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Most of us crave sugar occasionally (or, perhaps, often), especially during the holidays or at parties with well-stocked dessert tables. Sugar is delicious, plain and simple—not to mention that when it comes from natural sources, it fuels our bodies with much-needed energy. But if you have a nagging sweet tooth that calls to you multiple times a day, those cravings can eventually lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, and other serious conditions.
Here are eight ways to curb your sweet tooth so that you can maintain a healthy diet—and learn to enjoy the taste of sugar in a responsible way.
#1. Avoid Eating High-Glycemic Foods
If you start your day off with a few slices of white toast and some orange juice, you’ll most likely give in to that sweet tooth later. A recent study found that high-carb or high-glycemic foods, like white flour, popcorn, and potatoes, can stimulate the same parts of the brain involved in drug addiction and result in even stronger cravings for carbs and sugar.
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#2. Snack on These Healthy Foods Instead
Instead of grabbing a bagel, try starting off your day with low-glycemic foods, such as eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, so that your blood sugar doesn’t spike or drop too quickly and cause you to crave sugar a short time later.
Foods high in fiber can also help curb your sweet tooth because they keep you satiated longer and stabilize your blood sugar. Oatmeal, bananas, whole grains, and brown rice are all good sources of fiber.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, can also help you stay out of the cookie jar because of the positive effects they have on your gut microbiome. Studies show that the microbiome can influence serotonin levels (see #6) and modulate stress responses (see #4), which can both reduce your sugar cravings.
#3. Slowly Retrain Your Taste Buds
Abstaining from sugar completely may tempt you even more, so try reducing your sugar intake a little bit at a time. For example, if you normally put three teaspoons of sugar in your morning cup of coffee, try reducing it by one teaspoon and then a week or two later, cut out another teaspoon. Repeat until you’re used to drinking it without any sugar at all. If your taste buds protest too much, try using a non-nutritive sweetener, such as aspartame, Stevia, or sucralose.
For dessert, try replacing cookies, cakes, and pies with your favorite variety of fresh fruit. Add some flavor by mixing in some cinnamon, vanilla extract or ginger, or try dipping it lightly in some melted dark chocolate or plain yogurt.
#4. Reduce Stress
Stress can cause the hormone cortisol to build up in your body, which increases your blood sugar and result in cravings. Find a way to reduce stress that works best for you: meditation, exercise, aromatherapy, and participating in a relaxing hobby are all great ways to reduce your stress levels.
#5. Stay Hydrated
When you start craving that sweet afternoon snack, what your body might really be trying to tell you is that you’re thirsty. Dehydration symptoms are often mistaken for hunger, so try drinking a tall glass of water or a hot cup of unsweetened green tea before reaching for that cookie.
#6. Boost Your Serotonin Levels
Your sugar cravings could be a sign that your body’s serotonin levels are low. Sweets and carbs can temporarily raise serotonin levels and make you feel better, so your body continues to crave them. In the long-term, however, sugar can deplete your serotonin levels. To learn how to restore your serotonin levels with supplements, check out our article, Serotonin Supplements to Treat Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia Yourself.
#7. Try Taking This Sugar-Busting Herb
Studies show that an herb called gynmema sylvestre can calm your sweet tooth by filling the sugar receptors in your taste buds and effectively blocking your ability to taste sweetness. Researchers also believe that it can reduce the intestine’s ability to absorb sugar molecules, thus reducing blood sugar levels. For more information on this fascinating herb, check out our article, Can Gymnema Sylvesre Stop Sugar Cravings?
#8. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth Wisely
Sometimes nothing can replace a slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream—that’s understandable. Just be sure that the sweet treat you’re eating is indeed one of your favorites (as opposed to a processed junk-food item), and make sure it’s of the highest quality, so that you’re satisfied with just a small portion. Eventually, the less sugar you consume, the less your body will crave it.
Instead of grabbing a milk chocolate bar from the drugstore, for example, treat yourself to a small piece of dark chocolate from a gourmet dessert shop. Rather than wolfing it down while you’re on the run, take a few moments to sit in a comfortable place and eat it slowly, so that you’re focused on each bite. The more present you are in the moment, the more satisfied you’ll be.
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.