7 Secrets to Beating Your Sugar Cravings

Do you have a serious sweet tooth? If so, it can sometimes be hard to resist the allure of sugar. The white, glistening crystalline substance we call table sugar is pure sucrose. Historically, it either didn’t exist or was very expensive, depending on what region and time period you’re talking about. But today, widespread cultivation of sugarcane and sugar beets has made sugar cheaper and more plentiful than ever before. 

7 Secrets to Beating Your Sugar Cravings

Perhaps too plentiful. Especially in the United States, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are in an astounding variety of products. Even Wonder Bread and similar products contain sugar. The average American actually does consume too much sugar, even if they don’t think they do. This contributes to high rates of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

We hear you say, “Not me, I don’t really have a sweet tooth.” Well, are you sure about that? Here’s a question for you: do you drink soda? (The regular kind, not diet soda.) Okay. How many per day? Probably two or three -- the average American drinks about 2.6 servings of soda per day. A full 20% of Americans drink at least one soda daily. If you include sugary beverages other than soda, the number goes up to 33%

Soda contains a lot of sugar. This may seem obvious, but it’s the kind of thing you drink without really thinking about it. It’s absolutely inundated with sugar. A single soda puts you above the World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for adults. 

And soda isn’t the only beverage that has a lot of sugar. Even fruit juice, a seemingly innocent drink that’s marketed as a healthy choice, is little more than liquid sugar.

Sugar Can Be Addictive 

There’s a reason why you crave sugar. First of all, taste preferences are partly determined by genetic factors. It’s part of the reason that some people are more predisposed toward things like obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, although it’s far from the whole picture. Eating behaviors are quite complex. They are influenced by physiological factors, psychological factors, social factors, as well as genetics.

Not only are some people predisposed toward having a “sweet tooth,” but many are also genetically predisposed toward sugar addiction. Yes, sugar can be addictive, and that’s not simply a hyperbolic statement. There really is evidence that sugar influences neural pathways in the nucleus accumbens that are correlated with addictions and compulsive behaviors. It can trigger similar behavioral patterns, including binging, withdrawal, cravings, and cross-sensitization. Evidence from rodent studies has even indicated a cross-sensitization with amphetamines.

The existing body of evidence is pretty clear: sugar consumption can, in fact, become compulsive, and can share certain qualities with other common behavioral and drug addictions. If you just can’t stop eating and drinking sugar, there’s a chance your body might be physiologically addicted to it.

Here are Seven Simple Ways to Beat Your Sugar Cravings

So how do you keep sugar cravings at bay? Even if you’re predisposed toward too much sugar -- in which case, the high sugar level of many common American foods and beverages doesn’t help -- you can still beat your sugar cravings.

1) Understand Your Sugar Intake Habits

The first step is insight. You need to be aware of your eating habits. Unless you’re either actively trying to lose weight or you’ve done so in the past, you’re probably not paying a whole lot of attention to what you’re putting in your mouth, much less keeping track of it. 

So here’s a challenge for you: keep a food journal for a week or so, writing down everything you consume. You can use many online resources to find nutritional information for each food item you consume. This can give you a much better idea of exactly how much sugar you’re actually consuming. 

2) Titrate your sugar intake gradually downward over time. 

Sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly decrease your intake drastically. They’re not life-threatening or anything, of course, but they can be on par with caffeine withdrawal. 

Some people can go cold turkey and be fine, but if you have a serious sugar habit, you may want to take small steps over a week or two to gradually decrease your sugar intake.

3) Learn to tell yourself no.

Eating or drinking something sugary is a fleeting, momentary pleasure. Sure, it tastes good, but what then? Is it really worth the potential damage to your health? Sometimes you have to put off what you want now to get what you want later. Whether you’re trying to lower your blood sugar to prevent diabetes, lose some weight, or just improve your dental health and get fewer cavities, foregoing sugar is the means to a worthwhile end. You have to think about the long term, not the short term.

4) Find Sugar-Free Alternatives 

There’s all kinds of pop culture hullabaloo about aspartame causing cancer, and this and that. This is based mostly on misinterpretations of things like preliminary rodent studies. Moderation is recommended, of course, but especially since Splenda was invented, many sugar-free products are very close to the sugared products they’re based on. From flavored coffee creamer, to chewing gum, to hard candy, to sweeteners for beverages, there are tons of great products that are low in sugar.

5) Use smaller amounts of real sugar.

If you’re one of those people who just can’t stand Splenda or Sweet-n-Low in your coffee, try using smaller amounts of real sugar. In fact, it lets the flavors of coffee and tea come forward more strongly, for a more robust taste that isn’t drowning in sweetness.

6) Chew sugar-free gum.

If you’re craving candy, there are a ton of sugar-free gums, generally sweetened with xylitol or sorbitol. These sugar alcohols metabolize slowly, and don’t promote bacteria the way real sugar does. Chewing a piece of sugar-free gum is a great way to indulge a sugar craving without hurting your teeth. 

Just one word of warning, though: sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol can have laxative effects. If you’ve ever read those joke Amazon reviews about Haribo sugar-free gummy bears, you know what we’re talking about. 

7) Indulge in sugar occasionally.

There’s always a chance that after avoiding sugar, you’ll relapse and binge. Again, sugar can be neurophysiologically addictive for some individuals with the right underlying genetics. You may be able to avoid this contingency by allowing yourself some sugar occasionally. A bowl of ice cream on a Friday night or a cupcake at an office holiday party isn’t suddenly going to destroy your teeth. Refined sugar is fine in moderation -- the problem is that most people are consuming too much, not the mere fact that they’re consuming it at all. It’s sugar, not cocaine. 

Saying No to Too Much Sugar

Sugar can have addictive properties for many people, even to the point of becoming compulsive and producing mild withdrawal symptoms. It’s not always easy to say no to excessive sugar intake. After all, so many things are full of sugar, and some of them, like fruit juices, are marketed as being a healthy choice. 

But if you start paying a little more attention to what you’re eating, your teeth will thank you for it. Reducing your sugar intake can have many benefits for your overall health. Not only will your teeth stay healthier and less susceptible to cavities, pulpitis, and other consequences of tooth decay, but you’ll also lower your risk of high blood sugar and diabetes. Plus, you’ll probably even lose a little weight. It’s never too late to start making better decisions about what you’re eating, and starting today could save you many expensive dental bills in the future.

Related Articles