Stop your sugar cravings with expert tips - and why sugar is addictive

There are plenty of proven methods that can help curb your sugary treat cravings
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images / Dazeley)

Are you always reaching for sweets, fizzy drinks and pastries? It could all be because your diet is simply too high in sugar.

While a bit of sweetness in moderation is fine, consuming too much sugar can affect different aspects of your health, including your blood sugar levels, oral health and even your heart. If you're struggling to reduce your sugar intake, there are methods to help control those strong sugar cravings.

If you've always put your cravings down to having a sweet tooth, you might be intrigued to learn that there's actually some science behind our 'sweet tooth' desires. Sugar is classified as a carbohydrate, and research has shown that eating carbs can cause the brain to release serotonin, often known as 'the happiness hormone'.

Our brains also release endorphins when we taste sugar. This explains why we often link eating something sweet with feeling good.

However, eating too much sugar can lead to a range of health problems from weight gain to tooth decay. That's why it's vital to limit our sugar consumption.

In the UK, the recommended daily sugar intake varies based on your age. According to the official NHS website, these are:

  • Adults should not have more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes).

  • Children aged 7 to 10 should not have more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes).

  • Children between the ages of 4 and 6 should limit their intake of free sugars to no more than 19g a day, which is equivalent to 5 sugar cubes.

  • There are no specific guidelines for children under the age of 4, but it's advised that they avoid food and drinks with added sugar.

How to curb your sugar cravings:

While it might seem straightforward to eliminate unhealthy products loaded with added sugars, many items also contain high levels of natural sugars. When unsure, always check the ingredients and quantities on the back of packets.

If you're struggling with a sweet tooth, there are several strategies you can try to reduce your daily sugar intake. These could include making simple substitutions or balancing your desire for sweets with healthier choices.

Going cold turkey on sugar can be intimidating. Allowing yourself a small treat, like a single biscuit or a few squares of high-quality chocolate, can be a sensible compromise.

To strike a balance, consider pairing an indulgent snack with something nutritious, such as a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. However, keep in mind that some fruits are high in natural sugars, so choose less sweet options like grapefruit or berries.

Research suggests that dehydration can lead to sugar cravings. If you find yourself constantly fantasising about sweet treats, try drinking a cold glass of water.

Sugar can be an addictive substance - and many will want to curb their cravings to avoid health problems
Sugar can be an addictive substance - and many will want to curb their cravings to avoid health problems -Credit:Getty Images

Cutting out snacking altogether could be a successful strategy to reduce your sugar intake, as sugary foods are often consumed as snacks. Eating fibre and protein-rich meals every five hours can help keep you feeling full for longer.

Distracting yourself is another effective method to curb cravings. A quick outdoor walk or run not only takes you away from the temptation but also triggers endorphin release in your brain, which may help manage your craving better.

A UK-based study revealed that extending sleep duration each night led to a reduction in sugar intake by up to 10 grams the following day. Implementing good sleep hygiene practices such as avoiding caffeine post 2pm, establishing a wind-down routine, and maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle could potentially extend your sleep duration and subsequently improve your food choices.

Considering a chromium supplement might also be beneficial. Although it may not directly suppress sugar cravings, there's some evidence suggesting that regular intake of a chromium picolinate supplement can help maintain normal blood glucose levels.

What are the different types of sugar?

According to the NHS, there are lots of different ways added sugar can be listed on ingredient labels:

  • sucrose

  • glucose

  • fructose

  • maltose

  • fruit juice

  • molasses

  • hydrolysed starch

  • invert sugar

  • corn syrup

  • honey

Food labels tell you how much sugar a food contains:

  • high in sugar – 22.5g or more of total sugar per 100g

  • low in sugar – 5g or less of total sugar per 100g

Some packaging uses a colour-coded system that makes it easy to choose foods that are lower in sugar, salt and fat. Look for more "greens" and "ambers", and fewer "reds", in your shopping basket.

Added sugars, such as table sugar, honey and syrups, should not make up more than 5% of the energy you get from food and drink each day. That's about 30g a day for anyone aged 11 and older.