I find that whenever I significantly cut sugar from my diet that everything changes—for the better. I physically and mentally feel better. My energy is high, I’m alert and that “fog” in my brain is lifted.
But getting there is tough, and fighting off the cravings is a constant battle. So, what should you eat when you’re in the process of eliminating sugar from your diet without diving head first into, you know, a giant bowl of ice cream? We went to the experts for their best suggestions on the foods to add to your diet that will ease you into a sugar-free existence with as little pain as possible, including David Zinczenko, author of Zero Sugar Diet.
“If you find yourself hunting the back corners of your pantry for a cookie around 10:00 p.m., it’s probably not your belly that’s sending you there: It’s your brain,” says Zinczenko. “Like a three-year-old that won’t get off the swing set, your brain wants a rush—a sugar rush, that is—and it will put up a fuss until it gets it. There are ways to raise dopamine levels and prevent those sugar cravings,” he continues. “In particular, the amino acid tyrosine (a building block of protein) has been shown to encourage the brain to release dopamine and another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. The best sources of tyrosine: eggs, Spirulina, cheese, milk, and sesame seeds.”
The key to getting your body adjusted to your no sugar way of life is to help your body along so it starts craving healthier snacks instead of the junk you were accustomed to. Registered nurse and founder of RemediesForMe.com Rebecca Lee suggests incorporating a small side of veggies into every meal and whenever possible, opt for healthier meals.
Pair Fruit With Protein
Pairing fruit with a protein will calm your craving and the protein-packed ingredients will keep you feeling satisfied longer. Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN New York-based registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for Triad to Wellness suggests trying a banana dipped in natural peanut butter, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds and cottage cheese or a smoothie made with berries, a banana, milk and ice.
“Berries contain the polyphenols that inhibit many of the adverse consequences of the sugar contained in the fruit without affecting the taste,” says Dr. Barry Sears, president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. “However, still use these in moderation compared to non-starchy vegetables in your diet.”
Lean chicken, salmon, and steak are all pure proteins that if you add to your diet will keep you away from releasing insulin because of sugar, or carbohydrate breakdown. “When the hormone insulin is released, your body uses it for fat storage,” says Fit Chef Katy, a health expert for Lean for Life by Lindora Clinic. “A baked lemon salmon, with some asparagus and a spinach and orange salad can leave you feeling satisfied and full. Without a release of insulin, your body stays in Ketosis which is great for burning fat as fuel.”
Fill Up On Healthy Fats
Eat more nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and salmon whenever you can. “Not only are these foods heart healthy and help with blood sugar control, healthy fats will displace excess sugar from the diet and keep the body satisfied for longer so you are less likely to have energy dips between meals prompting a quick sugar fix,” says Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN, and author of Small Steps to Slim. “A simple, healthy diet—one that’s high in fiber and low in sugar, preservatives, and unhealthy fats—is all that’s needed to keep your body’s interior as smooth and sleek as the day it rolled off the assembly line,” adds Zinczenko.
“The best way to drop sugar is go cold turkey, and the best support you get for doing that, even if you’re a crazy sugar addict with an over-sized sweet tooth is to eat more fiber, more good plant-based fats, and for a little sweet treat—high in fiber dates,” says Tania Van Pelt of The Ageless Diet. “Dates are a great way to hit that sweet spot and get some fiber without giving in to temptation. Add dates to a cacao smoothie with fresh bananas, maca powder, hemp seeds, and dates with an avocado for added flavor, good filling fats, and a smooth creamy texture. You’ll get sweetness, fiber, protein, and it will keep you full and happy—AND away from sugar and nasty sugar substitutes.”
Oftentimes, when you’re craving something sweet, you’re hungry and/or dehydrated. Drink a big glass of water—at least 12 ounces—and eat avocado toast on whole wheat sourdough. “The combo of fat from the avocado, the fermented sourdough bread, and the whole grains will satiate you and keep you from going to the freezer for ice cream,” says Van Pelt. You can also add avocados to steel cut oats or smoothies for added heft and creamy mouthfeel. “Eat the avocado toast to help you power through the afternoon without giving in to the cravings for a candy bar.”
Plant Based Fats
Plant-based fats are a tasty way to alleviate sugar cravings. “Coconut oil is a great plant-based fat that helps. If you have a hard time forgoing sugar and dairy in your coffee, try a dash of cinnamon and a little virgin coconut oil,” says Van Pelt. “You’ll get energy from the coffee, good fats, and a little antioxidant support from the cinnamon.”
If you’re used to eating cereal, muffins, or pancakes for breakfast, the first meal of the day can be tricky when you dump the sugar. Melissa Joulwan, author of the Well Fed cookbook series recommends a breakfast scramble made with three eggs, baby spinach, and 1/2 cup diced, cooked sweet potato; add a pinch of ground cumin and a pinch of ground cinnamon for extra zing. “The starchy sweet potatoes help manage sugar withdrawal without causing an insulin spike, and the protein and fat in the eggs are very satiating,” she says.
If you’re missing dessert, follow up dinner with two Brazil nuts or an ounce of almonds. “Both are mildly sweet, satisfying, and loaded with beneficial minerals,” says Joulwan. “Brazil nuts deliver a punch of selenium which is helpful for cognitive function, fertility, thyroid function, and a healthy immune system. Almonds are loaded with fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E; they help lower blood sugar levels and reduce blood pressure.”
Brown Rice Syrup
Substitute rice syrup in place of a sweetener like sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup or molasses. “To substitute sugar, use 1¼ cup rice syrup for one cup sugar, using ¼ cup less of another liquid in the recipe,” says holistic health coach and nutritionist Alexandra Jamieson: “It has a gorgeous buttery, caramel flavor that lends itself well to baking. Because of the low glucose content, it doesn’t affect my energy levels very much.”
Spices When Recipes Call for Sugar
It may seem hard to cut back on your sugar when baking but you can use spices instead to add natural sweetness. “I’ll often add unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, or vanilla extract to my recipes–and often find that this is sweetness enough, or that I can reduce the sugar by up to 25 percent or so,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN. “You can also do this with yogurt–buy plain Greek yogurt and sweeten it with cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder, instead of buying a sugarier pre-sweetened version.”
Try combining fruits and a square of dark chocolate (over 75%) to stop sugar cravings. “Combine a small square of chocolate from GoRaw that’s sugar free with a banana, a cup of strawberries or a peach. “You can even melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the fruit if that helps! But do not grab just any chocolate bar,” says Tara Mackey, author of Cured by Nature. “Raw, dark chocolate contains magnesium, which is nature’s best chill pill, as well as essential fibers and B vitamins. This kicks sugar cravings by satisfying your sweet tooth.”
Cinnamon is a sweet spice that can stop sugar cravings when nothing else can. Cinnamon cures your sweet tooth and “tricks” your body into thinking you’ve had sugar! “Cinnamon has been proven in research to help to reduce sugar cravings by controlling blood glucose levels,” says Mackey. “This minimizes insulin spikes after meals that lead to more hunger and consuming even more sugar. Add some in your tea or coffee or take it in supplement form for an extra boost!”
Grapes are naturally sweet so freezing them makes them refreshing and make you feel like you are having a frozen treat. “When craving sugar, a handful of grapes can help alleviate your desire,” says Gisela Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN, and owner of Mindfully Intuitive Nutrition. “Take time to suck on and enjoy each frozen grape to further help kick that craving.”
Making a plant-based smoothie, packed full of fruits, vegetables, and a healthy nut butter can help not only boost your intake of fresh foods daily but also help curb sugar cravings. “Having a smoothie can make you feel like you are having a delicious dessert shake, except without the unwanted sugar,” says Bouvier. “The boost in fruit, veggie, and healthy fat intake also helps ensure adequate nutritional intake as well.” Did you know you could flatten your belly in just 30 seconds? That’s all the time it takes to blend up a Zero Belly Smoothie. Its unique mix of super nutrients will flatten your gut, boost your metabolism, heal your digestive system, and turn off your fat genes for good. Buy Zero Belly Smoothies today!
Fermented foods and drinks increase the body’s immune system and can help regulate appetite and reduce sugar cravings. “Foods such as tempeh, pickles, yogurt, and kimchi can all help you stay away from sugar,” says Bouvier.