Unfortunately, it can very difficult to cut back on sugar. This is because human beings have a natural tendency to like sweet things — a nature’s trick to save us from poisonous plants which usually have a bitter taste. A sweet tooth was valuable to the survival of our ancestors also because sugary foods provide a quick source of energy. The problem these days is that we eat far more sugar than our ancestors ever could. Also the type of sugar we tend to consume makes us more vulnerable to health problems: rather than indulging in healthy sweet treats like berries or fruit we often opt for unhealthy snacks containing concentrated amounts of white table sugar. This highly refined sugar has little nutritional value; yet it is high in calories.
The paragraphs below present 8 diet-related tips that can help fight off sugar cravings. Note: the information provided below does not constitute a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice.
Studies suggest that decreases in serotonin levels can cause us to crave sugar. Serotonin is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter helping brain cells and other nervous system cells communicate with one another. Excellent sources of serotonin (more than 3.0 µg/g) include walnuts, pecans, plantains, pineapple, bananas, kiwi fruit, plums, and tomatoes.
Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in protein rich foods, serves as a precursor to serotonin, and therefore an adequate intake of tryptophan rich foods can help with sugar cravings. To get the most out of tryptophan, one should try to increase the blood levels of tryptophan, relative to the blood levels of the other essential amino acids, as other amino acids compete with tryptophan for entry to the brain. One way to do this is to consume some healthy carbohydrates together with the tryptophan-rich meal. Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin, a hormone which lowers the blood levels of all the essential amino acids, except tryptophan.
B vitamins can be helpful for fighting sugar cravings. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), found in a variety of foods including beans, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables, can be particularly beneficial due to its role in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
Glutamine is an amino acid that provides energy in the brain and helps build and maintain muscle. It is commonly used by body builders to help reduce muscle deterioration during and post workout. Glutamine may also help reduce cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. This is likely to be a result of glutamine’s stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels: when the levels are low, glutamine suppresses insulin to prevent further decline of the sugar levels. It also stimulates the release of glycogen to help increase the blood sugar to normal levels. Glutamine is found in many protein rich foods such as fish, chicken, beans, and dairy as well as in vegetables such as raw parsley, spinach, cabbage, and beets.
Chromium, a mineral which plays an important role in stabilizing blood sugar levels, can help eliminate sweet cravings. Sometimes sugar cravings can simply be a result of chromium deficiency. Mild deficiencies in chromium are fairly common in countries where consumption of processed foods is common (processing decreases the chromium content of foods). Also physically active people, people who drink lots of coffee, and — interestingly — people who consume high amounts of sugar have an elevated risk of being deficient in chromium. Diets high in simple sugar strip the body of chromium, setting up a vicious cycle. Therefore, it is extremely important to consume high amounts of chromium rich foods such as romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, whole grains, and potatoes.
The protein hormone leptin has been shown to promote development of gray matter in the part of the brain that regulates food cravings and can consequently result in fewer sugar cravings. It would seem logical to try to increase leptin levels in order to fight off cravings. However, continuously high leptin levels may result in leptin insensitivity, which means that the body no longer responds to normal amounts of leptin and thus the body may crave even more sugar. The key is to make the body more sensitive to leptin. There are certain foods that appear to do precisely that, although the mechanisms by which they increase leptin sensitivity are not known. Fish seems to be particularly beneficial, but also purple sweet potatoes and some other vegetables may help.
Carbs that have a high Glycemic Index (GI) rating are quickly broken down by the body and can thus cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which can lead to cravings. In contrast, low-GI carbs take much longer to digest, providing the body with a slow, steady supply of energy. Most non-starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit have a low GI rating. In contrast, most refined carbohydrate-rich foods and potatoes cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels and are thus rated high on the glycemic index.
One of the most common causes of sugar cravings is skipping meals. When you skip a meal or leave long periods between your meals, your energy levels drop, and as a result your body begins to crave sugary foods to give you a quick energy boost. Try eating five to six small meals a day throughout the day. This will provide your body with a more steady supply of energy