When’s the last time you had a sweet tooth? Last week? Earlier today? A few minutes ago?

Sugar is in more foods than you might expect and should be consumed in moderation with a healthy diet.

Here are some tips from Tina Hreso, registered dietitian at Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Charlotte, about how to restrain your inner cookie monster.

Why we crave

Before you reach for that doughnut or other sugary snack, consider what’s causing your craving.

Registered dietitian Tina Hreso cooks a healthy meal.
Registered dietitian Tina Hreso cooks a healthy meal.

“Ask yourself if you are actually hungry or just bored or stressed,” said Hreso. “If the answer is yes to hunger, ask yourself if there is something more nutritious you can eat such as an apple with peanut butter or grapes with string cheese, or maybe you’re just thirsty and need to drink water instead. If the answer is no, the craving may be due to boredom or stress. Try to find an activity that will distract you from mindless eating, such as walking, reading, a craft, or calling a friend.”

Sleep is also fundamental when it comes to managing sugar intake.

“Inadequate sleep causes fatigue and your body may crave sugar to make up for the lack of energy,” said Hreso.

When you eat sugar without the presence of protein or healthy fats, your hunger is quickly satisfied and you’re given a boost. But it won’t last for long and you’ll be let down quickly. Sugar releases good chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and endorphins. This starts a vicious cycle where you are quickly satisfied from energy and then you lose that energy and want more.

Change your routine

One of the ways Hreso suggested combating the cycle is to change the routine. Sometimes mindless activities like watching TV, grazing and chatting or sitting at your desk leads to excessive eating – especially those sugary snacks. It’s important to get up and take a walk. Doing something active can take your mind off the fact that you want sugar.

Another way to help is to have a good combination of foods. Hreso said to pair a sugary food with a protein, for example adding peanut butter to a banana. The presence of a protein will help your food digest a little slower, preventing your blood sugar from going really high or really low. It is also advantageous to eat fiber and healthy fats since they also digest slower and keep you feeling fuller longer.

What to eat

Some people look to cookies, cake, or candy when they crave sugar. Instead, Hreso suggested dressing up some plain nonfat Greek yogurt, which is high in protein. Adding fresh fruit, nuts, a little almond or vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin puree can go a long way.

For flavored Greek yogurts, added sugar could be an issue. Hreso said some types can be OK, but first look at the label and make sure the sugar content is in the single digits per serving. She also suggested buying flavored yogurt over the kind with the fruit or jam on the bottom, as those contain extra sugar.

Another low-calorie and high-protein option Hreso recommends to patients is PB2, a powdered peanut butter that can be mixed with water to form a paste. It has less excess oil than regular peanut butter while still containing good protein. It also has 85 percent less sugar. This can be great with a serving of fruit such as a small apple or half a large banana. Fruit does contain natural sugars but also comes with fiber and important micronutrients. That makes it a good choice for satisfying a sugar craving.

Granola and trail-mix are popular recommendations when it comes to curbing a sugar craving; however, Hreso said these can be tricky.

“These items are misleading due to health claims on the packaging; however they tend to contain lots of added sugars and oils which run up the calories. Choose a kind with single digit sugars, higher protein and fiber.”

Another tip – don’t eat right out of the container. Instead, Hreso said to pull out a serving and put the container away.

Take it a day at a time

“Not every day will be perfect, no one eats perfectly,” Hreso said. “If you make a poor choice, don’t beat yourself up, just try to make a better choice the next time you eat. The important thing is to focus on eating more of the good stuff such as fruits and veggies, instead of always thinking about restriction. Moderation is key!”