How to Stop Sugar Cravings on a Plant-Based Diet?
Your health is a journey, and even on a plant-based diet, one can still have some unhealthy habits. For example, you may notice that you sometimes eat more sugar than is healthy for you to consume. Therefore, here are my tips on how to stop sugar cravings.
Plant based diets are well known for their health benefits. However, consuming highly processed plant foods containing added sugars can negatively affect your health.
The average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar a year. That’s roughly 22 teaspoons every single day. And for kids, they consume even more, at 34 teaspoons every day, which makes nearly 1 in 4 teenagers prediabetic or type 2 diabetic. This is why 70% of Americans and 40% of kids are overweight.
Consuming too much sugar, whether in its pure form or as processed plant foods, can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other inflammatory-related conditions. This is because sugar is biologically addictive, and sugar cravings are common and can be really difficult to manage.
According to research, 98% of women and 68% of men have experienced sugar cravings. And the more sugar you eat, the more you’re likely to crave because sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.
Fortunately, with the right strategies, you can reverse the cravings.
This article gives you practical measures to help you curb your cravings and take control of your health back.
Why Do I Crave Sugar?
When you eat something sugary, it’s metabolized by the body and fed into the brain. This stimulates the brain’s pleasure center, leading to dopamine release (a feel-good hormone).
A part of your brain then makes a memory of how good that spike of dopamine felt, leading to the creation of a conditioned response to that stimulus. So now your brain craves the stimulus. Your brain craves sugar.
2. An imbalance in blood sugar
Another reason to crave sugar is if you have reduced glucose levels in the blood.
Sugar in the form of glucose acts as fuel for different cell functions. When the glucose supply is insufficient, the body will send hunger and sugar cravings as a signal to provide it a quick sugar boost.
This is especially common if your diet is full of processed foods and lacks fiber. Fiber controls the release of sugar, while processed foods will cause an immediate spike and fall in sugar, again causing you to crave sugar.
3. Magnesium deficiency
Magnesium is responsible for regulating glucose, insulin, and dopamine, and low levels can lead to sugar cravings, especially chocolate.
When stressed, your body will release high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that allows your body to deal with stress. However, if your cortisol is constantly high, it will start to lower serotonin, another feel-good hormone.
The body doesn’t like it when you have low serotonin levels. So it will do whatever it takes to increase these levels. And in this case, your body will crave sugar to help raise your feel-good hormones.
5. Lack of sleep
Your appetite is regulated by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin suppresses appetite by increasing the feeling of fullness and satiety, while ghrelin is a hunger hormone that stimulates hunger and cravings. According to research, a lack of sleep increases ghrelin levels while decreasing leptin, leading to an increase in appetite and hunger.
How To Stop Sugar Cravings?
Now that you understand the probable causes of your sweet tooth, here are some ways to help curb those cravings.
1. Incorporate sweet spices as sugar alternatives.
Going for an alternative will help trick your mind into thinking that you’re having actual sugar.
Instead of the usual warm drinks with sugar and syrup, go for sweet spices such as ground nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves), and Ceylon cinnamon.
These spices generally have a sweeter taste but do not contain sugar. When you add them to foods or coffees, you will get that sweet taste, and your mind will think you are having something sugary when you are not.
2. Swap carbonated drinks for carbonated water
Carbonated drinks such as soda are full of sugar and generally not good for you. However, it can be difficult to let go, especially if you are attending parties or in the summer when you want something to calm the heat. Luckily, carbonated water can do the trick. Just flavor it a little with any sweet spice, or add a splash of natural juice such as cranberry or cherry juice to give it color. You can also add a naturally flavored teabag.
3. Eat whole foods
When purchasing food products in-store, most individuals may want to go for fat-free processed foods thinking they are better. But eating whole foods containing their natural fat, fiber, and other nutrients will help control cravings until your next meal.
4. Avoid simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates such as white flour, white pasta, bread, and white potatoes release high amounts of sugar when digested. This gives you a quick spike in blood glucose, thus a quick boost of energy. But you’ll get a crush because these foods lack the fiber to sustain their sugar release. The craving will also worsen because you’re now craving more of the energy you experienced than the food itself.
5. Eat protein and fat with every meal
Unlike simple carbs, including protein and healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil in your diet will make you feel satisfied sooner. They also don’t spike your insulin and blood sugar in the same way, so they’ll keep you fuller longer.
6. Go cold-turkey
Although the first few days can be challenging, eliminating any form of simple sugars, including artificial sweeteners from your diet, can be the best way to approach your cravings.
This method works best when you have someone to keep you accountable, at least at the beginning. Be it your spouse or friend, find someone interested in doing the same and let it be a form of challenge, for example, a ten-day sugar-free challenge.
By the time you’re on the tenth day, your taste buds would have adjusted, and you wouldn’t want to go back.
7. Cut off energy drinks and fruit juices except for green vegetable juice.
Juicing strips off all the fiber that could help slow down the release of sugar, meaning you will not get that quick spike. This also means you’ll experience the rest of the benefits in the fruit.
Consuming fruit juice or energy drinks will cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a drastic drop. This is because these drinks have no fiber, so the sugar will quickly be released into the bloodstream. This will trigger insulin release, which will quickly move glucose out of the blood, causing a drop with a subsequent craving for more sugar.
8. Manage your stress.
When you’re stressed, cortisol goes up, which makes you hungry and crave sugar.
High-fiber plant-based foods such as green peas, flaxseed, pistachios, kale, broccoli, almonds, berries, and sesame seeds can help reduce your stress levels and help prevent cravings.
9. Get enough sleep
Less than 8 hours of sleep a day increases your hunger hormones and drives you to overeat. Also, too much caffeine and alcohol can deprive you of sleep.
The best plant-based foods to help enhance your sleep include chamomile tea, tart cherries, tart cherry juice, seeds, and kiwi.
Craving is a good indication that something is missing. If you’re craving sugar, it indicates different things, including brain conditioning, mineral deficiency, blood glucose imbalance, inadequate sleep, or high stress levels. So examine yourself and take that bold step in tackling the individual causes of your cravings. With time the cravings will fade off.
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