It’s no secret that consuming too much sugar hurts your health. Sugary diets have been linked to everything from weight gain and cavities to serious problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
But when a craving for the sweet stuff strikes, it can be tough to resist.
Food cravings are normal and can hit you for lots of reasons: hunger, hormonal shifts, habit or even boredom, experts say. More than 90 percent of Americans experience food cravings, studies show.
It’s not surprising that many of us crave sweets, says Anne Alexander, author of The Sugar Smart Diet. Sugar has a physical effect on the brain, triggering the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Culturally, we also tend to associate sweet foods with safety, comfort and happiness.
The average American consumes 17 tablespoons of sugar a day — about two to three times the amount the American Heart Association recommends.
These smart strategies can help tame your sweet tooth.
1. Eat a protein-packed breakfast
Foods high in sugar or carbohydrates spike insulin levels in your bloodstream. When your blood sugar drops again in an hour or two, you will find yourself craving your next fix.
You can get off the blood sugar treadmill — and keep cravings at bay — by starting your day off with a breakfast high in protein, Alexander says. Think eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or a smoothie with protein powder.
Protein gives you energy while keeping your blood sugar levels stable.
It’s a strategy backed by research: A study published in Nutrition Journal found that people who ate a breakfast high in protein (40 percent protein) had fewer food cravings than those who skipped breakfast or had a breakfast that was only 15 percent protein. Check out more of the benefits of high-protein breakfast, including a smoothie recipe.
2. Improve your sleep
When Columbia University researchers analyzed the sleep and eating habits of more than 500 women, they found that those who slept poorly consumed significantly more added sugar than those who got a good night’s sleep.
“Poor sleep can affect the brain’s rewards center and make you really attracted to unhealthy or sugary foods,” says study coauthor Brooke Aggarwal, assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center.
Sleep deprivation also suppresses signals of fullness, she says.
To increase your odds of conquering cravings, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night, Aggarwal says. (Check out these 7 secrets for a better night’s sleep.)
3. Pinpoint your sugar pitfalls
Try to get the bottom of what typically triggers your desire for something sweet, Alexander suggests. Often, it has nothing to do with hunger.