Ever have that insatiable urge to eat something sweet at 3 o’clock everyday? Are you known to have a sweet tooth? Having the occasional sweet treat can fit into a healthy eating plan, but if you experience sugar cravings regularly try our tips to manage them and snack better
But first, why do we crave sugar?
Our bodies are hardwired to seek glucose, the basic form of sugar, because it's the body's primary energy source. When we eat sugar, it causes a surge in dopamine, the happy hormone, creating a feeling of pleasure in the brain, which can lead to a cycle of wanting more sugar.
Our early ancestors didn't have access to a lot of high sugar foods, but instead got their glucose from naturally occurring fruits and vegetables. Today, our bodies crave that sugar fix because our survival instincts have yet to evolve and adapt to our modern food supply. The overabundance of high sugar, processed foods available today can over-stimulate the brain, making us crave more and more sugar.
In addition to sugar everywhere, other factors can affect sugar cravings, such as hormonal changes, stress, and sleep deprivation. For example, when we are sleep deprived, we automatically seek some form of energy, which often results in eating carbohydrates, which are broken down into sugar. And, when we’re stressed, we often seek comfort and relief with food, and in comes the sugar with its dopamine boosting powers that provides the “feel good” we’re looking for.
But there’s hope! Check out our favorite ways to reduce sugar intake and cravings.
#1 Try Healthier Options
Let’s face it. Avoiding sugar altogether is nearly impossible. However, we can make better-for-you choices that still taste great. Here are a few examples:
- Swap fruit for candy. Try leaving a bowl of apples on the kitchen counter and get the bag of candy out of the house or office. The truth is willpower just doesn’t work long-term, so set yourself up for success by keeping temptations out of sight.
- Non-dairy yogurt with berries is a delicious alternative to ice cream.
- Give one of our Caveman Nutrition Bars a try instead of a traditional candy bar. Did you know our Dark Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars have only 9g of sugar, compared to 21g of sugar in an Almond Joy?
- Better yet, add some protein nutrition to your sweet treat by choosing our Chocolate Almond Butter Protein Bar instead of a Milky Way. With 10 grams of protein and just 9 grams of sugar our protein bar is packed with goodness compared to 2 grams of protein and 31 grams of sugar in that Milky Way bar.
#2 Manage Stress Better
Exercise is a natural stress reliever. Exercise boosts endorphins in the brain for a natural mood boost, so you won’t be as likely to reach for a sweet treat to feel better. Even short bouts of activity in the fresh air can relieve stress, so next time you feel the tension rising and want to grab some carbs, head out the door for a 10-minute walk around the block or climb some stairs in your building.
Improving sleep also does wonders for reducing stress and preventing sugar cravings. Try these bedtime habits to maximize restful sleep:
1. Avoid screen time at least one hour before bed. The blue light from TV’s, computers and smartphones triggers wakefulness and suppresses hormones that make you sleepy.
2. Establish a bedtime routine. Doing things like reading a book, drinking herbal tea, doing stretching exercises or listening to relaxing music 20 minutes before bed can help you unwind and relax prior to sleeping.
3. Limit Caffeine & Alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant that creates wakefulness and can significantly disrupt sleep. Alcohol may initially cause sleepiness, but is known to disrupt sleep several hours later, affecting deep sleep and making it difficult to get back to sleep.
#3 Make it a Challenge
Some of us work better under pressure or with supportive accountability. Challenge programs help to set distinct goals, provide accountability and promote healthy competition between friends or coworkers.
Start your own sugar challenge at the office, at home or between your workout buddies. Simply decide on the length of the challenge (typically not longer than 4 weeks), prizes to be awarded and "mini-milestones" to achieve along the way. By doing a challenge with a group or buddy, there’s a higher level of commitment and accountability to support your efforts to tame those sugar cravings.
Understanding what causes sugar cravings is half the battle. The other half is making small habit changes over time that can make a big difference on the path to healthier.