleep can affect the hormones that control our appetite, a bad night's sleep could be why you're overeating or craving sugar today.

"Get plenty of sleep. When you're tired, your energy levels are lowered which will tempt you to go for sugary options," Clark said.

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9. Keep a food diary

In order to understand when and why you experience sugar cravings, Tuck recommends tracking what you eat, as well as your mood and energy levels, and being mindful of these patterns.

"Keep a food diary to monitor patterns so you can start to notice the triggers -- do they come after not eating a balanced meal? When you are tired or stressed?" Tuck said.

"Practise mindfulness by becoming aware of the craving and when they arise."

10. Don't skip meals

For those wanting to lose weight or compensate for a sugary binge, skipping meals can be a tempting idea. However, this can have the opposite effect.

"Don't starve yourself unnecessarily -- going for long periods of time without food may cause your bloods sugar levels to drop. This will promote hunger, and more likely for carbohydrate or sugary foods," Clark said.

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