There’s no denying it: desserts are pleasurable to eat. They taste good on the tongue and start a chemical reaction in your body that gives a short little energy and mood boost. As we all know, the crash that follows isn’t anything sweet.
Sugar addiction is a very real condition and it’s causing us health problems galore, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine and much easier and cheaper to get.
So if you’re one of the many who are hooked, here are some useful ways to kick the habit.
9 Lifestyle Changes to Beat Sugar Addiction
Use these tricks to quit sugar and other sweeteners for a full week. You’ll also want to limit your intake of simple carbs and fruits. You’ll feel so much better that it’ll be easy to reduce your daily intake.
1. Hero Herb
Gymnema Sylvestre is an herb in the milkweed family that desensitizes taste buds from the sensation of sweetness. When ingested, it reduces intestines’ ability to absorb sugar, with implications for regulation of diabetes. (1, 2) It can be so effective that in one study, five of twenty-two of the participants were able to stop taking diabetes medication and managed their blood sugar with Gymnema Sylvestre alone. (3)
University Health News recommends the following for taking Gymnema Sylvestre as a supplement:
“…look for an extract that is standardized to contain at least 25 percent gymnemic acid. Some supplement manufacturers produce an extract standardized to 75%. Clinical studies have looked at Gymnema Sylvestre dosage of 200 to 400 mg per day. Gymnema Sylvestre can cause stomach pain, so take it with food or take three to four smaller doses throughout the day. Don’t take a Gymnema dosage if you are pregnant, lactating or allergic to milkweed. Talk to a physician before taking it if you are currently taking anti-diabetic medication as a cumulative blood-sugar lowering effect could be dangerous.” (4)
2. Take Your Sweetness from Life
Sweet cravings are psychological—they are different from hunger, which is a physiological response. A craving for sweet food can be stimulated by stress, anxiety, depression, and/or a poor self-image. (5)
Eating sugar causes your brain to release pleasure chemicals dopamine and opioids. (6) You get a temporary high and feeling of elation after eating sugar. Having too much sugar (simple sugars and refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta), however, causes a cascade of body processes that send your body into overdrive, releasing insulin and taxing your liver.
The body becomes addicted to the high that can eventually affect psychological processes as well, forming a vicious circle.
A British psychiatric researcher found a strong correlation between high sugar intake, depression, and schizophrenia:
“…sugar actually suppresses activity of a key growth hormone in the brain called BDNF. This hormone promotes the health and maintenance of neurons in the brain, and it plays a vital role in memory function by triggering the growth of new connections between neurons. BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, which explains why both syndromes often lead to shrinkage of key brain regions over time (yes, chronic depression actually leads to brain damage). There’s also evidence from animal models that low BDNF can trigger depression.” (7)
If you find yourself regularly craving and succumbing to lots of sweets, focus on your emotional health: do things that you enjoy. Pamper yourself with a hot bubble bath, a few days off, read a book in the park, plant a garden, take a class in something that interests you—engage in anything other than food that makes you feel good. Vigorous exercise does wonders, as dopamine is released and cortisol (a stress hormone) is reduced when you work out.
3. Drink Apple Cider Vinegar
The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. Organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the mother) regulates blood sugar.
Take a tablespoon mixed with a cup of water with meals that include carbohydrates to help your body metabolize the sugars at a steady rate, rather than spiking.
You can also add the vinegar (unheated) as a salad or vegetable dressing. It also trains for taste buds to enjoy more complex flavors.
4. Be a Sugar Detective
Processed foods mix in various forms of sugar that you may not recognize as such. Things like “rice syrup”, “dextrose” or “corn syrup” are synonyms for sugar you might not recognize. You can find a list of common added sugars here.
A simple rule of thumb when you’re reading a food label: if it ends in “ose” (like fructose and dextrose) or “syrup” (like brown rice syrup or corn syrup), it’s added sugar.
5. Avoid Sugar Substitutes
If you’re craving something sweet and replace club soda for a cola or substitute a peach for a cookie, it won’t satisfy your craving because it doesn’t taste the same or have the same mouthfeel.
First, determine if you’re really hungry or if you just want to taste something sweet. If you’re hungry, eat something healthy that will fill you up.
If it’s a craving, substitute a sweet herbal tea (e.g., licorice root, chamomile, hibiscus) for a piece of candy. You can also try eating a handful of grapes, pomegranate seeds or berries. Try something new for the novelty, as it can provide the psychological reward even if it’s not sweet.
6. Eat Almond Butter
Almond butter helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels, which can stave off sugar cravings. It’s a good source of healthy fat and protein that will slow the process of breaking down sugar and make your energy last longer. Almond butter on a banana (pure almonds, with no added sugar or oil) will satisfy the cravings and keep blood sugar from spiking.
7. Train Your Taste Buds
Affinity for any flavor is an acquired taste. When you crave something sweet, eat something bitter instead. Endive, watercress, and bitter melon are bitter vegetables that work well in this exercise. Do this consistently and you’ll find yourself with fewer cravings in as little as a month.
Eat the same types of foods that you ordinarily do but without added sugars.
- peanut butter instead of the processed stuff
- plain Greek yogurt instead of the fruity stuff
- whole grain muesli or oatmeal instead of sugary cereal
- black coffee or tea
- homemade salad dressing instead of store-bought
8. Use Nature’s Sweetness
Innovate in the kitchen by making use of naturally sweet foods.
Here are a few ideas to try:
- Top a salad with roasted sweet potato, carrot or parsnip instead of dried fruit or croutons.
- Caramelizing onions, shallots, or garlic bring out their sweetness and are something different mixed in a homemade salad dressing.
- Sweeten (and moisten) baked goods with all-apple applesauce or bananas instead of sugar.
- Mix raw cocoa with nut butter for a chocolatey antioxidant blast without added sugar.
9. Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are great for your digestion, immune system, and overall health. The sour flavor, like a bitter one, can also “trick” your taste buds into accepting a satisfying alternative. (8) In addition, the probiotic bacteria in fermented foods balance gut bacteria and regulate blood sugar. Probiotics affect mood, stress level, and are anti-inflammatory. (9)
Some fermented foods to try include
Just as a preference for sweet flavor is acquired, you can wean yourself from sugar and curb cravings by making subtle changes to your diet. Ultimately, quitting sugar will make you feel better and live better in the long run.