Humans are born with a sweet tooth. That is to say, we innately prefer sweet tastes. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, our survival as a species may partially be thanks to our sweet tooth. A sweet taste usually indicates that a food contains carbohydrates, which our brains and bodies need to function. However, our food supply is flush with sugars and sweeteners of all kinds these days, encouraging over-consumption. Most of us are eating and drinking too much added sugar—it’s as simple as that.
It’s no wonder that so many people are looking to cut sugar from their diets. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugars per day for men, and no more than 6 teaspoons for women. Added sugars are just that—added to foods—not present naturally like those in fruit, for example. Some food manufacturers are helping out by reducing the added sugar content of their products. And some are using alternative sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit sweetener, and others. (For an in-depth look at alternative sweeteners, read this and this.) But many people still struggle with frequent urges for cookies, cake, candy, sugary sodas, etc.
Are you one of those people? Here are four ideas to help you curb your cravings and find a healthy balance with a sweet tooth.
This is one of the main culprits that causes cravings for sweets. You know the drill—you skipped a meal or just went too long between meals. Suddenly, whoa, energy dips, you start feeling frazzled and flushed, and maybe you’re “hangry.” Before you know it, you’re raiding the pantry or snack room for anything sweet to fix the problem. This is caused by blood sugar dropping due to going too long without fuel. Eating a meal or healthy snack at regular intervals (typically every 4-6 hours) is how to prevent low blood sugar. Pay attention to your body’s hunger signals—and honor them. If you know you’ll be eating late, plan ahead and bring a nutritious snack to tide you over.
Cut back on daily treats incrementally
This is all about not setting yourself up for feelings of deprivation and even more cravings. Don’t try to cut out all sweets cold turkey. Instead, start by simply reducing the portion sizes of the high-sugar treats you eat regularly. For example, if you typically have four cookies each night while watching TV, reduce that to three cookies. Do that for a week or two until your body and mind get used to the new normal portion. Then cut back to two cookies for a few weeks, and so on. You can do the same thing with any other sweet you have frequently.
Balance your meals
Many times our cravings for sweet foods kick in because the meal we ate earlier was not balanced. What do I mean by that? Well, most of our meals should consist of some of each macronutrient: carbohydrate, protein, and some fat. When we eat balanced meals, we stay full longer and our blood sugar levels stay more stable. As a result, we have fewer cravings for sweets. Take a look at the USDA’s MyPlate resource, which coordinates with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They provide an easy guide for putting together a balanced plate (or bowl), as follows:
- 50% fruit and/or non-starchy vegetable
- 25% protein
- 25% starchy carbohydrate—preferably whole grain
A serving of milk or another dairy product (or non-dairy alternative) on the side rounds it all out.
Be an added sugar sleuth
Sometimes we don’t realize how much added sugar we consume. It can be found in so many foods—some that don’t even register as sweet to us! Read food labels and check the added sugars information on Nutrition Facts panels to educate yourself. Or let Guiding Stars lead the way. The Science Behind Guiding Stars reduces points for added sugars (among other things), so look for foods that earn Guiding Stars. When you do, you’re automatically choosing products that are lower in sugar than alternatives that do not. For more on sources of added sugars in our diets, check previous posts here and here.
Much of your success in taming your sweet tooth can come from focusing on healthy nourishment. Totally abstaining from sweets is not necessary. But if you want to make a meaningful dent in your sugar intake, it may be time to trim back the treats.