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What to Do When a Sugar Craving Strikes, According to Nutritionists

Photo: Carlos G. Lopez/Shutterstock

When a sugar craving stops by uninvited, it’s hard to ignore your sweet tooth and go about your day. As much as you want to be the person who eats carrots and hummus instead of the cinnamon bun that taunted you in the break room this morning (and, you know, not devour the cinnamon bun anyway), you’ve accepted the fact that you won’t be adding this particular skill to your resumé anytime soon.

But you’re also aware that too much sugar is awful for your health, and you’d like do your best to conquer cravings as healthfully as possible—which is why we went to the pros to find out how they personally keep their sweet tooth in check. Take note:

Make sure the craving is legit.

“The body knows that glucose is the best hit for energy, so we tend to crave it when we’re hungry,” says Kristin Koskinen, R.D.N., a registered dietitian based in Richland, Washington. “If I recognize that I haven’t eaten in a while, I start with a healthy choice (fruit, a green salad, leftovers from dinner) and then evaluate if the sugar craving is real, or indicative of more basic hunger.” If legit, Koskinen turns to raisins covered in dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or more). Because they’re intensely sweet, they hit the sugar craving hard, thus minimizing the total amount eaten. (Related: What Happened When I Prepared for a Snack Every Day for a Week)

Eat a hard candy.

Many people have issues controlling their sweets intake—particularly if it’s a favorite. “To quell a craving, I’ll have a small piece of candy (usually, a hard candy), one that’s sweet but that I won’t overdo,” says New York-based registered dietitian Katherine Brooking, R.D. The candy offers a shot of sugar when you’re feeling extra ravenous for the stuff, but takes longer to eat—and by the time you’re done, your craving might be too.

Meet in the middle.

Instead of caving to your sugar craving entirely, try making healthier versions of your favorite desserts—ones that still taste like dessert, but offer way more nutrients. “When I’m craving an ice cream-like dessert, I blend 1 frozen banana with 1/2 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder and 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter,” says Connecticut-based registered dietitian Summer Yule, RDN. The banana provides the sweetness, as well as that satisfying, dessert-like texture, while the nutrients from the banana and peanut butter keep you from crashing later. (You can also make these Mediterranean diet desserts that are too good and so healthy)

To satisfy candy bar-like cravings with fewer calories and more nutrients, Yule prepares a packet of plain instant oatmeal with water, stirs in 1 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder and some non-nutritive sweetener, then melts 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on top. “It has all of the flavors of a peanut butter cup, but is filling due to the fiber in the oatmeal and the balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats,” says Yule. (In a word, yum.)

Use the pillow method.

When our emotions are at an all-time high and a healthier substitute isn’t cutting it, try sitting with the craving instead of flooring it to the nearest 7/11 for a bucket of ice cream. “This, for me, typically involves sitting with—and clenching—a pillow until the craving passes,” says Kristie Veltkamp, registered dietitian at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Usually, after about 10 minutes, the craving peaks and subsides.” (Related: How to Get Over Cravings, According to a Weight-Loss Expert)

Munch on dried fennel seeds.

Because chewing gum can actually make a sugar craving worse (the artificial sweeteners and consistent chewing both reinforce the need to keep eating), New York-based registered dietitian Brooke Alpert, R.D., is all about chewing on dried fennel seeds instead. “They’re similar to licorice in flavor, so the slightly sweet taste can help prevent the need for actual sweets,” she says. Bonus: They can help aid digestion too.

Chill out—literally.

Sometimes when we want something sweet (like, now), it’s because we’re dealing with uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety or overwhelm. When this happens to Chicago-based registered dietitian Christy Brissette, R.D., she turns to a technique called the diver’s response. “When divers hit the cold water, they breathe deeper and are instantly more relaxed,” she explains. “You can emulate this effect by placing something really cold on your neck or face.” This super-cool move (pun totally intended) can help you snap out of a tizzy—and step away from the bag of cookies—in no time. (Related: The #1 Myth About Emotional Eating Everyone Needs to Know About

Eat dessert every night.

It may sound counterintuitive, but enjoying a serving of dessert each night can help curb your sweet tooth when presented with more indulgent options, says New York-based registered dietitian Rachel Fine, RDN. “When celebrating a friend’s birthday, for example, I’m happy to try some cake without feeling the need to eat two or three pieces, since my sweet tooth has been satisfied all week long,” she says. “There isn’t a feeling of ‘I have to pack it all in now because I won’t have another chance for a while.’”

Bottom line: Less restriction equals more control over your sweet tooth.

This story was originally published on CookingLight.com by Krissy Brady.

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