Research shows that consuming sugar, salt, or fat causes the body to release a feel-good hormone called dopamine. This response is what makes some foods and drinks comforting, but it also leaves you craving more. It’s okay to satisfy these cravings occasionally, but if you find that your desire for unhealthy choices is hard to control, it’s time to find some healthy substitutions. By figuring out what you are really craving and finding healthy foods that satisfy you, you can stay on track to reach your health and fitness goals.
It can be difficult to tame a sweet tooth, but there is evidence that gradually reducing your sugar intake reduces cravings for it. Cutting out sugar altogether at once may work for some people, but others need to slowly reduce sugar to lessen the cravings and make long-term changes. The first step is to reduce added sugars such as those in processed foods and drinks like soda and baked goods.
Natural sugars can help satisfy your sweet tooth more nutritiously. Fruits like melons, berries, and pineapple are sweet while providing fiber and phytonutrients. Dairy and nuts also provide a slightly sweet flavor that can satisfy cravings. A light drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup can add sweetness to drinks. It also dissolves more easily than granulated sugar, which allows you to use less. If you are still craving a special treat, a small piece of chocolate with 65 percent or greater cacao content continues to show potential for protecting heart health.
Cravings for salt often lead to overeating snacks like potato chips. Few foods are naturally salty, so looking for foods that are lightly salted, but that also provide nutrients is the best option to satisfy cravings. Lightly salted nuts provide plant protein and healthy fat. Olives contain phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease. Homemade air-popped popcorn with a light sprinkle of salt provides fiber and antioxidants and is low in calories and fat.
Often the desire for carbonated beverages like soda comes from a craving for something fizzy. Carbonation can be filling and often serves as a substitute for snacking. Regular sodas contain empty calories, and according to an article from Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog, artificial sweeteners may interfere with the natural physical and mental responses to sweet foods. There is also evidence that these drinks, both regular and diet, could lead to weight gain. Unsweetened, carbonated waters with natural fruit flavors are now widely available. If you still need a little sweetness, try adding a tablespoon or two of fresh fruit juice to club soda or serve plain club soda with fruit floaters like fresh berries or orange slices. Homemade sodas are also becoming more popular. By experimenting with making your own, you can reduce the sugar and calorie content of your drink while still satisfying your cravings.