Stop Craving Sugar

Everyone likes sugar, and the more you have the more you want. You get used to higher and higher levels of sweetness so that after a while the desire for sweet foods can literally take over.

Often, if you are eating excess sugar you will also suffer from hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour and poor concentration. Too much sugar leads to blood sugar peaks and troughs. The troughs make you tired, so if you have a sugar habit you will probably also go for caffeinated drinks and other stimulants to counter the sugar blues. Sugar, just like cocaine and heroin, stimulates dopamine and endorphins, leading to reward deficiency.1

Dr Candace Pert, Research Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, says ‘I consider sugar to be a drug, a highly purified plant product that can become addictive. Relying on an artificial form of glucose – sugar – to give us a quick pick-me-up is analogous to, if not as dangerous as, shooting heroin’.2

What is more, whether you have a serious sugar problem or a mild one, just substituting foods or drinks with artificial sweeteners doesn’t reset your sweet tooth. As with any addiction it takes time and good nutrition to get your brain’s chemistry back into balance.

What sugar does

Of course, with too much sugar comes other problems such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, thrush, failing eyesight and numbness in the fingers and toes. You might have decided to curb your sweet tooth because of one of these problems or just because you recognise that you have become addicted.

How you might feel when you quit

If you just quit all sugar and sweet foods completely, with none of the nutritional support we recommend, you will simply crave it. You may feel more tired and low, lacking in motivation. It takes about a week for these symptoms to recede to an extent. It takes a week for your blood sugar levels to adjust to the lack of a constant, daily fix.

What might help

Sugar, seratonin deficiency and 5-HTP

On the other hand, if you also take the amino acid, vitamins and mineral supplements that I recommend, the results are very different. This is because a lot of people crave sugar due to an underlying serotonin deficiency. By giving the right amino acids to correct this (mainly tryptophan and/or 5-HTP) sugar cravings often reduce substantially and, with that, excessive weight gain.

A good example of this is a study involving a group of carbohydrate bingers. Those who were put on a low-carb diet and also took the amino acid supplements for 90 days lost an average of 12.25kg (1 stone 13lb/27lb) and only 18 per cent relapsed. They were compared to a group not taking the supplement that lost an average of 4.5kg (10lb) and had a relapse rate of 82 per cent.3

Richard Wurtman, a professor of brain and cognitive science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, believes that some people crave carbohydrates not because they lack willpower but because of an imbalance in serotonin. This theory is supported by evidence that obese people and people who crave carbohydrates often have lower serotonin levels than do lean people or people who prefer protein-rich snacks. Their extra-low serotonin levels leave them feeling anxious, irritable and craving a serotonin ‘fix’. The reason why sugar works is that sugar causes a release of insulin, and insulin carries tryptophan in the blood into the brain, where it can be converted into serotonin. This is probably why you crave sugar when you’re feeling low, and feel better for it, and why we give upset children something sweet and they perk up.

The mineral Chromium

Chromium, which helps insulin to work, also substantially reduces craving, as well as improving mood. It halves cravings in eight weeks and improves mood in people prone to depression in two out of three who supplement 600mcg a day.4 It works even better if combined with an extract of cinnamon called Cinnulin. You can read more about how this works in the reports Chromium – the Evidence and Chromium – The Insulin Helper.

Do you need to quit completely?

Sugar itself is not bad – it just becomes so when you have too much. It is also refined and thus devoid of the nutrients, especially B vitamins, vitamin C and chromium, needed to turn it into energy.

Having said that, to break the habit, it is best to set yourself a clear line: nothing with added sugar. There are many names for sugar, including:

  • Glucose (syrup)
  • Dextrose
  • Malt
  • Honey
  • Sucrose
  • Fructose

These are best avoided, although fructose has half the effect on your blood sugar as sucrose, which has almost half of the effect of glucose. So, fructose is the lesser of these evils.

This also means avoiding chocolate, which is high in sugar. However, the occasional dark chocolate (with 70 per cent cocoa solids), which is low in sugar, is no big deal as long as you don’t eat a bar a day.

Instead, eat whole fruits, which provide fructose and supportive nutrients. The best fruits are apples, pears, berries, cherries, plums and peaches. Oranges aren’t bad, but watch out for guzzling loads of juice. As a rule of thumb, don’t have more than the juice of one orange per day or an equivalent amount of apple juice. Dilute this with one-third water. Then, after the first week, start diluting half and half with water. Have a maximum of two such juices a day.

Sugar-free alternatives

One of the best natural sugars is xylose, also called xylitol. About two-thirds of the natural sugar in berries, cherries and plums is xylose, which tastes sweet but doesn’t raise your blood sugar level. Nine teaspoons of xylitol has the same effect on your blood sugar level as one teaspoon of sugar or honey. Nowadays, you can buy it easily in supermarkets, health-food shops and by mail order. It tastes just like sugar and the only thing it won’t do is caramelise.

Because xylitol attracts water in the gut, if you have too much you get looser bowels, which, although not harmful, is quite a good indicator to have less xylitol. It is also positively good for your teeth. You might have seen the ads on TV for xylitol mouthwash or chewing gum. This is because xylitol stops bacteria sticking to the teeth.

The chart below shows the GL of different sugar alternatives and how much you can eat for 5GLs, which is a good guide for a snack. Stevia is the best, but doesn’t taste great. Xylitol is the best granulated natural sweetener and agave the best liquid natural sweetener. If you’d like to know more about sweeteners read my article on Sugar Alternatives in Issue 89 of my 100% Newsletter available when you become a member of my Holford Health Club.

FOOD Serving size(g) GLs per serving 5GLserving Glsmeasurement
Maltose(malt) 20 22 1 teaspoon
Glucose 20 20 1 teaspoon
Honey 20 16 1 teaspoon
Sucrose 20 14 teaspoon
Molasses 20 8 3 teaspoon
Maple syrup 20 7 3.5 teaspoon
Fructose 20 4 5 teaspoon
agave syrup 20 2 50 mls
Xylitol 20 2 9 teaspoon
Stevia 20 0

How to quit sugar

  1. Set yourself reasonable targets based on halving your sugar intake each week until you have none. For example, if you normally have two sugars in your tea, have one in the first week, and half a teaspoonful in the second week.
  2. Switch to xylitol so that you don’t have the blood sugar rush.
  3. Take a supplement containing chromium (200mcg x 2) with Cinnulin for supporting blood sugar balance like Cinnachrome.
  4. Take half a teaspoon of cinnamon in a drink, on your cereal or smoothies such as Get Up & Go.
  5. If you are craving sugar, first have a large glass of water, then a piece of fruit with some nuts or seeds (eating protein with carbohydrate keeps your blood sugar level even).
  6. Always eat breakfast. You are aiming for three meals and two snacks a day. By eating little and often you help support your blood sugar balance. These are basic principles in my low GL diet.
  7. Minimise caffeine and alcohol, as these both affect your blood sugar.
  8. You might find it useful to take a superfibre like Carboslow before meals to help you lower your blood sugar naturally and to feel full. You can read more about the benefits in my report The Superfibres that Lower Your Blood Sugar Naturally

Get Up and Go, Cinnnachrome and supplements which help to support normal blood glucose levels are available at Members of my 100% Health Club get free delivery and 20-30% discount at HOLFORDirect on all orders over £30. Start your FREE month’s trial here.


  1. J. Cleary, et al., ‘Naloxone effects of sugar-motivated behaviour’, Psychpharmacology, Vol. 176 (1996), pp. 110–14; S.A. Czirr and L.D. Reid, ‘Demonstrating morphine’s potentiating effects on sucrose-intake’, Brain Research Bulletin, 17 (1986), pp. 639–42. L. Leventhal, et al., ‘Selective actions of central mu and kappa opioid antagonists upon sucrose intake in sham-fed rats’, Brain Research, 685 (1995), pp. 205–10; A. Moles and S. Cooper, ‘Opioid modulation of sucrose in-take in CD-1 mice’, Physiology and Behaviour, Vol. 58 (1995) pp. 791–6
  2. C.B. Pert, The Molecules of Emotion, Pocket Books, (1999). ’ Dr Candace Pert is one of the chief scientists who discovered the central role endorphins play in addic-tion.
  3. K. Blum, et al., ‘Neuronutrient effects on weight loss in carbohydrate bingers: an open clinical trial’, Current Therapeutic Research, 48 (1990), pp. 217–233
  4. J.R. Davidson, et al., ‘Effectiveness of chromium in atypical depression: A pla-cebo-controlled trial’, Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 53(3) (February 2003), pp. 261–4