The world may be operating differently this year, but Halloween is still almost upon us. Even if you don’t have a passel of children returning home with overflowing trick-or-treat bags, you’re still surrounded by sweets. Drugstores and grocery aisles are filled with two-pound bags of candy (on sale!) that you must buy “just in case” you need to appease the neighbors’ children. And chances are you will not be able to avoid the temptation to indulge in at least a few of these “fun-sized” treats yourself, any more than you can say, “No thanks,” to mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy on Thanksgiving.
Sure, a sweet or two won’t kill you, but it is hard to stop once you’ve started. Fortunately, there are several easy ways you can stave off impending sugar shock and stick to a healthy diet.
Managing Sugar Cravings
When you crave sweets:
1. Eat protein. The body craves sugar when it needs protein. This is an evolutionary holdover from when our ancient tree-hugging ancestors subsisted on a diet of fruit. The bugs living in the ripe fruit supplied them with a tremendous amount of protein (insects are the highest per-ounce source of non-vegetable protein). So, when you want sugar, think protein. Grab a hard-boiled egg or a handful of nuts.
2. Drink a smoothie. A fruit smoothie made with ripe fruit will fill your stomach and satisfy your desire for something sweet. The milk, or milk substitute, will supply you with protein, and the sheer density of the drink will fill you up.
3, Eat something sour. Interestingly, eating something very tart will stop sugar cravings. A slice of lemon or lime, a crunchy dill pickle, a half grapefruit, or a pinch of pure ascorbic acid (vitamin C) will do the trick.
4. Give trick-or-treaters something nutritious on Halloween. Though you may only provide treats to your closest friends or family this year, if the temptation to avoid sugar is too intense, consider giving them a healthier option. Although I always hated getting apples on Halloween when I was a kid, the truth is that if you don’t have two pounds of candy sitting around the temptation – at least on Halloween – will be removed. Non-candy options include:
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- Small, sealed bags of pretzels
- Pre-packaged granola bars
- Bouncy balls
- Temporary tattoos
If you’re staying home, make a batch of salty popcorn and watch a horror movie to take your mind off of sweets. Dracula will distract you, and the popcorn will allow you to snack steadily. You can sip on some ice-cold seltzer flavored with a wedge of lemon while you are munching. (Zero calories, but quite satisfying.)
When It’s Not Halloween
Of course, sugar cravings can occur on days when it’s not Halloween as well. That’s because sweet cravings are associated with a number of endocrine disorders, particularly those related to thyroid function (hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease), insulin resistance due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and diabetes, as well as hypoglycemia related to low adrenal function. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (magnesium and vitamin B) will also spark a craving for sweets, particularly chocolate. Antidepressants, which number among the most frequently prescribed drugs in America, are notorious for creating an insatiable sweet tooth.
People with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia may suffer a “perfect storm” when it comes to sweet cravings, as their illnesses are associated with all of these conditions. However, succumbing to sweet cravings almost invariably makes both of these illnesses worse. A few preventative measures can help mitigate the storm:
- Take vitamin B complex. B vitamins support the adrenal glands, which among other things regulate body’s response to stress. (This is the source of “stress eating.”) B vitamins are water soluble, so you can’t overdose.
- Take magnesium. Close to three-quarters of Americans are deficient in this essential mineral, which is found in leafy greens, fish and cocoa. If you crave chocolate, what you may really need is magnesium.
- Take licorice root extract. If you are prone to low blood pressure, then licorice root will help. Low blood pressure symptoms (light-headedness, faintness upon standing) can be mistaken for low blood sugar, prompting people to eat something sweet. Licorice root extract supports the adrenals, and raises blood pressure. Only a tiny amount is needed.
- Take inositol. Inositol is a second messenger for serotonin, which means it can raise serotonin levels without the notorious side effects of antidepressants. It comes in powder form – and it’s sweet.
I hope these tips are as useful to you to avoid sugar cravings as they are to me!
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on October 24, 2013 and was updated on October 29, 2020.
Erica Verrillo is the author of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition, available as an electronic book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Payhip (PDF file). Her website,CFSTreatmentGuide, provides practical resources for patients with ME/CFS. She also writes a blog, Onward Through the Fog, with up-to-date news and information about the illness, as well as the full text of CFS: A Treatment Guide, 1st Edition (available in translation).