Picture this: You’re having a healthful, high-energy day. You had two slices of whole wheat toast for breakfast and a salad for lunch, and you’re ready to pat yourself on the back for not reaching for that post-lunch cookie.
Then 4 p.m. rolls around, and you start eyeing a box of stale-looking doughnuts someone left on the office kitchen counter. You know they probably don’t taste that good, but you suddenly feel like you need sugar more than anything. Before you know it, you’ve inhaled an entire doughnut and feel a kind of buzzy exhaustion.
Hey, it happens. But here’s the thing: Sugar cravings don’t have to get the best of us. In fact, they don’t have to happen at all. Functional medicine practitioner Will Cole explained that sugar cravings are ultimately rooted in a diet that doesn’t sustain us for long enough.
“Sugar acts like kindling, which gives us a big burst of energy but quickly fizzles out,” Cole said. “Healthy fats, on the other hand, are like a log to a fire — slow-burning and long-lasting. Just looking at it from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, the most sustainable form of energy for your body is healthy fats.”
So, although those slices of whole wheat toast and that salad may have been healthful, if they’re not paired with healthful fats they’ll ultimately lead to a loss of energy and, likely, an afternoon sugar craving. While loading up on sugar has negative short-term consequences — like a loss of energy — excessive sugar intake has long-term consequences as well. According to research, too much added sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more.
If you want to break this vicious cycle, here are seven foods that will help you bust sugar cravings before they start.
1. Half an avocado
On top of adding more healthful fats to your diet overall, you can get ahead of a potential sugar craving by eating a creamy, high-in-healthful-fat avocado a few hours after lunch. If half an avocado on its own sounds too boring, try sprinkling some salt and a squeeze of lemon on top, or spread it on a slice of toast — as long as your bread isn’t packed with sugar. Ezekiel bread is a great high-fiber, low-sugar option.
2. Fermented foods
It might seem like an odd choice, but fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha, are an excellent way to offset sugar cravings. The tangy flavor is an easy way to satisfy your taste buds in the same way sugar does, and the probiotics and prebiotics that naturally occur in fermented foods may help curb sugar cravings, according to research.
3. Almond butter
If you want something a little sweeter that will do the same trick as half an avocado, try eating a spoonful of almond butter after lunch. It’s pure (healthful) fat and protein, which will keep you full for hours. Almonds are a naturally sweet nut, so it’s best to look for unsweetened almond butter. Trader Joe’s has an inexpensive selection, and individual packets of Justin’s Almond Butter are a great option as well.
4. A few squares of dark chocolate
If you want to satisfy your sugar cravings without actually loading up on it, try eating a few squares of dark chocolate. It’s best to look for chocolate bars with a cocoa content of 70 percent or more, and check your labels. If possible, it’s best to opt for a bar with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
5. Chia pudding
Chia pudding has a decadence about it — it is called “pudding,” after all — but the fibrous chia seeds will help keep you full and eliminate sugar cravings. You can make your own chia pudding by whisking 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with coconut milk (go for a can, which is pure coconut milk and has a higher fat content) and letting it sit overnight. If you want to get fancier, check out this Creamy Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding. It does have a bit of honey in it, which you can choose to eliminate. Or try one of these recipes.
While there are more naturally occurring, better-for-you sugars out there — honey and maple syrup, to name a couple — cinnamon is a spice that happens to be slightly sweet and can satisfy your need for a treat without spiking your blood sugar. Try sprinkling it on top of a bowl of oatmeal or on top of a few slices of almond butter and Ezekiel toast, or add it to your morning coffee. Both will be naturally sweeter and can help curb the craving for sweets throughout the day.
7. Herbal tea
Here’s a secret to busting sugar cravings: If you’re wanting an ice cream cone, you might just be thirsty. We often mistake thirst for hunger , so if you have a hankering for something sweet, brew yourself a cup of herbal tea. Herbal teas tend be slightly sweet naturally, so they’ll hydrate you and get ahead of any of any sugar cravings that are waiting to strike.