Health-focused resolutions are some of the most common to focus on at the start of a new year, whether it be shifting into a more plant-based diet, stepping up your fitness regimen, or being more diligent about your water intake — and these are all great ideas. But for those of you who possess a relentless sweet tooth, finding feasible ways to give up sugar might be one to add to the list. Perhaps you've gotten too used to grabbing a sweetened coffee drink and pastry as a way to start your work day (every day) or fall victim to mindlessly noshing on sugary snacks throughout the day. But getting control of your cravings might not be as impossible as it can sometimes feel: According to nutrition experts, there are a couple of ways to curb your sugar cravings if you want to start 2020 with a healthier you.
All that said, it's worth acknowledging why an excess of sugar is bad for you in the first place. For one thing, it's been shown to increase feelings of anxiousness, since it raises your blood sugar levels in the same way that caffeine can. And medical professionals explain that once you're hooked, your body believes it needs more sugar to remain calm — so it has a cyclical effect.
There's also the toll it takes on your skin, as it's said to diminish your levels of collagen and cause inflammation. And sugar can also sabotage your workouts, get in the way of good sleep, and more. Ready to kick your cravings for good? Ahead, licensed nutritionist Caitlin Self of Frugal Nutrition offers four easy steps to cutting back on the sweet stuff — and reaping so many health benefits in the process.
Get More (And Better) Sleep
Add another reason to the list of why you should be prioritizing better sleep. "A little known fact: Sleep deprivation is one of the major driving forces of sugar cravings," says Self. "When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, it looks for other ways to find energy." She suggests creating a cool, dark environment and avoiding screens an hour before bedtime, as well as aiming for about eight to nine hours of sleep to feel as rested as possible — therefore lessening the likelihood of waking up with a sugar craving.
Eat More Protein & Fat At Breakfast
It's temping to grab that chocolate croissant on-the-go for a quick breakfast, but according to Self, it's worth pivoting to something that's lower in carbs and higher in protein and fat to start your day. "After an eight to 12 hour overnight fast, the worst way to break it is with a big pile of carbs: This encourages your body to seek glucose for fuel rather than burning both fat and glucose," she explains. "Make your first meal hearty with 15 to 20 grams of quality protein from a few ounces of grass-fed or pastured animal protein, or organic nuts, seeds, and legumes for plant-based protein, and one or two pastured eggs for a boost of both protein and fat. For fat, look to things like egg yolks, avocados, hemp hearts, coconut milk, and if you can handle it, high quality dairy products."
Manage Blood Sugar Spikes
"Many of us struggle with something called reactive hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar after meals — usually within two to four hours," shares Self. "This happens when we consume a large high-carbohydrate meal, which spikes blood sugar and then triggers excess insulin to be released. This excess insulin clears all the sugar from the blood, leaving you with low blood sugar, and serious sugar cravings to try and get that blood sugar back up."
A good way to avoid this is replacing some of those carbs with more fat, fiber, and protein. For example, replace half your pasta with non-starchy fibrous vegetables (broccoli, peppers, and Brussels sprouts), add some protein and finish with a drizzle of olive oil. "This helps slow the release of sugar into the blood, providing longer lasting energy," she explains.
Balance Your Snacks
You'll also want to rethink the way you snack, according to Self. "Grazing all day tends to promote reliance on glucose for fuel, when in fact our bodies should be able to seamlessly switch between using fat and glucose for fuel," she says. If you must snack, the nutritionist advices making sure plant-based fiber is in the mix (as opposed to straight, sugary carbs). For example, try some hummus with veggies and just a few crackers to feel fuller longer. That way you won't feel the need to reach for something sweet.