For those of us with a self-ascribed “sweet tooth,” it’s a daily struggle to fend off a sugar addiction. Whether it’s that routine after-dinner dessert or that 4 p.m. candy pick-me-up, like clockwork, the inevitable happens: Our taste buds literally water for a sugar fix.
But when you consider that the CDC ranks diabetes as the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. (with 9.3 percent of the population currently struggling with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association), it’s prime time to get that sweet tooth in check—starting with a better understanding as to why it happens and how to overcome it.
In an interview with Women’s Health magazine, Julie Mennella, PhD, a biopsychologist who studies the science behind taste, discussed what causes cravings—leading some to have a sweet tooth while others get hooked on salty foods.
One reason is genetics, with our brains forming a preference for salty over sweet or vice versa from the get-go. If you’re more inclined to choose sugar, that means “the sweet signal gets sent to reward centers in your brain,” Mennella told Women’s Health.
In addition to genetics, your childhood likely played a role in what you currently crave. “You learn from what you eat,” said Mennella. “The more of one flavor you have in your diet, the more you become accustomed to it.”
So how can you curtail a craving that’s been ingrained in your DNA or has become a fixture in your diet? According to an article in Prevention, be strategic with your meals to slow down sugar absorption. Start meals with soluble fiber, such as a salad, beans, carrots, apples or oranges, since it soaks up starch and sugar. For those who crave starchy salty foods, incorporate vinegar with salads or meats since it decelerates the breakdown of starch into sugar. Finally, include more cooked vegetables since they are known to be “sugar blockers.”
If you still can’t shake the hankering for sugar, fruit is your best bet. Use them to make creative substitutes. For example, bake apples or peaches with some oats, nuts and coconut milk when you’re craving cobbler or pie.
What are some ways you manage your sugar cravings?