How to Control Sugar Cravings (It's Easier Than you Think)

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Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, we don’t blame you. With sugar being added to so many foods we see today, sugar cravings are very real and hard to curb. However, too much sugar isn’t good for our bodies, and has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease [1]. Depending on your genes, you may be at an even greater risk of some of these health problems.

At GenoPalate, we want everyone to eat healthier, which is why we’ve put together a few tips to help you keep your sugar in check. Before we get started, let’s discuss why we crave sugar.

 
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Brain Games

That’s right, sugar is messing with our minds. It affects our brain by releasing opioids and dopamine, allowing sugar to have a similar effect on our brains as addictive drugs [2]. Researchers believe this effect contributes to why we seek these foods during emotionally heightened moments [3].

 

When we’re stressed, our bodies produce a stress hormone called cortisol. The effects of cortisol may be dampened by the mood enhancing hormones sugar produces [3]. This causes us to seek sugar as comfort when we’re sad, stressed, or angry.

Regardless of which feeling we’re trying to comfort, giving into sugar cravings can create a vicious cycle. The sweetness provides temporary relief to whatever emotion we are feeling. Then, next time we have these feelings, our brain remembers sugar’s comforting effect and will make your cravings for sugar even more intense.

While eating can be one coping method, it’s important to come up with a list of other things to do so as well. This could include taking a walk, calling a friend, or journaling. If you do choose to eat something sweet to cope, try eating it slowly, really tasting the flavors and enjoying the experience - many dietitians call this mindful eating. This way you are comforting yourself emotionally, as well as being mindful of the food you are eating.

 

Hidden Sugar

Even if you’re not an emotional eater, the sugar bug may find you. As life moves faster, our society has shown greater interest in conveniently packaged foods featuring bold, sweet, and salty flavors. In the world of artificial sweeteners, the perceived taste of sweetness is elevated even further because these sweeteners can taste tens to hundreds of times sweeter than regular table sugar.

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The biological response to these sweeteners is hotly debated, but at the very least it sets the table for a preference towards very sweet foods. Our bodies become accustomed to certain levels of flavor and sweetness. For example, someone who commonly eats very salty food will likely find unsalted foods tasting bland. The same idea goes for sugar. The more you eat it, the higher you set the bar for what you consider “sweet”.

Many food products also include “added sugars.” When it comes to nutrition, “added sugars” are defined as any sugars added to food during preparation or processing. Beverages such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports/energy drinks contribute the most added sugars to the average American’s diet (47%), while snacks and sweets are a close second (31%) [2]. The labels of these products may not explicitly list “sugar” as one of their ingredients. Be aware of the names for different sugars, such as “high-fructose corn syrup,” “molasses,” “cane sugar,” “sucrose,” and “brown rice syrup.” All of these added sugars heighten American’s preferences towards sweets.

Who Should Consume Less Sugar?

Individuals who are seeking to lose weight, or have genetic or environmental risk factors for cardiovascular disease, obesity, or diabetes may want to consider reducing their intake of sugar. This probably sounds familiar. What’s less familiar is that people with certain genetic factors should also reduce their intake.

 

A Sugar Gene?

People handle sugar differently due to their genes - particularly, their TCF7L2 gene. This gene helps balance your blood sugar. Studies show that genetic variants in TCF7L2 correlate with the ability to produce insulin, a hormone that decreases blood sugar [4].

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People with the TT and TC genotypes for their TCF7L2 gene can tolerate average amounts of sugar. However, people with the CC genotype often have a harder time producing insulin, which makes metabolizing sugar more difficult. This puts them at a greater risk for developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes when they consume too much sugar [4].

At GenoPalate, we analyze your DNA and tell you your genotype for TCF7L2, so you can find out how much (or how little) sugar your body can handle.

How Much is Too Much?

The current recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to limit your added sugar intake to less than 10% of total daily calories [5]. For an individual following a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that’s fewer than 200 calories (from fewer than 50 grams of sugar).

One teaspoon of table sugar is roughly equivalent to 4 grams. As we’ve learned, however, many sugars are added during food processing and are not visible to the naked eye. Therefore, it’s important to be a critical consumer and identify sugar content on food packaging and nutrition labels.

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How to Manage Your Sugar Intake

If you have a sweet tooth, try opting for natural sources of sugar, such as fruit. You can enjoy a sweet taste while also receiving valuable nutrients, including: folate, potassium, dietary fiber, and protective phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants in our bodies.

The high amount of dietary fiber in fruits (especially berries, pears, and apples) helps to promote satiety, which is the feeling of fullness. Feeling full then helps to curb hunger and prevent overeating. Fiber also helps control your blood sugar.

Fruits are easy to incorporate into a healthful diet. Try incorporating them into salads, salsas, and smoothies. Tuck a piece of raw fruit in your carry bag, or keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter. Add citrus zest to oatmeal, or season vegetables with a squeeze of lemon or lime. You can also try choosing 100% fruit juice in place of soda, sweetened tea, or “fruit cocktail” drinks, and consume bakery or pastry items sparingly.

Another way to curb your sugar cravings is to try experimenting with seasonings that offer the perception of sweetness: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Add a touch of sweetness to cooked vegetables; try cinnamon on mashed potatoes, ginger with carrots, or nutmeg on spinach.

  • Sprinkle cinnamon on the yolks of sunny-side-up eggs!

  • Make your own syrup for pancakes or waffles: in a blender, puree berries and sliced peaches with a little fruit juice, honey, cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg.

 

Takeaway Tips

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Read Food Labels. Added sugars hide out even in foods that aren’t sweet (like ketchup!).

Learn Sugar’s Aliases. Added sugars in processed foods go by many names, including “high-fructose corn syrup,” “molasses,” “cane sugar,” “sucrose,” and “brown rice syrup.”

Don’t go cold turkey. It simply isn’t realistic for most people. Ease back on sugar gradually, making small changes at first.

Stick with it. Over time, your body will adjust to a lower sugar diet, cravings will subside, and you will begin to notice the natural sweetness of fruits… and even vegetables!

GenoPalate can help you implement these recommendations by providing you personalized, genetic-based nutrition recommendations and a list of foods that best matches your unique DNA. To start your journey of becoming a healthier you, order your GenoPalate Report today.

References

  1. Kubala, Jillian. “11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You.” Healthline Newsletter, Healthline, 3 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/too-much-sugar.

  2. Collene, A.L., Smith, A. M., & Wardlaw, G. M. (2013). Contemporary Nutrition: A Functional Approach- 3rd Ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. “Why Stress Causes People to Overeat.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat.

  4. Ouhaibi-Djellouli, H, et al. “The TCF7L2 rs7903146 Polymorphism, Dietary Intakes and Type 2 Diabetes Risk in an Algerian Population.” BMC Genetics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Dec. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=25491720.

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Accessed from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines

 
 
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