Do you hunger for something sweet half an hour after dinner each night? HFG explains the science behind cravings — and offers simple strategies to tame your sweet tooth.
Why is it that after eating a perfectly satisfying meal we often fancy something sweet? An extra piece of toast with jam after breakfast, a biscuit after lunch, or chocolate, ice cream and sweets after dinner.
Craving sugar when you don’t need to eat can be controlled, according to emerging research. The answer lies in your choice of foods at main meals, plus tweaking your behaviour when you’re around food.
Try these six strategies to beat between-meal munchies and curb sugar cravings. In a few weeks you can retrain your brain and taste buds to think about food in a healthier way.
1. Ditch the diets
Drastic kilojoule restriction can fuel cravings for energy-dense foods, and
if you give in to these cravings, you can actually encourage future ones. A well-balanced diet is all about a healthy, maintainable approach, which includes the occasional sweet treat!
HFG tip: Change your language around food. Avoid using negative words like ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ to describe chocolate and sweets. When you removethe guilt from these foods, you will enjoy them more, and need them less.
2. Reset your hormones
Did you know your stomach ‘talks’ to your brain to let you know when you’re full? One way is via the appetite-regulating hormone leptin. Being overweight or obese, however, can make you leptin-resistant. This means that those appetite-suppressing signals don’t make it through to the brain, so that you feel hungry even if you’re full. Fortunately, changing your diet can influence your leptin levels. In fact, studies have shown that healthier diets help to ensure your leptin levels work for you rather than against you.
HFG tip: Plan all of your meals and snacks to include a variety of foods from the five core food groups — fruit, veg, grains, lean meat and dairy.
3. Ride the crave wave
Seeing or smelling your favourite treats may make them appear irresistible, but remember this response is always short-lived.
To help to curb your cravings, be aware of what’s happening and know it won’t last. You can override it! Ask yourself whether you are truly hungry, or is the sweet craving actually because you are bored, tired or upset?
HFG tip: Break the habit of finishing your meal with something sweet. Instead, cleanse your palate with a peppermint or ginger tea.
4. Pump up the volume
It’s easier to manage your appetite between meals when you’re eating tasty, balanced meals. You’ll feel full for longer if your main meals are high in fibre and also contain a balance of nutrients, including protein, carbs and healthy fats.
If the idea of a salad for lunch leaves you feeling deprived, add tasty ingredients, such as toasted nuts, roasted vegies or crumbled feta, plus a drizzle of olive oil. Soup is another delicious and filling way to eat more vegies.
HFG tip: Fill up half of your plate with a variety of colourful vegetables at every meal.
5. Be snack savvy
Snacks can really make or break a healthy diet. To ensure your snacks don’t defeat your good intentions, stick to minimally processed whole foods — and get rid of the biscuits and chocolate from your desk drawer.
Healthy snacks include a piece of fruit with a slice of cheese, some vegie sticks with a healthy dip, a tub of yoghurt or a handful of unsalted nuts. See Low-kilojoule work snacks ADD LINK for more healthy snack ideas.
You can also make healthier swaps for your 3pm pick-me-up, such as a soothing herbal tea instead of sugary biscuits. Aim to have a source of healthy fats, protein or fibre for each mid-meal snack, as these help to keep you feeling full.
HFG tip: Stock your fridge and pantry with nut butter, avocado, nuts, wholegrain crackers, vegie sticks and fruit for a healthy snack.
6. Know your food triggers
Even just thinking about your favourite food sets in motion a physiological response, as you start to produce saliva and your stomach prepares for digestion.
Cravings also lead to a surge in the hormone insulin. This then lowers your blood sugar level, which makes you feel hungry — so you end up thinking that you want a certain food even though you don’t actually need it.
HFG tip: When the cravings strike, head outside for a short walk, or find another quick, easy distraction. If the sweet craving hasn’t passed in 20 minutes, savour a smaller portion, so you don’t feel deprived.
Cut back on the sugar in your tea and coffee
Opt for plain yoghurt rather than flavoured
Swap jam and honey on toast for nut butter or avo
Choose water in place of flavoured drinks
Enjoy a whole piece of fruit rather than fruit juice
Replace tomato sauce with fresh tomato salsa
Snack on a handful of nuts instead of sweet biscuits
Top porridge with banana and cinnamon instead of sugar or maple syrup.
Melissa is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a love of healthy, delicious food. She is passionate about helping others to lead healthier lives and teaching people to use nutrition to better their health.