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Curb those stubborn sugar cravings!

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Sugar’s Impact on Health

Anyone else feel like the woman in this image, desperately trying to run away from sweets? It’s a challenge for many people who are confined to their homes, where their fridges and pantries are more accessible than ever. I was at my local grocery store yesterday, only to find that all the flour and baking powder was gone. I guess more time at home = increased baking in many households! And for good reason, as sugary treats don’t just taste good, they’re also comforting in times of stress. Baking is also a fun way for parents to entertain their little ones at home. While I love baking (gluten free cookies and chocolate chip banana pancakes are two of my favourites), too much sugar makes me crave more, and depletes my energy. It can also have other negative repercussions to one’s health: weight gain [1], increases heart disease [2,3] and diabetes [4,5] risk, contributes to acne [6], affects mood [7,8], possibly accelerates aging [9,10] and can lead to a fatty liver [11,12] amongst other concerns.

Daily Consumption Recommendations

With the convenience of packaged foods, it’s hard for even the most diligent of eaters to avoid sugar overconsumption. It’s overloaded in everything from nut butters to granola bars to sauces and juices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), added sugars (excluding fruit) should be limited to 5-10% of one’s daily calories for both adults and children [13]. At the maximum of 10%, this is equal to around 50g of sugar per day (or approximately 12 teaspoons for the average adult). The WHO preferentially recommends that this be reduced to 6 teaspoons or 5% of total daily calories [13]. Some beverages have 7 or more teaspoons of sugar in them alone! That’s why it’s crucially important to read food labels.

Main Foods with Added Sugar [14]

Common culprits of processed and packaged foods that are rife with added sugar include: candies, baked goods (including bread), dairy desserts (yogurt and ice cream), sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages.

There are approximately 56 common names for added sugar, and a list can be found here:

Why is My Sugar Habit So Difficult to Kick?

One question I get asked is, why can’t I kick this stubborn sugar habit? For many potential reasons [15]!

  • Stress: sugar makes you feel good at first by boosting happy chemicals like dopamine [16]

  • Macronutrient deficiencies: too little protein, fats and/or healthy complex carbohydrates rich in fiber

  • Micronutrient deficiencies: low amounts of magnesium have been linked to sugar cravings

  • Lack of sleep: it increases our cravings for food choices that often aren’t optimal for health

  • Too little calories: your body craves quick energy when it’s not getting enough

  • High sugar consumption: the more you eat the more you crave

  • Artificial sweeteners: some of these are sweeter than natural sugar so their consumption can change how sensitive you are to sweet foods. For a list of artificial sweeteners, scroll to the third page of the Canadian Diabetes Guidelines:

Tips on How to Curb Cravings

When I was in Australia 4 summers ago, I passed a sidewalk sign that read “Eat Less Sugar, You’re Sweet Enough”. As I ran through a list of baked goods in my head, I thought to myself…but sugar is so good! It’s been a source of comfort through times of joy, distress, success, and failure. But little did I fully appreciate the costs to indulging. I developed digestive issues and Rosacea (an inflammatory skin condition), and had to make changes – some substantive, and some subtle – to improve my health. Many of you may face similar struggles, which is why I want to share the following tips on how to curb sugar cravings:

  1. Focus on protein: try to have lean protein with every meal e.g. meat, fish, tofu, beans.

  2. Sleep: go to bed before 12 if possible and try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night as an adult

  3. Exercise: when you’re having a craving, try to get some exercise. The benefits are plentiful!

  4. Manage stress: increased levels of cortisol can make you crave sweets to boost serotonin, which has a positive effect on mood [17]. Try coping techniques (5 finger breathing technique – link below) and meditation (see blog post on my site titled “Your Gut on Meditation” for tips).

  5. Eat meals at regularly scheduled times: when you’re eating schedule is irregular, you’re more likely to make unwise eating choices.

  6. Eat more nuts: even fruits have sugar in them, so balance them with healthy fat from unsalted nuts.

  7. Turmeric [18,19]: add grated or powdered turmeric to smoothies and stir fries.

  8. Cinnamon [19,20]: the powder can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, tea and coffee.

  9. Apple cider vinegar [21]: 1 Tbsp in a tall glass of water first thing in the morning or before a meal. Apple cider vinegar can also be added to salad dressings.

  10. Drink more water and herbal teas: when that craving hits, drink a glass of water or have a herbal tea like rooibos.

  11. Bonus tip: sugar in moderation is ok! If you’re having a craving, indulge and go for a few pieces of dark chocolate (70% and above).

DISCLAIMER: This post is for educational purposes only and is not to replace expert medical advice. Please speak to a healthcare provider if you plan on taking apple cider vinegar, turmeric or cinnamon. These can interact with medications and may not be right for everyone. For example, people with stomach ulcers should not take apple cider vinegar and those with bleeding disorders should not consume turmeric.


  1. Malik, V.S. et al. 2013. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 98(4): 1084-1102.

  2. Yang, Q. et al. 2014. JAMA Internal Medicine. 174(4): 516-524.

  3. DiNicolantonio, J.J. 2016. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 58(5): 464-472.

  4. Basu, S. 2013. PLoS One. 8(2):e57873.

  5. Wang, M. et al. 2015. Journal of Diabetes Investigation. 6(3): 360-366.

  6. Kucharska, A. et al. 2016. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology. 33(2): 81-86.

  7. Knüppel, A. et al. 2017. Scientific Reports – Nature. 7(1):6287.

  8. Gangwisch, J.E. et al. 2015. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 102(2): 454-463.

  9. Leung, C.W. et al. 2014. American Journal of Public Health. 104(12): 2425-2431

  10. Cosgrove, M.C. et al. 2008. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 88(2): 480.

  11. Ma, J. et al. 2015. Journal of Hepatology. 63(2):462-469.

  12. Jensen, T. et al. 2018. Journal of Hepatology. 68(5): 1063-1075.

  13. World Health Organization. 2015. Accessed from:

  14. Harvard T.H. Chan. Added Sugar in the diet. Accessed from:

  15. Frey, M. 2020. How To Help Curb Sugar Cravings. Accessed from:

  16. Greenberg, M. 2013. Why Our Brains Love Sugar – And Why Our Bodies Don’t. Psychology Today. Accessed from:

  17. Capretto, L. 2014. The Science Behind Why You Crave Sugar When You’re Stressed. HuffPost. Accessed from:

  18. Ghorbani, Z. et al. 2014. International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 12(4): e18081.

  19. Rios, J.L. 2015. Planta Medica. 81(12-13):975-994.

  20. Davis, P.A. et al. 2011. Journal of Medicinal Food. 14(9): 884-889.

  21. Ostman, E. et al. 2005. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 59(9): 983-988.


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