Do this next time you're craving a treat

We’re turning into a sweet-toothed nation. Reports show that the majority of us are consuming much more than our recommended sugar allowance each day – and it’s mostly coming from the added sugars in convenience foods like sweets and fizzy drinks. It’s all too easy to turn to these foods when our blood sugar levels fall and we need a mood lift or a boost in energy, but all that sugar could be having major impacts on our health by contributing to obesity, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We want to help you cut back on the extra sugar you might be consuming and take control of your cravings, but first, it’s important to understand why we crave the sweet stuff in the first place.

Besides sugar simply tasting good, it’s thought that we might be hardwired from birth to crave it, since the first thing we ever taste is sweet. Also, when we consume sugar, it releases endorphins that prompt us to experience a temporary high. So when we’re feeling worried, sad or stressed, you can see why reaching for a chocolate bar feels like the quickest way to fix things.

While we need some sugar in our diets to give us energy and keep our brains active, exceeding the recommended amount can have detrimental effects on our health. So what should you do when you need a lift? We’ve got some ideas.

1. Go for lower quantities of naturally occurring sugars

Fruit is a fantastic, portable, sweet-tasting snack. Pack a tub of berries in your bag or take an apple or a banana with you when you go out. If you find yourself tempted to reach for a vending machine chocolate bar or a bag of sweets when you’re in the supermarket, shift your focus to the fruit instead. While still containing sugar, fruit has the added benefit of containing plenty of other nutrients and fibre, which slows your digestion and prevents those blood sugar spikes that leave you feeling high and then very quickly low again.

2. Include more protein in your diet

Protein can help to keep your blood sugar levels balanced, making you less likely to experience a low and crave a sweet snack. To get more protein, incorporate foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, fish and lean meat into your everyday meals.

3. Eat smaller meals more frequently

Keep your blood sugar levels consistent and prevent a drop (and subsequent low mood and tiredness) by eating regularly. When we skip meals, our blood sugar levels fall and we start to feel flat. By eating regular meals and snacks, we prevent this from happening – plus it encourages us to always have healthy snacks to hand.

4. Fill the gap with something that’s better for you

When we stop ourselves from using sugar as a distraction or a temporary mood enhancer, it leaves us with a void to fill. This is our chance to take control. Fill the gap with something that’s healthier but still feels like a treat. It doesn’t have to be edible. Perhaps take a lunchtime walk to your favourite sunny spot, run yourself a bath, or take half an hour with a good book or magazine. This is all about making you feel nourished, more content in the moment and able to carry on without the impermanent crutch that sugar provides.

READ THIS NEXT: Alternatives to sugar - what's healthy, what's not?

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