The conversation about sugar is a hot topic surrounding healthy living and weight management. If there’s any time of year when candy and sweets are on the mind, it’s around Halloween and the upcoming holiday season. Between candy-filled grocery aisles and traditional homemade treats during the holidays, the temptation of sugar can hit us in full force.
As Halloween marks the beginning of a season of indulgence for many, we want to dive into the thought process behind your relationship with sugar, helping you assess what your cravings really mean and teaching you how to enjoy this time of year with a healthier perspective.
Assessing sugar cravings
Here at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), we see cravings as an opportunity to assess the imbalances in your life to determine their underlying causes. While there are many physical factors that contribute to sugar cravings, like hormonal imbalance or vitamin and mineral deficiencies, our eating habits are also a reflection of our lifestyle, including our mental and emotional states.
For example: Are you feeling fulfilled in your career? What is the quality of your relationships? Do you have a spiritual practice that works for you? Are you exercising on a regular basis?
We call these areas primary food, as they nourish us as much as, if not more than, the food we put on our plates. When primary food is imbalanced, both physical and emotional symptoms can appear in the body. A great way to assess how you are nourishing yourself with primary food is to complete the Circle of Life – a brief exercise that tunes you in to these different areas. Take some time to reflect on where you are thriving and which areas might be the reason you reach for that sweet snack at 10pm.
“I'll never forget the moment while I was a student at IIN – listening to the lectures about primary food – that the cause of my longtime candy cravings became clear. I was working at a job that I was not fulfilled in, challenged by, or excited about. I was eating a bag of candy a day for my lunch. If only I had met a Health Coach back then to help me recognize it! But it’s all meant to be; my out-of-balance cravings led to my interest in nutrition, finding IIN, and eventually creating HunnyBon,” said IIN graduate Kimberly Silver, founder and CEO of HunnyBon.
Managing sugar cravings
Once you identify the underlying cause(s) of your sugar cravings, there are many ways to work with them without completely depriving yourself. (Hello, healthy Halloween treats!)
Start by prioritizing the areas of your life that need more attention. Everyone is bio-individual – we experience different stressors that can lead to craving chocolate, cookies, cake, etc. – and everyone deals with stressors differently, which results in different eating habits and cravings.
Here are five tips to work through sugar cravings, including some application tools to get you started today:
1. Get enough sleep.
Research shows that a shortened sleep cycle can lead to more stress and an increased appetite. Lack of sleep is also associated with a greater intake of sugary drinks. When you are sleep deprived, you naturally want a pick-me-up. So how much sleep should you be getting to help maintain healthy eating habits? If you’re getting 7–9 hours of sleep, you are in the healthy range. However, it’s important to make sure those sleeping hours are as restful as possible so you can get the most out of your waking hours.
Try this: Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you plan on going to sleep. Blue light from your devices can disrupt the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time for bed. Winding down from your devices can ensure a well-rested night’s sleep.
2. Balance your diet.
Are you eating enough protein? Are you making sure you have fiber in your breakfast? Eating a variety of whole foods and enough to feel satisfied will curb your cravings, especially between meals. Embracing bio-individuality is key when determining which foods work best for you and your unique body. To manage the cravings you have, listen to your body. For example, if you’re craving something sweet first thing in the morning, instead of pouring sugar into your coffee, add fiber-rich and naturally sweet blueberries to your breakfast smoothie or oatmeal (frozen blueberries are great to keep on hand!).
Try this: Keep the 80/20 rule in mind when balancing your diet. As long as you’re sticking to a healthy diet the majority of the time, you can certainly indulge in your favorite foods, like dark chocolate or homemade pumpkin bread.
3. Read food labels.
Before purchasing or consuming a wrapped food, it’s important to read the ingredients and nutrition facts. Hidden sugars are often masked by names you might not recognize or put in foods you don’t even think need sugar! Food items that often have hidden sugars include protein bars, yogurt, peanut butter, and bread.
Opt for naturally sweet foods that are more easily digested and provide sustainable energy without causing a huge spike in blood sugar. Great examples include bananas, apples, oranges, and sweet potatoes. These foods also contain fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar to prevent the spike and crash that sugary, processed foods are known for.
Try this: If buying Halloween candy from the store, look at the ingredients label and see how many versions of added sugar are listed. Aim to purchase healthier versions of the same candy that have less added sugar (there are so many options these days!).
4. Drink more water.
Feeling hungry even after a meal? It could be your body signaling that it needs extra hydration. Your body needs fluids to efficiently metabolize glycogen for energy. If your body is unable to get energy from a stored source, you may start craving a sweet treat that can provide instant energy. Try drinking an extra glass of water before deciding if you want to indulge in a treat after dinner.
Try this: Keep a reusable bottle with you throughout the day. This is a good reminder to make sure you are drinking ample water throughout busier days.
5. Use less processed and lower-glycemic sweeteners when baking or cooking.
Not all sugars are created equal! Enhance your baked goods by using less processed sugars that provide sweetness while also providing antioxidants and a lower fructose level than typical white refined sugar. A lower fructose level means the sugar has a lower glycemic index, which allows the sugar to be more slowly metabolized, thus preventing a spike in blood sugar. These alternatives might include:
- Date sugar
- Maple syrup
- Monk fruit
- Organic coconut sugar
- Palmyra blossom nectar
Try this: To slowly get your body used to consuming less processed sugar, swap sugar in your coffee or tea with one of the alternatives listed above. And when you’re baking, look for recipes that use alternative sugar and see if you and your family can tell the difference!
A Healthier Chocolate Treat to Make This Halloween
These rich truffles by IIN graduate Sari Tile Diskin (HCTP May 2017) are the perfect guilt-free treat. The ingredients are simple, and there’s no baking necessary!
- 4 dates, pitted
- 2 tablespoons fresh coffee beans (or coarse coffee grounds)
- 2 tablespoons coconut butter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup creamy almond butter
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (Dutch pressed for optimal taste)
- 2 tablespoons coconut flour
- 1/2 cup dairy-free chocolate chips
- Pink sea salt (optional)
- Soak dates in water for 5–10 minutes to help them break down more easily in food processor.
- Grind coffee beans into coarse grounds – not too powdery. If you want coffee bean crunch to be more prominent in truffles, skip this step.
- Add coconut butter, water, almond butter, and soaked dates to food processor. Pulse until thick paste is formed. Make sure there are no big chunks of coconut butter or almond butter.
- Add cocoa powder, coconut flour, and coffee beans. Continue to pulse/mix until all ingredients are well combined.
- Once everything is combined, roll mixture into 10–12 small balls. Lay them on parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in freezer for at least 1 hour.
- Melt chocolate chips in microwave on medium for 1–2 minutes at a time. Mix in between.
- Remove truffles from freezer. Dip them one by one in melted chocolate and coat completely.
- Place coated truffles back on parchment-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt (if desired), and freeze again for at least 1 hour.
- Store truffles in freezer. Defrost for at least 1–2 minutes before eating.
Find balance in your life and on your plate.
Ultimately, staying mindful of the amount of sugar you consume is the goal. While seemingly simple, it might be difficult at first to swap the sugar you’re used to for an alternative or cut it out completely, depending on how much sugar you had been consuming. As you learn how your body feels with and without sugar, you’ll begin to learn which foods make you feel energized as well as curb your sugar cravings. Tuning in to the areas of primary food in your life and paying attention to when you want a sweet treat are two great ways to become a more mindful eater and decrease your cravings.
IIN grad Kimberly Silver, founder and CEO of HunnyBon, knows a thing or two about sugar cravings. We’ve compiled nutritious, easy Halloween treats with simple and healthier ingredients! Click here to get the guide!