Sugar consumption is at an epic level and it’s threatening the health of millions of people. Currently, the average daily intake of added sugar hovers at 77 grams. Yet the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women.
This doesn’t come as a surprise when you look at the staggering growth of some sugary drinks and confectionary manufacturers.
Globally, Coca Cola consumption has reached 22,000 drinks per second. And Americans are consuming 25 pounds of candy a year.
Whether it’s soft drinks, chocolates, muffins, or ice creams, added sugar could become a compulsive craving if you overindulge. In fact, according to some scientists, it could be just as addictive as cocaine.
The sweet dangers of added sugar
“Sugar is an inflammatory food, so sugar causes inflammation within the body,” explained board-certified clinical dermatologist Dr. Saya Obayan during an interview with INSIDER.
Tooth decay and weight gain are perhaps the most commonly known dangers of excessive consumption of sugar. It can also flare up acne and a range of other skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema. And its impact on your physical and mental health has far-reaching consequences.
Studies confirm excessive sugar could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Refined forms of sugar can also accelerate your aging process, damage the liver and kidneys, and can even weaken the immune system.
“Consuming too much sugar can affect the cells in your immune system that target bacteria. Sugar affects the way your white blood cells attack bacteria.” told internist and gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal to HuffPost.
And its effects on mental health could lead to equally dire consequences. According to research, overindulging in sugar can alter neurobiological brain functions and consequently lead to changes in emotional states.
It’s linked to anxiety and depression, and stress-induced addictive behaviors. Studies suggest it can also lead to cognitive impairment and affect memory and attention.
Overindulging in anything could be harmful in the long term. And sugar, in particular, could cause irreversible damage to your physical and mental health.
How can you beat sugar cravings?
Tackling those cravings for a sugary treat is no easy task. The glistening doughnuts and the colorful desserts could be mesmerizing and hard to resist.
But giving in to the heightened euphoria of a sugar rush will only provide momentary comfort. And if you want to avoid the alarming long-term effects of a sugar-rich diet, then you need to find ways that could help beat the sweet cravings.
1. Tackle mental distress
For many people, a tub of ice cream or a handful of candy is a quintessential remedy to alleviate the blues. And there’s a science behind this.
The effects of stress on eating habits and sugary food choices have been known for years. In fact, 60–70% of people report eating more sweet foods such as chocolates and cakes when under severe stress. And for emotional eaters, consumption of sugary treats nearly doubles when subjected to stressors.
So, understanding the important link between your emotional states and eating habits can help you tackle your sugar cravings. If you’re experiencing an unusual amount of stress, anxiety, or sadness, find ways to address the source of your distress. Take a break and get outdoors, speak to a loved one, or seek professional support.
2. Quit buying
The sight of a sweet treat is enough to get many people excited. This is because you’re conditioned to respond to visual cues of food from a young age. In fact, it can influence food choice and preference as well as the perception of sweetness. And the more you’re exposed to sugary treats, the more the cravings will be to indulge.
So, avoid stocking up your cupboards with cookies and candy or leaving them around in plain sight. Steer clear of cafes where the brightly colored sugary baked goods are on display. If you’re always reaching out to the sugar-high products at the supermarket, skip shopping for a while. Get a family member to shop on your behalf until you’ve conditioned yourself to avoid the cravings.
3. Opt for healthy alternatives
Eliminating sugar cravings is not something you can achieve overnight. So start by slowly replacing foods high in processed sugar with natural alternatives such as fruits.
If your habit of reaching out for a candy bar or a doughnut is triggered by impulsive snacking, then keep some healthy substitutes at hand. Nuts, carrots, and celery are excellent options to snack on.
And according to studies by Dr. Paula J Geiselman and her team, chewing sugar-free gum can also reduce your sweet cravings.
Besides, overconsuming sugary food will often reduce the intake of important nutrients like proteins, fiber, and healthy fat. So, watching your meals to ensure you receive a balanced diet is equally important when you have an unhealthy inclination towards sugar-rich food.
4. Find a distraction
Cravings could often hijack your thoughts when you have more free time at hand. Therefore, keep yourself busy to prevent your mind from wondering when yearnings for a sugar rush are most likely to emerge.
When you sense an urge to reach out to a sugary snack, find a distraction to shift your focus away from the craving. Get up and go for a walk, call a friend, or strike up a conversation with a colleague.
According to Behavioral Scientist Anne Hsu and her team, even distracting yourself with mental imaginary could significantly reduce unhealthy snacking.
5. Get the support of loved ones
If you find yourself often binging on sugar, then exercising self-control could be hard. Hiding candy around the house and constantly digressing from a balanced diet are all part of a lonely struggle that could easily prevent you from reaching your sugar-free goals.
But support from loved ones could go a long way in curbing your cravings. You’re more likely to apply self-restraint and stay the course when there’s someone to regularly check in, keep track of your sweet indulgences, and give you gentle reminders.
Apart from reinforcing discipline, they can also provide emotional support and even help you get professional guidance when it’s most needed.
Numerous studies suggest regular exercise can help reduce cravings.
“Presumably, remaining active at a low intensity throughout the day will result in less snacking and enhanced mood among the overweight,” told the University of California researcher Margaret Schneider to Reuters.
According to Schneider, the mood-boosting ability of a workout could be particularly beneficial for emotional eaters.
And research by Larissa Ledochowski and her team looked into its impact on overweight individuals. Findings confirm that brisk walking for 15 minutes can significantly reduce their stress-related cravings for sugary food.
So, stop sitting around the whole day and giving in to your sugar cravings. Instead hit the gym, go for a jog, or do a few pushups. It could also provide the perfect distraction to shift your focus away from a sweet treat.
7. Plan for regular meals
Skipping or delaying meals or leaving a long gap in between can lead to a drop in sugar levels in the bloodstream. This can reduce your ability to exercise self-control and increase food cravings.
However, an injection of blood sugar or glucose will raise insulin, which in effect could increase dopamine, the body’s feel-good hormone. And this could replace the highs gained by sugary food.
In other words, it pays to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar throughout the day. And the best way to achieve this is by replacing your regular three large meals with smaller ones every 3 to 4 hours.
Curbing the sugar cravings
Sugar has become a public health crisis as research sheds more light on its damaging effects on mental and physical health. So, whether you like to indulge in late-night gelatos or sugar-coated mid-day snacks, it’s time to pull the brakes on your sweet cravings.
Undoubtedly, avoiding sugar is hard with all the modern-day choices—from colas and candy bars to doughnuts and ice creams—that can tempt even the strongest of the mind. But the good news is, you may not need to avoid it after all. Sugar helps the body produce energy and carry out important physiological functions. So, you just need to control your cravings and consume it in moderation.