Simple Ways to Curb Your Cravings

The average American consumes more than 20 teaspoons of refined sugar each day. That's 20% more than the amount we consumed a decade ago.

If you think tooth decay and weight gain are the only health consequences, think again.

By replacing fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-dense, disease-fighting foods, sugary foods and beverages can cause increased blood sugar (glucose) levels and obesity. These conditions can lead, in turn, to chronic health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Cakes, cookies, candy and ice cream aren't the only sources of refined sugar. It is also found in seemingly wholesome foods and beverages, such as muffins, flavored instant oatmeal, canned sweet potatoes -- even old-fashioned lemonade.

For some people, sugar -- like alcohol or tobacco -- can be addictive.

Example: Sugar addicts time their meals and snacks so they have some form of sugar in their body at all times. They crave sugar and experience withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, depression or shaking, if they stop eating sugar "cold turkey."

That's why it's important for sugar addicts to slowly reduce the sugar in their diets.

Whether you're a "sugarholic" or an average American who consumes too much sugar -- often unknowingly -- your long-term health will benefit if you gradually reduce your intake. Here's how...

  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels. A healthy person can metabolize 8 g (two teaspoons) of sugar at one time. Avoid foods that contain more than 8 g of sugar per serving.

This means foregoing soft drinks and many fruit juices, which average 40 g (10 teaspoons) of sugar per 12-ounce serving.

  • Avoid foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners. Even though artificially sweetened foods don't contain sugar, they can stimulate your sweet tooth. Instead of diet soda, for example, opt for tap or mineral water with a spritz of lemon.
  • Use half as much sugar. Start by cutting back on what you normally add to your coffee, tea, cereal, etc.

Also halve the amount of sugar you use in recipes. Because sugar adds tenderness to dough and golden-brown surfaces to baked goods, some recipes may not survive without it.

What to do: Switch to recipes that can be made without sugar. Its absence won't affect the texture of many foods.

Example: Fruit pies made with fully ripened fruit taste plenty sweet without the half cup -- or more -- of sugar often called for in the recipe.

Gradually reduce your sugar intake until your taste buds adjust. If you're a sugar addict, try eliminating sugar altogether.

  • Satisfy sugar cravings. Fruit is your best choice. Besides nutrients and disease-fighting plant chemicals known as phytochemicals, fruit provides fiber. This slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.

Fruit won't give you the same energy rush that you get from refined sugar. That's partly what makes sugar so addictive for some people.

Once you're accustomed to eating fruit instead of, say, cookies or candy, add vegetables to your snacking repertoire.

Steam white potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and other vegetables containing complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are converted into sugar in the digestive tract. This provides a steady flow of sugar into the bloodstream.

Keep these foods in your refrigerator along with fresh green and red pepper strips, jicama, carrots and celery.

Helpful: Brush your teeth when you crave sugar. Most toothpastes contain artificial sweetener. It often satisfies a craving.

  • Don't keep sugar-laden foods in your home. That way, if you need a sugar fix, you'll be forced to go to the store to feed your habit.

This delaying tactic will give you time to change your mind and temper -- if not lessen -- the urge.

Sugar cravings often diminish within 15 minutes. If you still must have sugar after you've traveled to a store, buy the smallest size of whatever it is you crave -- and enjoy it. Then throw out what you don't eat... or give it away.

  • Be aware of psychological stress. Is there something that's making you anxious? Are you putting that sweet morsel in your mouth to calm emotional upset?

Rather than opening the refrigerator, try exercising, writing in a journal, deep breathing, yoga, listening to music, praying or meditating -- anything that helps alleviate stress.

Once you've successfully eliminated -- or at least cut back on -- your sugar consumption, you'll begin to appreciate the natural sweetness of many healthful foods. A carrot or a piece of fruit will taste as good as candy once did.

Bottom Line/Health interviewed Nancy Appleton, PhD, researcher and nutritional consultant in Santa Monica, California.

She is the author of Lick the Sugar Habit and Lick the Sugar Habit Counter (both Penguin Putnam).



Kay’s Note:  The SCD allows no sugar. It does allow honey, however. It’s wise to keep honey to a minimum. As time passes, most people find they lose their cravings for sugar and even the desire for honey diminishes. I never thought that could happen for me . . . but it did! All potatoes are illegal on SCD since they turn to sugar and feed the bacteria.