Manage your sugar cravings in 3 easy steps

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person shopping for vegetables at a grocery store

Some days it feels like sugary temptations are everywhere — a co-worker brings donuts into the office, you’re offered a slice of birthday cake, or your lunch comes with a free soda. But too much sugar can take a toll on your body. It can increase your risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.*

Managing sugar cravings is an important part of staying healthy. Try this 3-step process to help satisfy your sweet tooth while also giving your body the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Step 1: Prevention

The best way to beat a sugar craving is to avoid it. But that’s easier said than done.

The good news is you’ll be less likely to develop a craving — whether it’s for a piece of pie or a fast-food burger — if you keep your body satiated with healthy foods and nutrients throughout the day. This means making sure each meal has a balance of lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables. When it comes to snacking between meals, pick nutritious treats like celery and peanut butter, roasted chickpeas, seaweed chips, or rainbow carrots and pumpkin hummus.

You’ll also want to stay hydrated. Our brains will often mistake thirst for hunger. So before reaching for a snack, try drinking a glass of water and then see how you feel.

Step 2: Substitutions

Not all sweet treats are created equal. In general, it’s best to avoid refined sugar and processed foods, like candy bars, sodas, and baked goods. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have anything sugary. So, before reaching for a cookie, try one of these substitutes:


Berries — like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries — are naturally sweet and contain low amounts of sugar. They’re also full of good-for-you nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. So go ahead and reach for a handful of berries when the next craving strikes.

Dark chocolate

If you crave chocolate, skip the milk chocolate candy bar and grab a piece of rich dark chocolate instead. Look for options that contain more than 70% cocoa to get a boost of fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium. But keep in mind that dark chocolate also contains refined sugar and fat, so try to stick to 1 or 2 squares.

Plain yogurt

Plain, unsweetened yogurt is a great base for a healthy dessert. It provides probiotics, healthy fats, and protein, and you can control the amount of sweetness you add to it. For a treat that feels like a splurge, mix 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder into 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt. You can then add fruit, seeds (chia seeds are a great choice), or nuts. If you want to sweeten it up more, add a dollop of honey or maple syrup.

Sweet potatoes

Naturally sweet and packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, sweet potatoes can help you satisfy a sugar craving. For a simple treat, bake a sweet potato and then top it with a dash of sunflower seed oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Step 3: Moderation

Sometimes it’s OK to indulge — just make sure you’re doing it in moderation. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track:

  • Grab a smaller serving: Think fun-size over king-size. Split a restaurant dessert with your friend. Try just a bite. The smaller you go, the less sugar you’ll consume.
  • Don’t keep it in the house: Easy access can lead to bingeing. Avoid stocking up on treats at home. You’ll be less likely to eat several servings of cookies if you need to go out to get them.
  • Space it out: Eating a treat every night? Try switching to every other night, then every 2 nights, then once a week. Keep slowly spacing it out until you get used to having less.

Need extra help with managing cravings?

Check out our healthy lifestyle programs for help reaching your health goals.

* "Get the Facts: Added Sugars,", accessed May 16, 2023.