How to stop sugar cravings? I think this one single question is probably at the top of the list for a lot of people trying to clean up their diets.
I am currently helping coach a group of ten women through a complete lifestyle makeover program for the American Heart Association’s local Go Red for Women BetterU Challenge and although we are only two weeks in, overcoming sugar addiction has already proven to be a challenge for many of the ladies. In fact, just last week when I was chatting one-on-one with one of the participants, she said figuring out how to stop sugar cravings was proving to be the single biggest challenge of the whole program.
Trust me, I can totally relate! From the time I was young I loved—and craved—sugar. I literally could not think straight if I had to go too long without it. I craved sugar so much that in high school I remember carrying around a zip lock bag of Lucky Charms cereal in my backpack because I needed a “sugar fix” between classes. With marshmallows and corn syrup as the second and third ingredients, Lucky Charms was one of my absolute favorite cereals. And there was just no way I could make it from my 7 am morning bowl all the way to lunchtime at noon without a “fix.”
Although I didn’t know much about nutrition or clean eating back then, I knew enough to know that eating absurd amounts of sugar was not a good idea. I also knew enough to know that I had a problem with sugar because I noticed other kids somehow managed to survive morning classes without dipping in to their emergency stash of Lucky Charms. However, back then I never even thought about how to stop sugar cravings because, to be honest, I couldn’t really see how my sugar “problem” was harming me all that much. I wasn’t overweight, I seemed to have plenty of energy, I didn’t have diabetes, etc.
But then in 1998, when I was just 22-years old, I finally did have a serious health problem. Although I certainly cannot blame sugar for my health crisis, I did learn very quickly that my disease was one that was made worse by inflammation and that sugar was a highly inflammatory food. I very quickly became highly motivated to learn everything possible about how to stop sugar cravings…
And let me tell you, it was NOT easy. Without a doubt the absolute hardest thing for me to clean up in my diet was the sugar. I tried many different tricks and tips and followed all sorts of advice but ultimately, there was only one real thing that made a significant difference.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings with One Single Trick
Before I share my secret trick I just want to say my husband, Andy Larson, M.D., routinely recommends this same trick to his obese and diabetic patients. We also recommend the trick in our Clean Cuisine book (Penguin, 2013) and in the 8-week program presented within it. Clean Cuisine was our fourth big nutrition book and although we endorsed a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory whole foods diet in each book, this has been the only one to include the trick for how to stop sugar cravings. It has also been the only book where we have received overwhelming feedback that people have been able to totally eliminate sugar cravings. Our books have sold tens of thousands of copies and the first one was translated into 7 different languages, so over the years we have received a tremendous amount of feedback from our readers about what works. And when it comes to how to stop sugar cravings, this trick has worked for a lot of people!
Ok, so enough of the buildup…
The secret to how to stop sugar cravings is to simply add more “whole” fruit to your diet. A lot more!
If you are someone who is trying to learn how to stop sugar cravings because you are overweight or have diabetes, the idea to eat more fruit may sound absurd. Surely you have heard somewhere along the line that fruit is a high-sugar, “fattening” food to limit. And yet the real world effects of fruit consumption have actually been shown to be inversely associated with BMI and body weight. In other words, people who eat more fruit weigh less.
In a study published in the journal Nutrition (1) 77 overweight and obese dieters enrolled in a 6-month randomized controlled trial testing the effects of a computer-assisted dieting intervention program with the goal to decrease energy intake, increase fruit and vegetable consumption, and maintain a balanced diet. Although vegetable consumption increased as a result of the intervention, fruit consumption did not. However, after controlling for age, gender, physical activity, and daily macronutrient intake, higher fruit consumption was associated with a lower BMI both at the baseline and the end of the study. Although overall fruit consumption did not increase, those participants who did increase their fruit intake lost the most weight. In this study eating more fruit by no means interfered with weight loss. And as a bariatric surgeon who has treated and reviewed the diets of thousands of obese patients, my husband can tell you first hand that bananas, apples and oranges are not the culprit in the obesity epidemic, at least not with his patients anyway.
Are ALL Fruits Healthy?
So many people erroneously believe fruit IS sugar. Others are under the impression that only certain fruits are healthy and that others, such as bananas or mangoes, have too much sugar and are not optimal for diabetics. In fact, we received so many emails from Andy’s patients specifically asking about bananas that it prompted us to write an entire article answering the questions “Are bananas good for you?”
For the record, ALL “whole” fruits are nutrient-rich, healthy foods and they are loaded with anti-aging, anti-inflammatory antioxidants and phytonutrients. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients are all substances that work synergistically to support a healthy, disease-free and lean body. None of these substances are found in refined sugar. If you are trying to figure out how to stop sugar cravings, adding enough fruit to your diet (about 3 to 4 servings a day) is one of the most important things you can do.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings with WHOLE Fruit
It is super important to emphasize I am only recommending “whole” fruit here.
“Whole” fruit means eating fruit in it’s most natural, whole state, skin and all. For example, an apple with the skin would be considered a “whole” fruit, applesauce made from peeled apples and added sugar is not the same. Of course you don’t need to eat the peels on foods like bananas, oranges and mangoes. However, eating a peeled orange is not at all the same as drinking pulp-free/ fiber-free pasteurized orange juice. In fact, whether you are trying to learn how to stop sugar cravings or not, we are not big supporters of the juice craze regardless.
However, as long as the fruit is consumed in “whole” form, the fructose within it is converted to glucose (the kind of sugar that raises insulin levels and promotes fat storage) at a very slow rate. Eating a “whole” banana, apple or orange simply does not have the same affect on blood sugar as eating white bread, table sugar or soda.
I really do find it disturbing though (and sad) that a number of well-meaning fitness experts, wellness coaches and even doctors are still confused about fruit and often advise their clients or patients to limit their consumption. This is especially concerning considering the number one diet mistake people make is not eating anywhere close to the amount of fruits and vegetables they should. Less than half of all Americans still don’t eat three vegetable servings a day. And on any given day, they eat NO fruit at all.
Research overwhelmingly shows the greater the quantity and assortment of vegetables AND fruits consumed, the lower the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and cancer (2). And believe it or not, more than any other food, fruit consumption is associated with lowered risk of mortality from all cancers combined (3). According to the Framingham Heart Study, for every three additional servings of fruits and vegetables you eat a day, the risk of stroke is reduced 22 percent.
There should be absolutely zero doubt in anyone’s mind about whether or not fruit is a healthy food. Fruit is so much more than just a healthy food, it’s a super superfood.
How to Stop Sugar Cravings with a Few Other Tricks…
1. Emphasize Nutrient-Dense Foods
Once you increase your intake of nutrient-dense fruit you should notice your sugar cravings decrease substantially within the first week. If the rest of your diet is otherwise healthy, your sugar cravings should be all but gone within two weeks.
However, as we discuss in our Clean Cuisine book, eating a high-nutrient diet is essential for not only curbing appetite, but also quenching food cravings. Although adding fruit to your diet will definitely fill in a number of nutrient gaps, you may need to add additional nutrient-dense foods if you still find yourself craving sugar after two weeks.
Take a look at our Clean Cuisine food pyramid to see how your own diet compares and consider adding more “bottom tier” foods if despite adding more fruit you find sugar cravings still persist.
2. Take a High Quality Multi-Vitamin / Multi-Mineral
Many different nutrients can affect sugar cravings. For example, magnesium is used in the regulation of glucose, insulin, and the neurotransmitter dopamine; a deficiency can result in some pretty serious sugar cravings, especially for chocolate. Zinc is another one needed for your body to properly utilize insulin and glucose and a deficiency can also contribute to sugar cravings. Although eating whole foods is undoubtedly the very best way to get your vitamins and minerals, taking a high quality multi-vitamin / multi-mineral supplement can be a good way to fill nutrient gaps.
However, we feel strongly that unless you are going to take high-quality supplements, it is best to not take any. Learn more about what to look for in a multi-vitamin HERE.
3. Take a Phytonutrient “Booster”
A “phytonutrient booster” is basically just whole food based fruit and vegetable powdered supplement. Many phytonutrient supplements exist, but Juice Plus+ is the only one we are aware of that has substantial clinical research to back it up. However, Barlean’s Greens, Green Vibrance, Amazing Grass Green Superfood and Mega Nutrition Organic Superfood (you can watch a video I did talking about this one HERE), are all excellent choices also.
4. Supplement with L-Glutamine
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that has been shown to be incredibly effective at combating sugar cravings by helping to stabilize blood sugar. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, you’ll know almost immediately whether it works for you. Adding 500 milligrams of L-glutamine three times a day on an empty stomach can stop sugar cravings almost instantly for some people.
Although amino acid therapy has been shown to be very safe, I personally do not think it is a good idea to take any isolated amino acid supplement for an extended period of time. I would use amino acid therapy as a short-term solution–maybe for 2 or 3 weeks– while you make additional adjustments to the rest of your diet. Ultimately, you should not need to rely on L-glutamine to curb sugar cravings. If you want to give L-glutamine a try though, Nutricost is a good brand.
- K. E. Schroder, “Effects of Fruit Consumption on Body Mass Index and Weight Loss in a Sample of Overweight and Obese Dieters enrolled in a Weight Loss Intervention Trial”, Nutrition 26, no 7-8 (2010):727-34.
- Gillman, M. W., L. A. Cupples, D. Gagnon, et al. 1995. “Protective Effects of Fruits and Vegetables on Development of Stroke in Men” JAMA, 273 (14):1113-17; Manson, J.E., W.C. Willett, M.J. Stamfer, et al. 1994. “Vegetable and Fruit Consumption and Incidence of Stroke in Women” abstract. Circulation 89 (2): 932; Yu, M. W., H. H. Hsieh, W. H. Pan, et al. 1995. “Vegetable Consumption, Serum Retinol Level, and Risk of Hepatocelular Carcinoma” Cancer Res 55 (6): 1301-05.
- Hertog, M. G., H. B. Bueno-de-Mesquita and A. M. Fehily. 1996. “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Cancer Mortality in Caerphilly Study”, Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 5 (9): 673-77.