Effective strategies for reducing sugar cravings and breaking sugar addiction are varied. It seems going ‘cold turkey’ to break an addiction, rarely has staying power.
There is a more sustainable approach to it, one that can be delicious and versatile.
And it will have you feeling like you’re not so conscious of not eating sugar anymore!
Now that’s a sustainable plan of action.
We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Before I dive into sugar-craving solutions, let’s just recap what type of sugar we’re talking about and why it causes so much controversy and health scares.
Refined White Sugar
The type of sugar that is considered ‘bad’ – and rightfully so as it can be dangerous to your health, especially in terms of diabetes – is refined white sugar.
If you want to read more about how refined white sugar is processed and the implications, read this.
How much refined white sugar can you eat per day?
According to this review men and women should consume no more than the equivalent of sugar found in a can of soda.
So that’s no more than 6 teaspoons of white sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
The following list of sugars and syrups is considered safe and healthy to consume. As with any ingredient, it’s always best to consume in moderation – don’t overdo things.
Also, be mindful of food intolerances or allergies – these vary from person to person.
Sugar is not considered a dietary requirement like salt. So, there are no qualifying criteria for how much are you supposed to consume.
Salt, on the other hand, you need for basic survival. The body cannot function without it. But, it’s also a case of consuming that in moderation to avoid heart health issues.
These are sugars found in fruits, natural plant-based sweeteners as well as man-made sweeteners.
- Black Strap Molasses
- Coconut sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Raw Honey (unprocessed)
- Vanilla bean
- Date Sugar
Artificial sweeteners that don’t contain sugar:
These are popular sugar replacements for diabetics or if you’re on a weight loss diet.
I recommend you avoid other branded non-nutritive sweeteners, mainly because of the Aspartame ingredient. After some controversy about this, health organizations have declared this ingredient safe in certain non-nutritive sweeteners.
I recommend you stick to these two artificial sweeteners below:
- Erythritol – contains no glucose or fructose and is safe for diabetics1.
Still, wondering how you can personally reduce or eliminate your sugar craving?
Well, the best place to start is with natural sugar substitutes. Make it relatable and then all that factual information above will be put into context.
Substitute refined white sugar in tea, coffee, cereal, oatmeal, cold drinks, mocktails, and smoothies with:
- Maple Syrup
- Raw Honey (raw is unprocessed)
- Honey (processed)
- Cinnamon (delicious in coffees)
- Blackstrap molasses
- Vanilla syrup (make a natural homemade version; it’s delicious in coffees!)
- Date sugar
Substitute refined white sugar in baked goods and desserts with:
- Coconut Sugar
- Maple Syrup,
- Raw Honey (raw is unprocessed)
- Honey (processed)
- Blackstrap molasses
- Date sugar
- Vanilla bean
Using Bananas in healthy baking
Add sweetness to granola, breakfast muffins, and other baked goods by using ripe bananas as a baking ingredient and substitute for flour, sweetener, or flavoring.
Banana caramelizes a mixture naturally and adds an amazing flavor, albeit not neutral. But, it is an excellent substitute for flour or as a thickening agent when you need to bulk up a recipe.
Use bananas instead of sugar in vegan baking also.
Use Apple Puree (apple sauce) as a baking binder
Can you substitute applesauce for sugar in banana bread? Absolutely! Apples are high in natural sugars.
The Pectin found in apples works well in baking and acts as a binder in place of dairy eggs. It doesn’t however act as a leavener – an agent that causes dough to rise and expand -, so expect a dense, heavy result for every egg that you replace for apple sauce.
Opt for sugar-free options
Reducing sugar cravings and breaking a sugar addiction can be a challenging process, but starting with substitution can be an effective strategy.
Dark chocolate or Carob
Opt for 70% plus dark chocolate or carob instead of milk chocolate bars.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that:
- Promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety
- Promotes deep sleep
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Supports neurotransmitter function
Magnesium is well known to improve mood and aid with sleep cycles.
Sugar cravings usually kick in when we are stressed and anxious. And, interestingly, anxiety can also be induced when we are stressed about weight gain and bingeing – like being anxious about eating too little or feeling guilty about eating too much.
When your mind is relaxed, you think more clearly. When you have slowed down, you don’t pressure yourself about making any decisions hastily.
Magnesium calms the nervous system.
The powder is originally derived from the Carob tree which bears brown pea pods that carry the pulp and seeds. The pulp is dried, roasted, and ground finely into what we know commercially as carob powder.
Carob contains antioxidants, Zinc and Magnesium. Zinc is beneficial for tissue and wound healing, and Magnesium is for reducing anxiety.
It has double the amount of Calcium than cocoa and it’s also caffeine and fat-free.
This recipe is the easiest one you’ll ever make!
You can make healthy gummies instead of eating chewy sugary candy. This recipe is great for gut health as it only contains gelatine and pure fruit juice. There are natural sugars in fruit, but it’s not refined sugar, so it’s ok in moderation.
If you’re concerned about the fructose content, then just add half fruit and half filtered water, so it dilutes the natural sugar content.
Sugar-free Candied Grapes
Yes, you read it right. If you can make candied grapes with refined white sugar, you can convert that to a sugar-free version too!
These are great on a dessert menu or to serve guests as an after-dinner sweet treat.
Again, be mindful of the natural sugars in grapes. They also have a moderate amount of amines and salicylates – natural allergens – so if you are allergic to these, you may need to avoid this sweet treat.
Here’s a quick recipe for sugar-free candied grapes:
- 2 cups of fresh grapes – green ones work the best
- 1.25 cup of Xylitol sweetener in granule form
- Juice of 1 lime
- Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking sheet
- Wash, rinse, and pat the grapes dry with a paper towel
- Put the grapes into a glass bowl and pour over the fresh lime juice
- Toss to coat the grapes with the lime juice
- Let it rest in the fridge to absorb the juice for flavor. 15 minutes will do it
- In another glass bowl pour in the sweetener granules
- Pour in the grapes and toss around with a spoon to coat each grape. Make sure each grape is coated evenly – looks better
- Now arrange each grape onto the baking sheet, with enough space between them
- Carefully place into the freezer for 2-4 hours
- Once time has lapsed, remove and enjoy.
Best eaten immediately. But will last in the fridge for up to 4 days – I doubt they’ll last that long! Keeps in the freezer for up to 3 months, in a sealed container to avoid freezer burn.
Banana is a natural sweetener in whole food form. It also caramelizes when it’s mashed or softened, great in granola and muffins.
So, let this motivate you to bake with it in as many recipes as possible.
There’s also Magnesium in bananas, which helps with reducing anxiety and promotes sleep. These qualities are beneficial for reducing sugar cravings.
Recipes are also a great way to ‘program’ your palate to become accustomed to a different kind of sweetness.
Drink lots of smoothies with naturally sweet ingredients. The base of all smoothies is usually comprised of a variety of fruits or veggies (think kale). So, a lot of that sweetness will come from the natural sugars in those fruits.
You can also eat overnight oats topped with naturally sweet fruit, nuts, seeds and honey, dates, and of course, bananas.
If you loathe oatmeal because of the traditional way it’s always been prepared – cooked slowly over a stovetop – you’ll love overnight oats. It will convert you to an oats fanatic!
Granola is also a great high-fat (healthy fat), naturally sweet, snack alternative. Use banana instead of the ‘sugar’ component in this recipe and it will caramelize nicely into it as it’s baking. The smell alone will drive you wild, it’s incredibly aromatic. Another healthy craving option.
Cherries – drink tart cherry juice
If you’re prone to bouts of insomnia or find it difficult to wind down after a long workday, you need to drink tart cherry juice.
It’s a refreshing nighttime drink that promotes deep sleep because it contains Melatonin. This hormone regulates the sleep cycle and the body’s natural circadian rhythm2 – how our bodies respond to light and dark eg. sleeping when it’s dark (when there’s no sunlight) and being awake during the day (when there is sunlight).
I’ve listed this as a separate section because it’s worth describing in further detail.
Is Maple Syrup healthier than sugar?
Maple syrup is the concentrated sap derived from the sugar maple tree.
It is considered to be a healthier option than conventional white sugar because of its nutrient benefits. Maple syrup contains Zinc, Manganese Calcium, and antioxidants.
It has a lower GI4, but is not yet regarded as a ‘healthy choice’. So, just consider it a better alternative to refined white sugar.
Use it with Fiber to prevent a drop in blood sugar levels because maple syrup does not contain any. So, be mindful of that.
Maple syrup has a lower GI than white sugar because it contains less Fructose. Fructose does not raise your blood sugar itself. It is considered a safe sweetener because it raises blood sugar more gradually than glucose5.
Raw honey as a syrup substitute for baking
Not all honey has the same qualities. The budget-friendly version – the type in the squeeze bottle – is usually processed. While raw honey is the version that comes straight from the honeycomb. It’s passed through a filter to remove any impurities and unnecessary residue before being packaged for consumption.
Raw honey contains bee pollen and beeswax. It’s good for wound healing, soothing sore throats – you may recognize it in cough syrups – and also aids digestion.
In terms of healing, it is naturally antibacterial and high in antioxidants. So, add raw honey to your diet as a sugar substitute.
It contains 16g grams of natural sugar in one tablespoon6.
In terms of using it as a substitute for baking, do not use raw honey in a 1:1 ratio. It’s much sweeter and more intense than regular sugar, so use less of it. Use about 1/2 cup: 1 cup sugar (granules)7.
How to make a basic sugar-free simple syrup recipe
If you decide not to include Maple of Raw Honey in your recipes, you can opt for a traditional simple syrup… made healthier of course.
Sugar-free simple syrup recipe:
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of sweetener like Stevia, Xylitol, Erythritol
- 1ml of Xanthan gum – use a 1ml measuring spoon
- Place the sugar and water in a saucepan
- Heat the saucepan on medium-high
- Stir to ensure all the sugar is coated in water
- Bring it up to the boil, stirring continuously until the sugar starts to dissolve
- Once dissolved remove from the heat
- Store covered in the fridge
The Xanthan gum is used as a thickening agent to prevent the crystallization of the sugars. You can also vary the ratio of water to sugar – adjust it according to what you’re going to use it for ie. the type of baked or pastry product.
To break a sugar addiction permanently, consider the following steps:
Omit sugar from tea and coffee completely. See if you can stand the taste. The more you do it, the more your taste buds will become accustomed to the new flavor.
If you can’t bear the bitter or bland taste, then try adding a substitute from the above list. Some of these take some getting used to, but try adding them little by little. It needs to be habit-forming.
Mental Health and sugar urges
Reduce stress and try to eliminate eating salty, processed foods. Stress is related to sugary cravings or seeking out sugary treats. It’s a mental game.
When you are feeling stressed, before the sugary craving sets in, try a 2-minute meditation.
Here’s how to do a 2-minute meditation:
- sit up straight, close your eyes
- focus on breathing in and out at a normal pace (not slow)
- clear your mind and decompress
- don’t judge the thoughts that pop into your head, just watch them go by
- focus on coming back to the center, a place of clarity where you just focus on your breath
- you’re now bringing your body back into alignment, especially your mind
This takes the edge off. It’s that edginess that makes you reach for a craving.
In other words, you need to calm your nervous system. When your nervous system is calm, it reduces cravings. Cravings are a nerve (anxiety) related thing.
If you suffer from mild depression or anxiety, it’s a good idea to eliminate sugar from your diet completely and replace it with healthy, unprocessed, natural sweeteners.
If this topic interest you, I highly recommend you read about the mind-gut connection. It’s about how our gut health (what we’re eating or not eating) plays a part in the functioning of our mental/brain health. Here is a book to start with.
Low-fat food and ‘sugar-free’ labels
Low-fat foods infamously have more sugar in them than their full-fat version. So choose the full-fat version, just make sure to scrutinize the label if it’s a packaged food.
‘Sugar-free’ labels are often deceiving. It usually means that other (often unhealthy) artificial ingredients are added to balance out the lack of sweetener.
Fizzy, carbonated drinks are loaded with sugar. Omit these from your diet permanently if you can.
Replace sugary, carbonated drinks with:
- Fruit-infused water – This should ideally be still water, but you can make it sparkling as a treat
- Fruit juice – To reduce fructose consumption, you can combine 50% filtered water with 50% fruit juice. You’re just diluting it, but it shouldn’t compromise the flavor
- Iced tea – using natural or artificial sweeteners as listed above
Low GI foods and blood sugar
It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels regulated.
If you skip meals, your blood sugar drops and your body naturally craves high-energy foods to perk you up and give you an energy boost, including sugar.
So eat low-GI foods, these are perfect for regulating blood sugar levels. It ensures that energy is released slowly through the blood, preventing energy spikes and slumps. An effective way to tackle sugar cravings during the day.
Eat high-fiber foods. These foods are naturally low GI. It keeps you fuller for longer (macronutrients) and helps to control appetite. This will also regulate your energy levels, curbing any sugar cravings.
Reducing sugar cravings or breaking an addiction requires a multi-faceted approach. Substituting refined sugar with more nutritional alternatives can satisfy cravings, and give you an energy boost without experiencing the negative side effects of excessive sugar consumption.
Try making homemade snacks and adjust your recipes to include the sugar substitutes listed above. It’s an opportunity to experiment with different flavors and mouthfeel. It will also force your palate to adjust to a new type of sweetness.
Breaking a habit or addiction is not an overnight process and there are no quick fixes. But start with sugar substitution and work to slowly reduce and eventually eliminate your need to have refined white sugar.
Remember, this process takes time and commitment, but with consistent effort, it is possible to reduce sugar cravings and embrace healthier habits.
If you’re feeling inspired to bake with sugar-free ingredients, download my FREE Guide to Healthy Swaps. This is a great reference for cooking recipes that mimic your favorite cravings.
Download it now.
If you liked this blog post, you’ll love this article about creating a balanced diet.
And how about a free ebook to keep you inspired to boost your nutrition while staying on budget?
Feel free to leave a comment, I value your feedback.
*cravenutritionalcooking.com does not give medical advice. Where there is a reference to it, the phrasing is used to illustrate a point or give context to food and cooking for nutrition. It is not related to a specific condition or any specific individual. Always consult your healthcare professional for medical and dietetic advice before embarking on any type of eating plan or ingesting nutritional supplements.
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