Follow the long, depressing drag out of winter with the chocolate temptations of Easter, and it’s not hard to see how the first few months of the year can be the hardest for keeping a sweet tooth under control.
“Sugary foods taste very good and give us immediate gratification, so are common comfort foods,” says dietitian Helen Bond. “Chocolate specifically, which can be around 50 per cent sugar, is an intensely desirable food because of the way it melts at close to body temperature, giving that sensuous mouth feel.”
Guidelines from Public Health England suggest that we shouldn’t have more than 5 per cent of our calories from free sugars (the type supplied by added sugar, fruit juice, syrups and honey) which equates to 30g or around 7 teaspoons a day. Too much sugar is associated with tooth decay and obesity and is a habit that can quickly become ingrained.
“The rapid boost you get after one sweet snack can be short-lived, sending you in search of your next sugary lift,” explains Helen Bond.
The good news? The following research-based and expert tips can make dealing with your sugar cravings easier than you’d ever imagine. Follow as many as you can to slash your sugar intake within days.
Don’t skip meals
Though the lure of sugary food is often as much head based as stomach based, you’re definitely likely to be more vulnerable if you let yourself get absolutely ravenous. So, making sure you plan regular, healthy meals is your first essential step to making those sugar cravings feel less insistent.
Making sure that you get enough of the minerals chromium and magnesium may be particularly helpful. Registered nutritionist Esther Mills-Roberts says: “Chromium is needed for normal blood sugar control and there’s anecdotal evidence it might help reduce cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugars.
Magnesium also helps support a healthy blood sugar balance and lots of people don’t get enough. If you’re always craving sugar, I’d suggest a daily supplement of both – up to 200 micrograms of chromium and around 175mg of magnesium.”
Replacing fast-release carbs like white rice, white bread, corn flakes and cereal bars with higher fibre types that release more slowly, such as grainy wholemeal breads, porridge, beans and pasta, helps smooth out blood sugar fluctuations, which may mean you crave sugar less. A study in 2012 by University of Washington researchers found that compared with a diet high in high glycaemic index (fast-releasing) carbs, a low GI (slow-releasing) one was better at making people feel full and curbing cravings.
Eat plenty of protein
Having a portion of lean protein, such as chicken, prawns, eggs, tuna or Quorn, at each meal also helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, meaning you should crave sugar less. Protein is the most satiating nutrient so it should help to curb appetite more generally too.
Keep a food and mood diary
Writing down everything you eat during the day and how you feel, mood-wise, at the time can help you understand which scenarios are most likely to trigger a sugar craving. You can monitor the old-fashioned way in a notebook, or use a food diary app such as Fooducate, with a mood tracker built in. “Stress, boredom or tiredness are common sugar craving triggers, but some simple lifestyle changes, such as taking more exercise, can help people to overcome them,” says Helen Bond.
Chew sugar free gum
A study at Louisiana State University indicated that chewing gum was helpful in controlling appetite, decreasing participants’ daily food intake by 40 calories and reducing snack cravings. Not everyone likes gum though – if it leaves you with a rubbly tum or feeling a bit windy, go for mint tea instead. It makes your mouth feel minty fresh, taking away the desire to tuck into anything else.
Save your sweet treats for meal times
When you do eat something sugary, saving it for a meal time is your best bet says Esther Mills-Roberts. “When you eat sugary snacks on an empty stomach you digest them more rapidly, spiking blood sugar and insulin levels, which can increase your diabetes risk. Enjoying a small sweet dessert after dinner, when the absorption of sugar will be slowed by the food already in your stomach, is actually healthier.”
Hang on in there
If you’re having a sugar craving but aren’t hungry, the urge will often pass if you wait it out. To increase your chances, try not to sit around thinking about food. One of the best and healthiest ways to distract yourself is to go for a brisk walk – as far away from the biscuit tin as you can!
First published in Slim, Fit & Healthy’s April Issue