Today’s food landscape is rife with quick and easy access to sugar whenever we are craving it — and even when we aren’t. Grocery and convenience stores are stocked with cookies, candy, sugary beverages and other sweet snacks strategically placed at the checkout prompting unhealthy impulse buys.
Vending machines dispense sugary sodas and pastries to beat your 3 p.m. slump, and every office seems to offer donuts for breakfast. In a sugar-saturated world, it can seem impossible to curb those nagging cravings for sweets — because they’re everywhere!
Even after a satisfying meal, sugar cravings can hit you hard. One explanation of this feeling is hedonic hunger — or eating for pleasure rather than for satisfaction. Researchers are still trying to figure out why this happens, but before we take the first bite, the sight of a sugary or fatty food causes the brain’s reward circuit to get excited.
Once the sweet treat hits your taste buds, signals are fired off to the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes an intense feeling of pleasure. Overeating sugary foods not only floods the brain with dopamine, but also creates a pattern of sugar cravings. In a short amount of time, the brain starts to crave more sugar and fat to reach the same threshold of pleasure it once got from small amounts of these pleasure-inducing foods.
Whether you reach for sugar after every meal, first thing in the morning or as a bedtime snack substitute these foods instead:
Berries: Unlike fruit juices and dried fruit that are high in sugar and low in fiber, whole, fresh fruit like raspberries provides a great source of fiber that allows for the slow-release of the natural sugars. With only 5 grams of sugar per cup, raspberries are also a low-sugar fruit, along with blackberries and strawberries. Tip: Blend frozen berries into a smoothie or cream them in the food processor with half a frozen banana to create a thicker frozen texture similar to soft-serve ice cream.
Almonds: Packed with heart-healthy fats, almonds can help control blood sugar, keeping intense sugar cravings in check. The healthy fats in nuts keep you feeling satisfied even longer, making it less likely for you to have an energy dip between meals; when sugar cravings are often at their worst.
Plain Greek Yoghurt and Kefir: Another cause of sugar cravings could be an imbalanced gut microbiome, where the bacteria have adapted to thrive on sugar. To reset your gut’s natural balance of bacteria, choose low-sugar Greek yogurt and kefir that are packed with active probiotics. Greek yogurt is also rich in protein, keeping you fueled until your next meal.
Celery Sticks with Peanut Butter: The fiber from celery paired with protein and healthy fat from peanut butter is a triple play for stable energy. Snacks rich in these three nutrients are the best way to keep you sustained between meals, as protein, fats and fiber are digested slowly to gradually release energy over time, making it less likely you’ll hit that afternoon energy crash.
Pumpkin Seeds: Beyond being a great source of protein, fiber and fat, pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) are rich in magnesium. If you crave chocolate, maybe your body is asking for more magnesium, as cocoa is rich in this crucial mineral. Choose other high-magnesium foods such as leafy greens and seeds to boost your magnesium levels.