Most people enjoy the taste of desserts, cookies, and candy, but for some sweets are a passion. Research suggests that some people may be genetically predisposed to prefer foods that are sweet, but for most the love of sweets is a learned preference. It begins during childhood when well-meaning parents give kids a cookie or piece of candy to reward them for good behavior. Is it any surprise that so many people have a sweet tooth?
The good news is the taste for sweet things is a habit that can be unlearned. You can reduce cravings for sugary foods and beverages, although it won’t happen overnight. It can take weeks to months to tame a sweet tooth, but it’s worth it.
Gradually Taper Back the Quantity of Sugar You Eat
The best way to extinguish sugar cravings is to gradually reduce the number of sweet foods and beverages you eat and drink. If you usually add 2 tablespoons of sugar to your oatmeal, reduce that amount by a teaspoon every 10-14 days. By gradually tapering back the amount of sugar you consume, your body and your taste buds will slowly adapt. It may take several weeks or even months, but sugar will gradually lose its appeal. You’ll find if you go back to adding 2 tablespoons of sugar to your oatmeal, it tastes sickeningly sweet.
Substitute Whole Fruit for Processed Sugars
Fruit contains fructose, but it’s also a good source of fiber. When you eat sugary foods you get a spike in insulin levels that triggers further sugar cravings. Because of its fiber, fruit doesn’t elicit as much of an insulin response, and it satisfies an urge to eat something sweet. Your ultimate goal should be to taper back on all sugars, but until you do, eating a piece of antioxidant-rich whole fruit is better than munching on a cookie.
Reduce Your Access to Sweets
Out of sight, out of mind. Go through your cabinets and refrigerator, and remove all sweet temptations. Toss them away so you won’t be tempted to munch on a cookie or brownie every time you open the refrigerator or cabinet door. When you leave these items in your cabinet, they’re like impulse items at the grocery store. You see them and can’t resist taking a nibble. Don’t give yourself the chance.
When you shop at the grocery store, steer your cart away from aisles that have sweets and unhealthy snack foods. Move toward the periphery of the store where the healthier stuff is.
Have an Alternate Plan When a Sugar Craving Strikes
If your sweet tooth starts acting up, brush it with cinnamon or cool mint toothpaste. Brushing your teeth reduces the desire to eat, especially when you use mint toothpaste. If you’re at work and can’t brush, pop a stick of cinnamon sugar-free gum in your mouth or distract yourself with a quick walk around the building. The fewer times you act on your cravings, the less you’ll have.
Stress can increase sugar cravings. Studies done in rats suggest that sugar is addictive, and the desire to eat it increases when the animals are stressed. Sugar may alter the level of certain neurotransmitters and hormones that relieve stress, meaning you’re more likely to munch on a brownie when you’re under pressure.
Instead of eating sweets to control stress, use yoga, meditation or exercise to bring down your stress level. A brisk walk outdoors is one of the best ways to reduce stress and stop a sugar craving. Give it a try.
The Bottom Line?
You can tame your sweet tooth and reduce sugar cravings. Gradually taper back the amount of sugar in your diet, and replace it with healthier “sweets” like whole fruit. Reduce stress in your life as much as possible by working out and using mind-body techniques for relaxation such as yoga. It won’t happen overnight, but you can put those sugar cravings to rest once and for all.
Discovery News. “Sugar and Stress: Are They Linked?”
Nutrition: Essentials and Diet Therapy. Sixth edition. Poleman and Peckenpaugh. 1991.