Are you plagued by sugar cravings? Whether you’re a true ‘sugar monster’, or simply can’t resist temptation when the donuts or cake are passed around, we’ve got ten top tips to help you get back in control.
- Be carb conscious: swap refined for unrefined
So we know that consuming lots of sugar can cause that blood sugar ‘rollercoaster’ that just leaves you craving more of it. Well, refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, white rice, and many breakfast cereals can have a similar effect, as they’re quickly broken down into sugar in your gut and absorbed. By making a simple swap for ‘whole’ or unrefined carbs such as brown rice, wholegrain oats, granary bread and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes or parsnip, you get a slower, more steady release of energy, keeping your blood sugar more stable.
- Eat protein with every meal
Protein is vital for many reasons, but one of its benefits is that it fills you up and slows down the release of carbohydrates from your food. So making sure you eat protein-rich foods with every meal and snack is a key step in keeping your blood sugar stable and curbing those cravings. The best sources of protein are eggs, fish, meat, cheese and natural yoghurt, followed by nuts and seeds, beans and lentils.
- Have breakfast
If you’re struggling with sugar cravings but don’t eat breakfast, now’s the time to make the change! Skipping breakfast can cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low, triggering cravings for sugary or starchy foods by mid-morning or lunchtime. If you give into temptation, you kick off the inevitable blood sugar rollercoaster that can turn you into a ‘sugar monster’ for the rest of the day.
It’s especially important to make sure you’re getting a decent source of protein with your breakfast. Typical breakfasts such as a bowl of cereal with milk or a slice of toast with jam won’t cut it! Instead, go for scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast, or a natural yoghurt with chopped nuts and berries mixed in, or even smoked salmon and avocado on rye toast.
- Go green
Vegetables to the rescue! Vegetables are high in fibre, which also helps fill you up, and most of them – with the exception of root vegetables – are also low in calories and carbs. Broccoli in particular is a top choice as it’s an excellent source of the mineral chromium, which helps to regulate blood sugar. Green vegetables in general are also rich in magnesium, which may help to regulate our levels of stress hormones (more on stress below). Aim to get at least five to six servings of vegetables with your meals throughout the day, and think about including spinach, kale, chard, rocket, green beans, cabbage, asparagus and any other green vegetables that take your fancy.
- Don’t be afraid of fat
Fat can also help you feel full and has a stabilising effect on blood sugar. Like any nutrient, you can have too much of it; but a moderate amount won’t cause weight gain or health problems unless you’re consuming more calories than your body needs.
The type and quality of fat you consume is important, however. Healthy sources of fat include avocadoes, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, good-quality olive oil, coconut, nuts and seeds, and organic meats. These are all healthy whole foods that shouldn’t be avoided.
- Keep your stress in check
Stress is a common trigger for blood sugar swings and sugar cravings. One of the effects of the stress hormone cortisol is to increase our blood sugar level. It’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, as our body is expecting us to need energy to either stay and fight or run away! If all that sugar in our blood is not used up by our cells for energy, it can kick off a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows, just like you get from eating sugary foods. Even day-to-day stressors such as getting the kids ready for school or a deadline at work can provoke this response. So try in any way you can to reduce stress, whether it’s by taking a walk outside in nature, practising mindfulness or meditation or listening to calming music. Reduced stress will often mean better sleep too, which encourages production of appetite-regulating hormones.
- Cut the caffeine
Caffeine has a similar effect in the body to stress. A strong cup of coffee can suppress appetite initially, as it increases our levels of adrenaline and pushes our blood sugar up. But when our body reacts to bring the sugar level down, this can leave you with ‘rebound’ sugar cravings.
If you drink several cups of coffee a day, aim to cut down gradually by swapping in some decaf coffee. Tea can have less of a stimulant effect than coffee for some people, but can still be best limited to one or two cups a day. Green tea can be better still, as it tends to contain less caffeine and more of a substance called theanine, which may have a calming effect to help counter the caffeine.
- Keep healthy snacks to hand
Healthy snacks can be a godsend when it comes to kicking the sugar habit. They help to keep your blood sugar stable between meals, stopping the cravings before they begin – or satisfy a craving when it hits.
Great examples of easy, healthy snacks include:
- Two or three oatcakes with almond butter
- An apple with a tablespoon of almonds or walnuts
- Carrot sticks with hummus
- Half an avocado on a half-slice of wholegrain toast.
See our previous post on Healthier Snacking on the Run for more suggestions.
- Be active
Exercise can help with blood sugar balance, and can improve your mood too, making you less likely to reach for comfort foods. But if you think stress could be a trigger for your sugar cravings, then stick to gentle or moderate exercise such as walking, or go for short sessions of high-intensity interval training. Endurance exercise, or any exercise that you find overly stressful is only likely to make the problem worse by increasing your stress hormone levels. So marathon running or training for a triathlon may not be your best choice!
- Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement
A common reason for sugar cravings is low energy, leading us to seek the ‘hit’ of sugar to pep us up again. As well as slow-releasing carbohydrates, our body requires vitamins and minerals to efficiently convert those carbohydrates (and protein and fats) into energy –including B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and iron. A multivitamin and mineral supplement can be helpful here, providing a top-up of these nutrients. The minerals chromium, magnesium and zinc also play a role in blood sugar control, so they’re vital to have in a multivitamin too.