Do you have a sweet tooth? Wondering how you can control your sugar cravings? If so, you are not alone. It is estimated that the average adult eats 130 teaspoons of sugar a week. That’s three times that recommended by the WHO.

Our sugar consumption has got out of control and it is wreaking havoc with our health. Apart from piling on the pounds and contributing to our ever-increasing muffin top, too much sugar in our diet has a big role to play in the development of the main health conditions of our time: from type 2 diabetes and heart disease, to cancer and dementia, there are dire consequences from our love of the white stuff.

Most of us know that sugar is bad for our health, but many struggle to control cravings. We munch on sugary snacks for energy when we get a mid-afternoon dip, for comfort if we are feeling down, or for a treat when we need a reward.

Sugar is a mood booster. It triggers the release of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, to give us a lift and make us feel better, but this lift is quickly followed by a release of insulin into the bloodstream to bring our blood glucose levels back to normal. This leaves us with a sugar crash and the desire for more.

Check your labels

Take a look at the ingredients list on your favourite foods and you are likely to find sugar. Sometimes this is listed as sugar, but keep an eye out for these words too, as they are just sugar in another form; glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, honey, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, fructose, molasses.

Remember that the ingredients list runs in order of quantity from highest to lowest, so if any of these words appear at the beginning of the ingredients list, it’s a high sugar food.

Check out the nutritional information on food labels too, to see how much sugar the food contains. The best way to do this is to look at the amount of sugar in 100g, not in a portion size. Manufacturers’ ‘suggested’ portion size is often much smaller than what we consume: 5g or less per 100g is low sugar, more than 22.5g per 100g is high sugar.

Simple ways to reduce your sugar cravings:

1. Keep a food diary for a week. This will help you see how much sugar you are eating on an average day. If you find yourself nibbling on something sweet several times a day, then cut back to once a day. Gradually reduce your intake so that you are having an occasional treat once or twice a week, rather than rattling the biscuit tin every breaktime.

2. Don’t drink fruit juice. Despite its healthy image, can be as much sugar in a glass of fruit juice as there is in a can of fizzy drink.

3. Use less sauce! Sauces like ketchup, stir-fry sauces and curry sauce can soon rack up the sugar in our diet. Its better to look out for curry paste and mix with tinned tomatoes or coconut milk, or make your own sauces to lower your sugar intake.

4. Switch to dark chocolate. A bar of milk chocolate typically contains 56g sugar per 100g. The darker you can go, the lower the sugar content is likely to be. For example, a bar of 85 per cent cocoa chocolate contains 14g sugar per 100g.

5. Avoid low fat foods. Generally, low fat foods tend to be high in sugar, so check the labels and beware of foods that are labelled ‘light’ or ‘low fat’.

6. Eat mindfully. If you are enjoying a sweet treat, take your time to savour it. This way we are more likely to enjoy our occasional indulgence and less likely to binge on sugary stuff too often.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 23 February 2019.