Sugar cravings are for real. Whether it’s deep dish pizza with pineapple, a slice of southern pecan pie with homemade vanilla ice cream, or your favorite candy bar, most people are not immune to cravings.
Suddenly, we become overwhelmed by the urge to consume — and very few regain control before indulging. Then come the dreaded guilt and realization you gave in when you promised it wouldn’t happen again.
Heaven forbid we crave broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
Unhealthy eating contributes to myriad of life-shortening issues. Unfortunately, eating sugar takes the place of much better, nutrient-rich foods that promote good health and longevity.
If you want to know how to stop craving sugar, first you have to understand why you want it so badly.
Why You Crave Sugar In The First Place
Sugar cravings are moments of intense motivation to consume carbohydrate-filled foods.
But what causes sugar cravings, and what does sugar do to your body?
When your actions lead to satisfying a bodily need, dopamine is released in different areas of your brain. This positive experience reinforces the decision to repeat the behavior. (1)
Food cravings are then developed.
These are actually healthy, natural responses. At one point in time, these cravings drove people to hunt for food. But today’s accessible and overindulging culture has led to a national weight problem that we all know too well.
We have to stop fighting sugar cravings. It’s time to wage war and learn how to avoid sugar cravings for good.
5 No BS Strategies To Stop Sugar Cravings
1. Self-check: Are you hungry, thirsty, or just bored?
Sometimes, people are legitimately hungry. When you finish a rigorous workout and feel an ache for a protein shake deep in your muscles, go for it. Your body is communicating its needs.
But with the overabundance and availability of food, chances are, you’re thirsty.
Even young adult males (who some would argue never stop eating) drinking about 20 ounces of water before meals voluntarily consume fewer calories. (2)
Often, we aren’t genuinely hungry. We experience lulls in our day that don’t satisfy us mentally, but our bodies remember the feeling that accompanies that sweet treat. So, we find ourselves searching the fridge for a happy boost.
These indulgences provide an experience that diminishes quickly and doesn’t make our lives any more exciting.
So when the cravings for sugary foods take over, do something fun and unexpected. Go for a walk or look up a new YouTube tutorial if you can’t get outside. Stimulate your brain and reward it with other sources of pleasure. Devoting your full attention to just about any activity (save for sitting on the couch or staring at a bare wall) is a sure way to avoid indulging when a pesky craving hits.
Control sugar cravings, don’t just go for the cheap thrill — it costs more in the end.
2. Curb Cravings With Protein, Fiber, And Fat
The best way to stop sugar cravings is to not over-restrict healthy foods.
Does it really matter? You can eat a bagel that gives your body an abundance of quick energy and leaves you hungry later. Or, you could eat three eggs over a bed of sauteed spinach with roughly the same calories, but a sustainable, slow drip of energy.
If you consume the same amount of calories in bagel or egg form, you may actually lose weight eating the eggs. (3)
Eat satisfying meals that don’t leave you hungry. Foods high in protein and fiber are satiating (filling). (4)
Foods high in fiber generally contain less calories when you eat them in the same volume as carbohydrates. You get just as full — maybe more so– but without the extra calories.
Fiber increases gastric pressure, slows the rate of your intestines emptying, and impacts the release of the hormone that tells your body, “I’ve had enough to eat.”
Clean, unprocessed fats like avocados, olive oil, almonds, and grass-fed butter are great fillers. However, stay away from adding a ton of fat to a normal diet unless you want to give the keto diet a shot (more on that below).
3. Focus on Real Foods, Resembling How They’re Found in Nature
Sugar cravings are reinforced day after day by processed foods. This is by design — manufacturers are smart about how to make you purchase over and over. A processed food high in salt or sugar creates food that is hyper-palatable (basically, something you really want to eat). (5)
These processed foods give your body a sudden rush of flavor that’s quickly consumed but leaves you craving more empty calories.
Prioritizing whole or natural foods is a reliable way to train your palate and wean yourself off “addictive” foods and flavors. In the end, it leaves you feeling more satisfied.
This brings up a hard (but simple) tip for fighting sugar cravings.
Clear out your pantry and replace everything with worthwhile snacks. You can’t binge eat what isn’t there.
Healthier, minimally processed foods can be appreciated and enjoyed if you focus on each ingredient’s positive attributes.
4. Low-Impact Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes
Moments come when you just have to have something sweet. But when the time to stop fighting the urge happens, don’t turn to sugar. Try a substitute.
If you are concerned about how to stop eating sugar, but still want to satisfy a sweet tooth, this is the easiest option with which to start. There’s a huge array of sodas and snacks in every store with sugar substitutes. And for those of you looking to sweeten your own creations, we broke it down in the list below.
Plus, you’ll read which sugar substitutes and non-caloric sweeteners never to use.
Calorie-Free Natural Alternatives:
Stevia comes from the leaf of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, although most products on store shelves are made from a refined extract of the plant called rebaudioside A. Very few products contain traces of actual stevia leaf since rebaudioside A can be 250-450 times sweeter than sugar. (6)
Stevia has nearly zero calories and won’t raise blood sugar levels.
Stevia can have a slightly bitter aftertaste that is liked or disliked depending on the person. Many companies make stevia blends to produce a better tasting product, often mixed with erythritol (a sugar alcohol).
Erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol found in specific fruits. It doesn’t spike blood sugar levels and has no effect on cholesterol. It seems humans don’t absorb most erythritol consumed; it simply passes through us. (7)
At 70 percent the sweetness of sugar, cravings are easily satisfied because this low-calorie sweetener is safe to consume and tastes almost identical to sugar. (8)
Xylitol is another naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in some fruits and vegetables. It has the same sweetness as normal sugar and can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for recipes.
Like many sugar substitutes, xylitol does not raise blood sugar levels. And has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar.
Many companies use this as a sweetener in gum and candies, which is good new because xylitol has been found to actually improve oral health. People given xylitol showed lower rates of gingivitis and oral plaque. (9)
*Warning for pet parents: Xylitol is very dangerous for dogs and cats. Keep any xylitol far from the reach of sniffing pets.
Allulose is a “rare sugar” that is found naturally in certain foods like figs, raisins, and wheat.
This monosaccharide (single sugar) has the exacts same chemical formula as fructose (the sugar found in honey), but the molecules are arranged differently. Thus, our bodies don’t process allulose the same way as table sugar.
Allulose doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
It has a similar texture and taste to sugar, with only 10 percent of the calories. It is one of the more expensive sweeteners, but many people are willing to pay for this great tasting substitute.
Watch out for cheap allulose brands. Disreputable companies have been known to blend allulose with table sugar to sell it for cheaper.
Monk Fruit, or lo han guo extract, comes from the fruit by the same name. It boasts 150-250 times the sweetness of sugar, no calories, and no spike in blood glucose or insulin levels.
So why don’t we see this stuff everywhere?
It’s because monk fruit is difficult to get from the farm to the store. It is not normally eaten fresh because it ripens and spoils so quickly after being harvested. The process makes it more expensive to get your hands on it.
Monk fruit also has an aftertaste of the original fruit. Some people love it and some hate it. Try buying a smaller quantity first to judge your preference.
Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet or Equal, is probably the most prolific of the sugar substitutes. It’s what sweetens most diet sodas and sugar-free foods.
It is super sweet (200 times sweeter than sugar) and cheap.
But there is a lot of controversy around the effects of aspartame in the body. One study states “aspartame is a carcinogenic agent” and basically increased the occurrence of cancerous tumors. Another study says, “aspartame is not carcinogenic”. (10, 11)
Without the evidence of quality human studies to either prove or disprove, the safest bet is to use in moderation.
Ace-K, or acesulfame potassium, is also 200 times sweeter than refined sugar. Found in sodas, candy, bakery items, and frozen treats, this substitute has zero calories.
But like aspartame, its presence in food is full of controversy. While the FDA has deemed Ace-K safe for consumption, many groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) see the need for further testing.
Initial studies indicated acesulfame potassium causes cancer in rats. But the validity of the experiments has been contested because of several flaws. (12)
But an even more recent study found that Ace-K could affect cognitive functions. (13)
“Better safe than sorry” is the best approach with acesulfame potassium.
Sucralose is a popular zero-calorie artificial sweetener. It is the base of Splenda.
Sucralose is actually created in a chemical process using sugar. When all is said and done, the resulting sugar substitute is 400-700 times sweeter and doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste.
If you don’t use sucralose normally, it may increase your blood sugar and insulin levels. But studies of people that were used to ingesting sucralose found that blood sugar wasn’t elevated with regular use. (14, 15, 16, 17)
Baking with sucralose might be a bad idea. In a high heat environment, it starts to change and react to other ingredients, even producing harmful substances that may increase your risk of cancer. (18, 19)
A study in rats found that sucralose has the potential to decrease gut bacteria that aid digestive health. It didn’t seem to affect harmful bacteria and the recovery of decreased bacteria took a long time. (20)
Raw Honey must be the answer on how to stop sugar cravings, right?
Well, no, it isn’t.
Raw honey has some amazing benefits. It doesn’t spike your insulin levels as strongly as sugar, it’s chock full of essential nutrients that dispose of free radicals, and promotes growing healthy gut bacteria.
Pasteurized (cooked) honey doesn’t carry the same benefits, so opt for local, unpasteurized honey.
But the real reason honey doesn’t help you with sugar craving because it’s so sweet! Honey has 33 percent more calories than sugar and really must be used sparingly.
Coconut sugar is a product of the amazing coconut tree. It’s a great substitute for anyone on Paleo, but unfortunately not those seeking how to stop sugar cravings naturally. It has the same amount of calories and tastes like brown sugar.
5. Sleep Better and Stress Less
Stress is no joke. It affects many aspects and hinders healthy living. A Stress in America surveys points to it interfering with the sleep of many adults and teens. Plus, sleep deprivation is linked to altered glucose metabolism and increase in stress hormones (21)
But what does all this have to do with sugar cravings?
In 2015, a study found that people under stress were more likely to be “hooked on sugar and possibly more vulnerable to weight gain” (22)
Asking how to decrease stress might be the answer for how to beat sugar cravings. And an easy and natural way to fight stress is by taking adaptogens.
These herbs help balance hormones, so your body can better respond to stressors. Not only can you deal with stress better and crave sugar less with adaptogens, but many of them have wonderful normalizing effects on the body in other ways, too.
Many of us try and power through stressful days by pure willpower. But the truth is: When stress comes, even the mighty succumb to temptation. So, make a plan to fight stress, like practicing yoga or meditation.
Advanced Strategies To Stop Sugar Cravings
1. Foods and Supplements
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that people struggling with depression and intense carb cravings could reduce them with the use of a chromium supplement. (24)
Like cinnamon, chromium improves insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism, or how well your body breaks down carbs. Chromium has the added bonus of enhancing protein metabolism, so it helps with weight loss and muscle gain as well.
Supplements for sugar cravings are an attractive option for people who need an extra boost in their efforts to cut out the addictive substance.
This heart-healthy molecule, found in red wine and grapes, has been known to increase lifespan in mice. It also reduces oxidative stress and makes insulin signaling more efficient. (26) You would need to consume about 40 liters of red wine to get the recommended dosage. Skip the liquor store and buy the supplement instead.
Since stress eating is a very real problem and we covered adaptogens for how to curb sugar cravings, an ashwagandha supplement is a great place to start.
Known as the “king of adaptogens” it is one of the most widely available and studied adaptogens. It effectively improves an individual’s resistance to stress and self-assessed quality of life. (27)
If your brain and body are content, you may not crave a quick fix like sugar.
Perhaps one of the most well-studied appetite suppressants, caffeine makes adrenaline and dopamine release and increases energy, mood, and fat loss. Plus, it’s easy to consume with coffee shops on every corner. Caffeine also appears naturally in many foods.
But beware, it can be overused and your body can grow numb to its effects.
Never ingest enough caffeine to interfere with sleep. It’ll make you crave more sugar the next day.
If you find yourself jonesing for a milkshake, go for a low carb protein shake instead. Protein fills us up more than sugars or fats and ingesting it expends more energy. Obviously, we recommend eating whole foods first, but today’s protein shakes are a nutritious second option.
Inositol is a nutrient closely resembling glucose. When you take inositol supplements, you can fight the insulin resistance frequently experienced by people with sugar cravings. (28)
This remedy derives from a woody plant that grows in tropical forests. It’s been used in ancient Ayurveda for thousands of years.
This impressive herb is a potent, effective way to reduce sugar cravings. If you consume or even place the powder on your tongue before eating, it blocks the ability to taste sweet things. (29 30, 31)
2. Intermittent Fasting
Not just a religious exercise, fasting has many health benefits and it has become a very popular way to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting is abstaining from caloric consumption for a specific time period and eating during the intervals.
There are 3 main methods popular today:
- 16/8: Fasting: Fasting for 14-16 hour blocks and eating during a six-to-eight hour window. This happens every day or a few times a week.
- 5:2: Fasting: Mostly fasting for 2 days a week (taking in only 500-600 calories) and eating normally the other 5 days of the week.
- Eat-Stop-Eat Fasting: Fasting all caloric intake for 24 hours once or twice a week.
Coffee and plenty of water are suggested during the fasting periods, as they contain zero calories. Water helps you feel more full and caffeine is an appetite suppressant.
3. Go Cold Turkey
Try changing the way you eat completely. Go on the keto diet. While challenging at first, your body adapts from carbs as a main source of fuel and even curbs your appetite.
One study says it all: “The 12 week Keto diet resulted in decreased appetite, significant weight loss of participants, decreased emotional and external eating, increased body image satisfaction and improved physical performance.” (34)
The keto diet answers “how to give up sugar” with high fat, medium protein, and very low carb consumption. If you are craving sweets, you can indulge in flavorful, decadent foods on this diet. Keto’s one of the most effective ways for how to get rid of sugar cravings.
After a while, you might be saying “why do I crave sugar?”.
Do your research, because this diet is specific. Many people experience flu-like symptoms while getting used to such a low carb lifestyle.
On keto, you should introduce clean, organic fats that haven’t been processed. No matter what diet you are on, avoid the words “partially hydrogenated oil.” It’s just another way to say trans fats (the worst kind of fat). (35)
The Paleo diet challenges people to eat more like our ancestors by eating proteins, spices, and healthy fats found in nature. On this diet, you’ll avoid processed and artificial foods. There are many variations, but all forbid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and milk (which is higher in sugar than most realize).
When you choose to live without sugar, your body naturally rewires and stops craving it as much.
Whole30 is a short-term diet that is a great way to break sugar cravings. For 30 days, you can’t consume sugar (real or artificial), alcohol (even for cooking), grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulfites, baked goods, junk food, or dessert substitutes.
This is an immersive diet that tries to rewire the way you think, feel, and eat. It even prohibits you from weighing or measuring your body for the 30-day duration. The goal of Whole30 is to break the physical and psychological relationship we have with unhealthy foods.
Dessert shouldn’t be first, but who are we kidding? If you’re reading this, dessert is probably in the forefront of your mind. You can still have delicious snacks that satisfy your taste buds without indulging in sugar.
Bodybuilding.com has some amazing recipes for “protein fluff,” a marshmallow-like protein ice cream. Add high nutrient foods like blueberries for a treat that doesn’t worsen sugar cravings.
Our go-to protein recipes are rich and feel satisfyingly indulgent. From peanut butter chocolate brownies to a protein mocha latte, these creations prove you can replace the normal refined sugar-filled calories with foods that satisfy and contain quality ingredients.
This red velvet beet smoothie is a delicious way to start paleo and keto. It’s also vegan and gluten-free. This cold yummy beverage promotes nitric oxide creation, healthy blood pressure, and essential energy and endurance.
When considering how to stop sugar cravings, it’s about finding which method works for you. If your goal is to stop craving sugar, then keto, Whole30, or another radical diet to cut out all sugar might be the best approach.
Many of us are just trying to curb sugar intake. Replacing refined sugar with healthy, beneficial sweeteners is a huge step.
Remember to not get bogged down with guilt if any one strategy doesn’t work forever. It’s a process to eliminate the need for sugar.
Sugar cravings come from a real addiction that is difficult to break. When you surround yourself with good choices and remove bad temptations from your home, you’ll start to make decisions that will positively affect the rest of your life.
Five simple strategies to stop sugar cravings include:
- Do a self-check: Are you hungry, thirsty, or just bored?
- Curb your cravings by eating protein, fiber, and fat.
- Focus on minimally-processed foods and eat foods like they’re found in nature.
- Try safe non-caloric sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
- Sleep better and stress less.
If you’re ready to move onto advanced strategies, try some of these:
Foods and supplements to stop sugar cravings
- Vitamin B6
- Gymnema Sylvestre
- 16:2 method: Eat for about 8 hours a day, and fast the other 16.
- 5:2 method: Eat less than 600 calories two days each week, then eat normally the other five.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Once a week, go 24 hours with zero calories.