With enough planning, there’s no reason you can’t have a slice of pie or an ice-cream sundae—even with diabetes. As you know, it’s simply a matter of allotting yourself enough carbs. But if those Kit-Kat bars won’t stop calling or you can’t go two hours without a donut hole, you may need some help reining in your sweet tooth.
Here’s why: Sugar triggers a surge of opioids and dopamine, feel-good brain chemicals, that can cause you to get hooked on the sweet stuff, say Princeton researchers. The good news: These simple diet and lifestyle tweaks can help you keep a sugar habit in check:
- Step it down slowly. Every day, reduce your typical sugar intake. If, for example, you normally have four teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, cut back to three. The next week, have two teaspoons, and so on. If you’re transitioning from sugary drinks, dilute them with a bit of water.
- Ferret out hidden sugars. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, baked beans, salad dressing, bread and lunch meats are just a few of the items that can contain a large amount of added sugar. Check food labels for these sources of sugar: Agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose and syrup.
- Don’t miss meals. Skipping a meal or waiting too long between meals can cause your blood sugar to drop, which can actually make you crave sweets more. In fact, you should eat small meals frequently (about every three to five hours).
- Walk around the block. Research shows that physical activity can curb cravings for sweets. One reason: It produces endorphins, which also boosts your mood and energy.
- Let your family help. If you must have cookies in the house, ask your partner to stash them where you can’t see them. Have your teenager put away the butter pecan ice cream so it’s not the first thing you see when you open the freezer. After all, it doesn’t help to come face to face with temptation when you’re looking for the frozen lima beans.
- Avoid boredom. It’s one of the main craving triggers. When you’re home, try knitting, reading, drawing, playing video games or a board game with a family member. Absorbing in activities that keep your hands busy is especially good at taking your mind off food.
- Have fruit handy. When you’re in the mood for something sweet, a serving of fruit can do the trick. Keep low-sugar, diabetes-friendly fruit, such as strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, in the house. But avoid high-sugar fruit snacks, such as fruit leather or juices (in particular, avoid ones that say “juice cocktail” on the label).
- Set rules you can live with. For example, you can have dessert only one day a week or no ice cream allowed in the house. Or give yourself a “sugar quota,” where you allow yourself a set amount of sweets each day. (Talk with your healthcare provider about an appropriate amount.) Knowing you will be able to have some sugar takes off the pressure while giving you something to look forward to.
- Chew gum. Sugarless, of course! Research shows that chewing a stick of this candy can curb sugar cravings and make you less likely to snack.
- Work on your pearly whites. That’s right—brush your teeth! The flavor of toothpaste can quell your cravings for sugar. Just think how bad something sweet will taste when combined with the lingering toothpaste flavor.
- Give in—if you must. If you’re craving something sweet, wait it out for 15 to 20 minutes. If you still want it, indulge in a small amount of your desired food. Tip: If you have a hankering for chocolate, freeze a bar of dark (which has heart-healthy benefits): It will harden the chocolate, making it last longer in your mouth, so you won’t eat as much!