As I sit here writing this, I'm munching on a pink Himalayan–salted dark chocolate caramel bar. I don't even like dark chocolate, but this particular offering is gooey, salty, and sweet, and, well, it was there—taunting me and begging me to eat it. This sort of mindless snacking on sweets is what can easily serve as a gateway to sugar-related health issues and weight gain: A whopping one out of every eight Americans is diagnosed with diabetes. We get it; trust us. Many of us were born with a giant, throbbing sweet tooth that can only be pacified with candy, cookies, etc., but it's time to extract that tooth and curb sugar cravings for good.
To find out how to stop yearning for the sweet stuff, we spoke with nutritionists Elissa Goodman and Dana James, who gave us their most foolproof tips. James says the first step to stopping sugar cravings is understanding what's triggering them. It could be anything from physical pain to not getting enough sleep. "Think about how often you want comfort food when you don’t feel well," she says. "Sugar disguises pain momentarily; however, it’s an illusion. It’s simply a distraction."
Meet the Expert
- Elissa Goodman is a certified holistic nutritionist who works with a number of celebrity clients with a focus on clean eating.
- Dana James is a triple-certified nutritionist and founder of Food Coach NYC based in New York City and Los Angeles
Read on for these nutritionists' best tricks for beating those sugar cravings once and for all.
Eliminate Processed Foods
"And stop eating sugar!" says Goodman. "The less you eat, the less you'll crave it. Add whole, nutrient-dense foods, and in a short time, you will notice cravings diminish. My clients notice that cravings begin to diminish on days four and five of their cleanse week. Force yourself to stick with it until you break through your cravings."
Salt can also trigger a sugar craving. "How often do you want dessert after fries? Your tastebuds want to regulate the salt/sweet balance," says James. She recommends drinking plenty of water with a salt-heavy meal to dilute it.
Take a Probiotic
"There are bacterial strains, which feed on the sugar in our bodies, causing an imbalance in the gut," explains Goodman. "When you reduce this bacteria, you will help reduce sugar cravings and your body's dependence on sugar." Try introducing a daily probiotic supplement into your routine. You can also introduce more probiotic-rich foods into your diet, such as Greek yogurt. Just be sure to avoid varieties that are sweetened with added sugar, which will totally undermine your efforts to squash those sugar cravings.
Include an L-glutamine Supplement
"L-glutamine is an amino acid that supports numerous functions, especially within the gut. When blood sugar levels drop, this amino acid can easily be converted into glucose," says Goodman. "This helps to curb sugar cravings without exposing your body to harmful sugar." Of course, check with your physician to see what's right for your supplement needs before trying something new.
Eat Fermented Foods
"I cannot get enough of fermented foods," muses Goodman. "Not only are they sour, helping to curve cravings, but they also offer your body additional probiotic support. Foods like kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchee all help counteract the bacteria that thrive on sugar and contribute to sugar addictions."
Drinking kombucha is another great way to introduce fermented foods into your diet (albeit a bit of an acquired taste). Be sure to check the nutritional information to ensure there aren't hidden sugars lurking in your bottle of choice.
"This low-carb, all-natural sweetener can be used as a sugar substitute. It provides sweetness without spiking your blood sugar. If you feel like something sweet, have a warm glass of almond milk with a pinch of cinnamon and stevia." You can even replace some of the sugar in homemade baked goods with this natural sweetener to cut down on overall dependency without sacrificing dessert.
However, James cautions against relying too heavily on this method. "While stevia may temporarily appease a sweet craving, the cravings can become significantly more intense several hours later. If you add stevia to your morning coffee and then find yourself craving sweets at 3 p.m., stevia could be the culprit."
Get More Sleep
"A study found that daytime sleepiness may affect your control over high-calorie foods," says Goodman. "If you do not get enough sleep, you will be more prone to reach for foods that support your sugar addiction. Lack of sleep is also believed to strengthen the brain's reward center, making it much more challenging to stay away from sweets."
According to James, "Shortened sleep increases inflammatory cytokines and this can trigger sugar cravings." Consider heading to bed earlier or taking a midday nap if you're noticing an increased sweet tooth.
"When we feel overwhelmed or stressed, we often comfort ourselves with foods that tend to be high in sugar," says Goodman. "These foods actually worsen levels of stress and anxiety. A rapid boost of energy follows, affecting your blood sugar and hormone levels. Crush cravings by managing stress levels. Practice yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or whatever helps to personally calm and relax your mind."
As an added bonus, stress-relief methods, such as exercise, increase dopamine and serotonin, both of which can help stop sugar cravings in their tracks, according to James. "These neurotransmitters make you feel happy and motivated. When these are low, you can crave sugar since sugar stimulates the release of these neurotransmitters"
Eat More Protein
"The initial rush of sugar is quickly followed by a crash, resulting in low energy levels and poor mood. This cycle of highs and lows puts your health at risk. Protein-rich foods, such as beans, nuts, eggs, quinoa, and pastured meat, provide a more balanced and steady source of energy," says Goodman. "You will feel more satisfied, reducing the effects of brain chemicals that cause you to seek out food, even when you're not hungry."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States 2020.
Rodda SN, Booth N, Brittain M, McKean J, Thornley S. I was truly addicted to sugar: A consumer-focused classification system of behaviour change strategies for sugar reduction. Appetite. 2020;144:104456. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2019.104456
Alcock J, Maley CC, Aktipis CA. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. 2014;36(10):940‐949. doi:10.1002/bies.201400071
Rao R, Samak G. Role of glutamine in protection of intestinal epithelial tight junctions. J Epithel Biol Pharmacol. 2012;5(Suppl 1-M7):47‐54. doi:10.2174/1875044301205010047
Rezac S, Kok CR, Heermann M, Hutkins R. Fermented foods as a dietary source of live organisms. Front Microbiol. 2018;9:1785. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01785
Killgore WD, Schwab ZJ, Weber M, et al. Daytime sleepiness affects prefrontal regulation of food intake. Neuroimage. 2013;71:216-223. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.01.018
Jacques A, Chaaya N, Beecher K, Ali SA, Belmer A, Bartlett S. The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;103:178-199. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.021
Ledochowski L, Ruedl G, Taylor AH, Kopp M. Acute effects of brisk walking on sugary snack cravings in overweight people, affect and responses to a manipulated stress situation and to a sugary snack cue: a crossover study. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(3):e0119278. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119278