How often during the day are you plagued by a sugar craving? You’re at your desk getting work done when, all of a sudden, your sweet tooth kicks in. Instead of finishing that report your boss has been hounding you for, you’re focused on where you can get a chocolate chip cookie. Sugar cravings come at the worst times and can be really hard to resist. But, it is possible.
“Eating a varied diet that feels fresh and interesting will help stave off cravings,” says Keri Glassman, MS, RDN, and founder of Nutritious Life. “Persistently bland and repeated meals will only leave you craving a new and different flavor, and pining for the ‘what’s next’ after an unsatisfying meal,” Glassman explains.
The key is to avoid sweet cravings before they start, and luckily, there are many ways to do that. Here are 20 nutritionist-recommended ways to avoid pulling the trigger for a shot of sugar. Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don’t miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Make sure you incorporate all food groups when you prepare a meal. According to Nutrition Stripped founder, McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN, people don’t realize they’re what they’re missing in their meals and it could be detrimental. “I’ve found in my practice that often people crave sugar because of generally imbalanced diet as a whole,” she says. “At meal times they might be missing out on enough fiber to keep them physically full or can be lacking enough protein to keep them satiated, or enough healthy fats. All the macronutrients work together to keep our blood sugars stabilized and keep us satiated so we need them all.”
FODMAP diet expert and dietitian Kate Scarlata, RDN explains that skipping meals leads our bodies to need fast fuel, so we’re more likely to grab the first sugary thing we can get our hands on. “When you get over-hungry, sugary snacks become a quick fix for a plummeting low blood sugar,” Scarlata explains. So make sure you enjoy three well-balanced meals daily, and if you need a snack, go for one high in fiber and protein.
When a craving hits, instead of running for the candy drawer try something that will give you fuel, too. “If you need a shot of sugar along with energy that will last longer, try making a trail mix with almonds, dried fruit, and a few dark chocolate chips,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. “This snack is portable and will not only provide that sweetness you crave, but you’ll also get protein and healthy fat from the nuts, and iron and fiber from the fruit.”
Staying hydrated has countless benefits, and here’s another one. “Drink plenty of water so that you’re not mistaking a craving with being thirsty,” says paleo expert Diane Sanfilippo, Certified Nutrition Consultant and New York Times bestselling author of Practical Paleo and The 21 Day Sugar Detox. We often confuse our thirst for hunger, so before you grab the processed snack, drink a bottle of water or a flavored seltzer, then see how you feel.
Here’s another reason to meal plan. According to ketogenic diet expert, Maria Emmerich, planning ahead will ensure that you eat something healthy. “Having sugar-free treats on hand to quell the cravings helps,” she shares. “When you first start keto there could be some cravings that strike but once your keto, the cravings are a thing of the past.”
It may seem unrelated, but according to experts, the amount of sleep you get directly correlates with sugar cravings. “It’s well-documented that people who are sleep-deprived crave sugary foods,” says nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN. “We’ve all been there. You didn’t get a great night sleep, but you need to be productive the next day, so you lean on caffeine and sugar for a boost. It works in the short-term, but long-term it leads to a poor diet and potential weight gain,” she explains.
This may sound silly since salt and sugar are total opposites, but eating lots of salty foods can bring on sugar cravings. “Salt is great for seasoning, but avoid the super salty foods,” Glassman shares. “They can trigger a craving for sweet foods which is often why dinners out often lead to wanting to head straight to the dessert menu.” Season food with other spices first before heading to the salt.
We all know how important protein is to our diet, but making sure we have enough at each meal is also helpful for staving off sugar cravings. “Eat protein and fiber at every meal! This is the most important tool you could have on your plate,” says Brooke Alpert, RD, and author of The Diet Detox. “Both protein and fiber help to slow down the absorption of sugar to prevent any blood sugar spikes which would make you crave more sugar. Plus, they help keep you fuller longer, leaving you more in control over your food choices and less likely to dive into that cupcake!”
“If a craving for something sweet like a piece of chocolate or a scoop of ice cream persists, just have it,” says Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, and author of 52-Week Meal Planner. “Trying to satisfy cravings with other ‘healthier’ foods or restricting yourself from having a food you’re craving often lead to overeating. As is often said, the forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest.” So, eat your piece of cake, don’t feel bad, and then move on.
At times cravings can be so strong that you may think your body needs the sugar, but according to Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, this is a trained response. “Sugar cravings are often a conditioned response,” she says.
“It’s either an ingrained habit for you to have a piece of chocolate or something sweet after a meal so your body starts demanding it,” Moreno explains. “The craving can also be an emotional demand. Maybe you’re stressed, sad, or anxious, so you think you need chocolate to feel better,” she adds. Instead of thinking of it as something you need, think of sugar as something you want, but are going to try and avoid.
Understanding why you are craving sugar can be major clue to help you overcome it. “Know your reason ‘why,'” Glassman says. “Cravings can be triggered by emotions, behaviors or nutrient deficiencies. The next time you’re absolutely craving ice cream, ask yourself, is it pure boredom? Are you feeling happy? Sad? Stressed?,” she explains. Asking these questions and trying to get the bottom of why you’re craving what you are can help you overcome the feeling in the future as well.
“Have regularly scheduled meals. The worst thing you can do is let yourself get so hungry that you lose all control over your next food choice,” Alpert advises. “Having meals or snacks every four hours helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels, keep you satisfied and in control until your next meal.” Losing control during a craving is one of the top reasons people give into them.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to eradicate sugar cravings because they’re part of being human. But I do think that nature gave us fruit for a reason,” Largeman-Roth explains. “It’s naturally sweet and loaded with fiber to help us feel full. It also delivers a host of benefits, including antioxidants that help our bodies and skin stay young and healthy.” Training your body to crave fruit instead of processed sugar will be greatly beneficial to your overall health.
When a sugar craving hits, try tricking your mind with a sweet snack, but not a sugary one. “Having sugar-free snacks on hand ensures you don’t slip up and grab something you’ll regret,” Emmerich shares. Sugar cravings can be hard to fight in the beginning, but sugar-free candies will trick your mind into thinking it’s getting the sweetness it craves.
“Make sure 85 percent of your meals include innately healthy foods like fresh produce, lean protein, and healthy fats. The other 15 percent can include some treats,” Scarlata shares. “If you make certain foods forbidden, then you just crave them even more. And truthfully, I don’t think there is a need to give up sugar entirely.” A little treat here and there never hurts.
According to Hill, sugar cravings can mean you’re eating foods that aren’t filling. “We know that both fiber and healthy fats take longer for our bodies to digest, but protein also works to keep us satiated and when all combined can help curb sugar cravings later in the day or post-meal,” she explains.
Sweet Defeat is a natural lozenge that stops sugar cravings within seconds, and Alpert recommends them to her clients. “This pint-sized lozenge is all natural and clinically proven to help stop sugar cravings before they start,” she explains. “I’ve been giving them to my clients regularly and see a big change!” Try one after a meal or while you’re experiencing a craving.
Mike Roussell, PhD, founder of Neuro Coffee, has an interesting idea for mentally approaching cravings: “Many people think their cravings just get bigger and bigger until you give into them,” Dr. Roussell says. “But this isn’t the case. Instead, envision your sugar craving like a wave, it will get bigger and stronger, but it will also eventually subside and dissipate just like a wave.” Dr. Roussell explains that this is a technique used for people trying to quit smoking developed by psychologist Alan Marlatt, Ph.D.
Another great way to stave off sugar cravings is to give your mouth another distraction. Whether it’s chewing sugar-free gum, drinking a cup of warm herbal tea, or just doing something else, allow the craving to pass. “Allow enough time to pass while you drink or wait for the piping hot tea for you to think through the craving,” Moreno explains. Most cravings last no longer than 30 minutes.
While intermittent fasting works for some people, it might not be a good idea for someone with a sugar problem. According to Sanfilippo, skipping breakfast can lead to sugar cravings. “Eat a breakfast that’s protein-based with healthy fats,” she says. Since your body’s first choice for fuel is sugar, if you skip or skimp on our first meal of the day, you’re going to crave the energy you need. Sanfilippo recommends eating two or three hard-boiled eggs with some leafy greens, EVOO and lemon and a handful of raspberries or blueberries for breakfast. For some ideas, check out 19 High Protein Breakfasts That Keep You Full.