Sugar is addictive. It tastes delicious and, when you eat it, your brain actually releases dopamine—a neurotransmitter that is part of your brain’s reward centre. If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you must just have less willpower than someone else without sugar cravings, there’s actually way more to it. In fact, relying on willpower alone to kick sugar will be a struggle. Instead, your dietary choices, how many hours and how well you sleep, along with your stress levels play much larger roles.
The other remarkable thing about sugar is that as you eat less of it, you crave less of it (at least once you’ve kicked that initial few days of cravings). Today, I’m sharing 10 ways to eat less of the sweet stuff.
1. Start the day with protein and healthy fats
Traditional breakfast foods focus more on starch than they do protein or fat. This sends your blood sugar on a bit of a rollercoaster throughout the day, leading to cravings later in the day when your blood sugar dips. If you focus on having some protein and fat, you’ll feel way more balanced energy and you won’t even think about having something sweet.
And being short on time is no excuse! Check out these 5-minute breakfast ideas for inspiration!
2. Cut the fruit juices and sweetened milks
Did you know that just one cup of orange juice can have up to 20-25g of sugar? For context, that’s six teaspoons of sugar. While there is some vitamin C in there, you can easily make up that vitamin C from berries in a smoothie or the spinach in an omelet.
I’m all for the growing popularity of alternative milks (almond, cashew and coconut), but you do need to check your labels because often the “original” form of these milks can have added sugar. Always go for the unsweetened version.
3. Make your own snacks
For me, the afternoon is when a sweet craving sometimes hits. If I don’t have a snack with me, I’m much more likely to make a “bad” decision and opt for something sweet. That’s why I almost always try to have a snack in my purse or ready in the fridge.
4. Ditch your sports drinks
If you’ve ever read the label of a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade, you might have been shocked to see these drinks contain loads of artificial colours and ingredients—they are pure sugar! If you do need to refuel your electrolytes after exercise, drink a coconut water after, which is rich in potassium, or have a Medjool date which is natural sugar, with the fiber to balance your blood sugar.
5. Make your own salad dressings
Many store bought salad dressings have lots of added sugar and are made with really inflammatory oils. Luckily, making your own salad dressings is really easy and doesn’t require you to be a chef. My favourite 2-minute dressing is:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
- 1 TBSP dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
- salt & pepper to taste
6. Switch to dark chocolate
I’m not going to tell you to stop eating chocolate altogether because that would just be hypocritical. I love chocolate, but only have dark chocolate that is dairy free and low in sugar (70-90% dark chocolate is what I prefer). These are some of my favourite brands. A good quality chocolate is high in magnesium and you’ll find you only need a square or two to feel satisfied when it’s dark chocolate.
As you start to eat less sugar, it’s amazing how your taste buds change. Fruits suddenly taste so much sweeter than they used to. For baking, you can switch out some of the refined sugar for mashed banana or apple sauce. Alternatively, monk fruit is a relatively new sweetener available that works really well in baking and is not thought to have the negative health effects of artificial sweeteners. I also prefer the taste of monk fruit to stevia.
8. Learn how to read labels
When you read a label to check if there’s sugar, it’s not as simple as just looking for “sugar” or “cane sugar”. There are so many other names for it, including barley malt, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, caramel, sorbitol, maltodextrin, sucrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, and fructose. A quick Google search will show you even more names for hidden sugar.
9. Buy plain yogurt
An area I always caution my clients with is yogurt. Any yogurt that has a flavour that isn’t “plain” is often sweetened with extra sugar. Always buy plain yogurt and sweeten it with fresh berries and cinnamon!
10. Brush your teeth after a meal
Last but not least, if your cravings tend to come after a meal, go and brush your teeth when you’ve finished the meal. Changing the flavour profile in your mouth can really help kick that craving on the spot.
Mandy King is a holistic nutritionist and the founder of HEAL, a wellness company that provides corporate wellness, 1:1 nutrition coaching and weekly meal planning. Mandy leads corporate workshops for Canada’s top companies, including Google, Facebook & PwC, and helps health-conscious clients looking to heal their digestion, boost their energy and shed excess weight through healthy, delicious food. A self-proclaimed gluten-free guru, all of Mandy’s recipes are gluten-free and Celiac friendly.