Putting An End To Sugar Cravings By Baraa El Sabbagh, Personal Trainer and Nutritionist in Dubai
How do we reduce our sugar cravings?
Well, it starts with knowing the difference between the sugars out there. There are natural sugars that are found in fruits, veggies, yogurt, milk, quinoa, grains, starches… you get the idea. Those are sugars naturally found in food and we simply cannot live without them. Our brain and body both need these natural carbs in the form of sugar to function.
By the way, if you have to get stuff done and you still want to learn about sugar cravings, allow me to direct you to the podcast episode, where you can listen to these topics anytime and anywhere.
What are added sugars?
Now the ones that I know are driving you mad are “added sugars”. We’re talking white table sugar, added sugars to your fizzy drinks, the ones in cookies, cakes, chocolates and those found in flavored yogurts and other seemingly healthy packaged products. That’s what we’re working on today. You’re also going to learn all the different, sneaky names given to added sugars that you may have unknowingly been eating.
Why do we crave sugar?
I’ll give you the technical answer all about how this substance raises blood sugar and insulin levels, but to start - let’s just call it like it is: Sugar tastes GOOD. When you have sugar, your brain and body get sent a happy message in the form of serotonin and dopamine, activating something called the reward system in your brain. All this ends up spiking your energy levels, putting you in a damn good mood.
Your brain remembers this epic feeling and wants more of it, enough for it to make you form a habit around sugar. Habits could be that you get home and enjoy a chocolate bar, o r you have something sweet after every meal, or you finish work and treat yourself to a brownie from the coffee shop next door.
These constant rushes of sugar eventually evolve from just a habit to something a little more addictive, making it that much harder to quit or reduce our intake of added sugars. In fact, you might even find that those small doses just don’t cut it anymore because eating sugar raises the intolerance of those dopamine transporters, which means you’re going to need more sugar to satisfy your cravings to get the same reward feeling as before.
Why does sugar make us gain weight?
After all that sugar, you’d think you’d be full and satisfied right? Most of the time, especially when the sugar you’re having comes in the form of drinks like a lemonade or soda, the sugar doesn’t do anything for your hunger levels. Instead, your body crashes and your brain tells you it’s hungry again and wants something to eat minutes later to help keep your sugar levels well and balanced.
That’s when the cycle of eating more calories start and that’s why sugar is associated with the ongoing obesity epidemic
How does insulin work?
After you eat a particularly sweet biscuit, your blood sugar spikes and insulin is released. Insulin is released when there’s sugar in the system, it’s goal is to bring back the blood sugar to acceptable and safer levels. However, if too much insulin is released because of too much sugar consumption, that means your blood sugar might drop too low, cuing the sugar cravings again.
You start thinking you need another sweet thing to bring back the blood sugar and energy levels up, creating a tricky cycle you’ll find it hard to quit. And we’re not going to get into how that affects insulin resistance and how it can predispose you to type 2 diabetes, but there’s a direct correlation there.
Hidden sugars and different names for it
You might be thinking “Could it be that bad? I don't think I eat a lot of sugar, B.”
You might have heard me say that sugar can be hidden, especially in seemingly healthy products. Everything we see on the grocery shelf these days is packaged and marketed in a way that makes it seem like it’s good for you. The sugar is hidden on labels under different names because brands use unrecognizable and technical terms to confuse you into thinking what you’re buying is healthy.
So team, the next time you pick up a product I want you to look at the ingredient list and if these words are on it, you’ll know it’s sugar: Glucose. Fructose. Starch. Dextrose. Sucrose. Maltose. Lactose. Basically look for anything that ends with -ose.
The more important ones I want you to look at are: agave syrup, brown sugar, cane juice, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, nectar, pancake syrup, and sugar cane juice.
How much sugar should I be having?
The recommended amount of sugar for adults is about 30 to 50 grams per day. 30 grams are roughly equal to 7 sugar cubes. Just for reference, a can of coke has up to 9 sugar cubes in it, which means you’d be off your daily recommended sugar intake with just one drink! If you’re on 2,000 calories a day, keep your intake of sugar to about 10% of that.
So when you check the label, make sure the accumulated number of sugar you’re having that day doesn’t exceed 30 to 50 grams. You can find the amount of sugar on the label where it says “carbohydrates - of which sugars”.
8 golden tips to reduce your sugar
First, I want you to make the decision of taking charge of your health. Say to yourself “Ok Linda, you’re taking control of your world, and if you want to reduce your sugar intake, you know you can.” It all starts with your will to make a change. Once you put your mind to it, nothing will get in the way.
Become A Label Ninja.
Learn how to read the nutrition labels on the back of products. I’m sure you’ll find that items you thought were healthy are in fact packed with sugar! But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a better version. Everything can be replaced, from peanut butter to types of milk, as long as you control the amount of added free sugars in your food. You could cut down 50% of your sugar intake easily.
Balanced meals come next. I want you to get full from your breakfast, lunch and dinner, that way your body is not constantly asking for more. Eat filling bulky foods like broccoli, cauliflower, baked salmon, grass fed beef, and quinoa. These foods send your hunger hormone ghrelin away for a good 3 hours without signaling your brain to feel hungry and want sugars again.
Go for complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, you won’t feel like you’re reducing sugar but in fact you are! This in turn reduces your cravings and your need to eat again a short period later. Combine these complex carbs with protein and good fats, and you’ve prepared a balanced, health friendly meal.
Get Rid Of Temptation.
Out of sight, out of mind. I’ll give you a quick story: once I went to give a wellness talk at Google in the UAE and when I was getting a tour around their gorgeous health-conscious office, they had healthy snacks all around but they also had sugary snacks like chocolate bars and candy BUT, here’s the catch, all of the sugary snacks were stocked away in dark containers. So they’re not hanging out right there in front of you. Whereas the carrots, nuts and fruits were all in easy to reach and clear containers.
I personally prefer to limit bringing sugary snacks to the house and whenever I have a get together, and I prepare cakes, cookies and muffins, I always have my guests take some home or share them with the security guards downstairs. Because out of sight, out of mind. But if they’re just hanging out in my cupboard and I open that cupboard, you can bet, I'm going for it.
Hangry No More.
Know what you’re going to eat and WHEN to avoid drops in your blood sugar, because when that happens you’re going to reach for the first thing you see - which likely will be something sugary because that’s the fastest stuff we can get our hands on when we’re out and about.
Water Is Your Friend.
Stay hydrated all day, because you might mistake the feeling of dehydration with hunger. If water isn’t your jam, grab some natural coconut water or add lemon and strawberries to your water to make it taste better.
Sleep Can Conquer Sugar.
Sleep. I know, sleep? You must think I’m mad. BUT, sleep affects your hunger hormones. Which means, if you got a bad night's sleep, or just 4 hours of sleep because you were partying or working late the previous day, your hunger hormone ghrelin will be all over the place and your fullness hormone leptin is simply not having it. Getting your 7-8 hours of sleep daily allows for a good healthy balance for your brain and body, allowing you to make health, balanced decisions.
Watch A Friend’s Episode.
If your sweet tooth is DEMANDING to be fed, know that it will pass. Usually it’s a 20 minute wait. Then you actually forget about it. I don’t like promoting restriction though, the point of this is just not to give in the MOMENT a craving appears.
Our body and mind deserve a chance to fight those sugar cravings. 20 minutes is a good timeout for you to get busy, go for a walk or call a friend.
Bonus: Give In To Your Cravings.
Here’s a bonus tip, if you want it, go for it. I’m no saint and I’m not here to tell you never have sugar. You know I love a good ice cream treat and a good cookie from the best shops in new york city, but those are treats, they’re not part of my daily nutritious diet while I’m home and trying to live a long healthy life.
What to do after eating sugar
I won’t leave you without some troubleshooting methods: So you had one particularly sugary week, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe one day you sampled the pie your mom prepared, the next day you ordered a cake to support your friend’s new bakery, or you had a bake off with your kids. Point is you had more sugar than usual, how can you reverse that?
First thing’s first, your breakfast can break this cycle: Prepare eggs, turkey, or any type of protein along with a portion of good fat like avocados. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, veggies, bread, potatoes, the list goes on. You want to try finding the carbs with higher fiber in them than sugar cause that’s where the good stuff is.
All day long I want you to also focus on proteins and fats, lots of water, and cruciferous vegetables, because your body needs some fiber.
And there you have it, team! Not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely doable and I believe in you.