Health & Wellness

8 tips for dealing with sugar cravings

Let's face it: We're all eating too much sugar. It's basically in everything — even foods you wouldn't think of as being particularly sweet, like bread or salad dressing.

According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day and men no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day (which is equal to about 100 calories for women, or 150 calories for men).

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An explanation of the new government dietary guidelines from Dr. Azar

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An explanation of the new government dietary guidelines from Dr. Azar

Play Video - 2:00

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However, most Americans consume about two or three times this amount. As a frame of reference, an apple has about 19 grams of naturally-occurring sugar. I advise my clients to aim for no added sugar at all.

RELATED: Here's how sugar might fuel the growth of cancer

This doesn’t mean there is no room for a conscious indulgence here and there, but our day-to-day habits, like adding sugar to coffee or having ketchup with your burger, can really add up. Here's what to do:

Zach Pagano / TODAY
Choose naturally occurring sweets instead of added sugars.

1. Eat your sweets, naturally!

When you avoid unnecessary sources of sugar, your body will crave them less, and your palate will change to recognize and appreciate more natural sources of sugar. You may be surprised when an apple, carrots and beets taste perfectly sweet to you. Cashews and pecans are even great “sweet” nuts.

RELATED: Cutting processed sugar for just 9 days has a 'striking' effect on health

2. Make sure you’re getting enough calories.

Sounds like a joke, right? But often when we’re dieting, we restrict too much and end up with cravings. When you don’t eat enough, or you eat the wrong things, your body starts looking for fuel fast, as a way to catch up. So what does it do? Crave sugar! Sugar gives you quick energy, even though it’s not quality energy.

The only way to get around this is to eat whole foods, and break the sugar cravings cycle once and for all.

Zach Pagano / TODAY
Make sure your salads are full of veggies first.

3. Add in protein to every meal.

When you eat a heavy, starchy meal, like a giant bowl of grandma’s spaghetti, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a guaranteed gelato craving. All that pasta with no fiber or protein is like a big bowl of sugar.

Those calories are absorbed fast and they do not keep you feeling full or satisfied. What’s a pasta lover to do? Try a big bowl of veggies, with lean protein added and topped off with a little pasta versus the other way around. This applies to salads too — load up on the veggies first, then add a protein or carb on top.

4. Reduce added sugars.

The slice of multi-grain toast you eat for breakfast, and the salad dressing labeled as “light” may be laden with added sugars. This is why it’s so important to read, read, read labels! Avoid sneaky ingredients like “dextrose, “fructose” and “maltose” in your packaged foods, or avoid packaged foods all together. A drizzle of cold pressed olive oil and a fresh squeeze of lemon is the perfect mixture for a light salad dressing.

RELATED: New food labels show how much you need to exercise to burn off calories

5. Just run away from your cravings.

For this trick, you can accomplish two healthful things at once: Calm the craving and get in a workout. A British study showed that women who walked on a treadmill when a chocolate craving hit reported a reduction in their desire for the sweet. I also see clients reap a mental benefit here. When you’re proactive about doing something good for you, the not-good-for-you something suddenly becomes less appealing.

6. Replace sugar with spice.

Get to know your spices! Amping up the flavor in your meals and experimenting with spices could leave you longing for sugar less. Cinnamon and nutmeg are perfect touches to a plain yogurt or oatmeal. They’ll boost flavor in any dish and come along with their own health benefits to boot.

RELATED: Nutritionist Keri Glassman shares her secrets for a healthy lifestyle

7. Ditch the salt shaker.

When you dine out or eat packaged, processed foods, you're probably consuming too much sodium. This is often true even when you’re eating something “clean” like grilled salmon and sautéed spinach from your favorite “healthy” restaurant.

Toss the shaker. When you satisfy your salty cravings with more naturally salty foods such as olives, your sweet cravings will lessen, and you’ll tend to go for naturally sweet snacks like herbal tea or fruit when that craving comes on. Choosing clean foods leads to choosing more clean foods, no matter what the craving.

Zach Pagano / TODAY
Tea is all you need to satisfy a craving.

8. Have a chat with yourself.

When it comes to breaking a sweet habit, sometimes having a sit down with yourself helps. Ask yourself, “Am I truly craving this bag of candy or is it just a habit?” If you have a true craving you may be able to avoid with a sweet herbal tea (sans sugar!), a naturally sweet snack like an apple or you should have a go-to portioned best option, like a square of 70 percent dark chocolate. If there is no real craving at all and it is just a habit, well, then replace that activity with a new one.

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