If you're like many people, you have spent a considerable amount of time trying to tame your sweet tooth. It’s worth noting that research has uncovered some of the reasons why some people are drawn more to sweets, while others prefer salty flavors. Importantly, here are some tips for managing your sweet tooth.
Blame It On Your DNA?
If you've always found yourself drawn to sweets, your DNA may be to blame:
- You may have a FGF21 gene variant. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that if you have a variant of this gene, you are 20% more likely to enjoy and seek out sugary foods and drinks.
- You may not be a “super-taster.” Other research has shown that some people (25% of the population) are what are called “super-tasters,” and these people are extremely sensitive to bitter foods. Super-tasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes simply because they have more taste papillae and taste receptors on their tongues that make them more sensitive to bitter tastes. They’re also more sensitive to sweet, salty and umami tastes, but to a lesser extent. They tend to have a reduced preference for sweet and high-fat foods. (Super-tasters also tend to consume more salt then non-tasters because salt masks bitter flavors.)
The good news is that none of us are doomed by our sweet-tooth tendencies. And with a few simple tricks, even if you find sweets to be the ultimate enticement, you can squash your sweet tooth without adding sugar. Here’s what to do:
1. Make sure to keep your body from ever craving a quick pick-me-up (sugar) by preventing your energy from dipping too low.
You can do this by consuming a source of fiber and protein at all meals and snacks to prevent blood sugar highs and crashes; this combination also provides a longer-lasting fuel boost. Obviously, you need to avoid very sugary foods, like sodas, candies and jellies. And finally, do your best to get seven hours of sleep. If you don’t sleep well or have an energy crash, it’s easier to succumb to cravings.
2. Reset your sweet-tooth palate.
Once you start eating sugary foods, your palate quickly adjusts and foods that are less sweet no longer satisfy your taste buds. In our current American food culture, most store-bought foods have high levels of added sugar to accommodate taste buds that now expect highly sweetened food.
To counteract this tendency, you have to be proactive and train your taste buds to become accustomed to a less sweet load. Super-tasters, non-tasters and everyone in between have one thing in common—their taste buds regenerate in about 10 days. This means that if you have a sweet tooth (or a salt tooth for that matter) and you consistently enjoy foods that aren’t as sweet (or as salty) compared to what you’re accustomed to, after about 10 days you’ll find that foods that are very high in sugar (or salt) will taste too sweet (or too salty).
3. Enjoy a "clean-your-palate" drink before you indulge in a sweet food to “reset” your palate.
These drinks can be slightly sweet, which can help satisfy a craving with very few, if any, calories. They also fill the stomach with water to bring on satiety and fullness so you can be better prepared to make smart snack choices and not overindulge on sweets. Sipping a slightly bitter and spicy beverage, like this Spicy Metabolism Booster, before a sweet treat can help you appreciate the sweetness of your indulgent food and make sweet foods more satisfying.
4. Use naturally sweet foods (without added sugars).
While your taste buds are “recalibrating,” healthier stand-ins for traditional sweets are a great way to indulge your sweet tooth while staying on track. Fruits are naturally sweet and, as an added bonus, they’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which makes them ideal for replacing traditional sweets when your cravings hit.
If you notice that your palate is accustomed to very sweet foods and substituting fruit is a struggle for you, start with baked fruit. When you bake fruits, their natural sweetness comes to the surface and taste delicious. Similarly, take advantage of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, fenugreek and ginger, all of which bring a natural sweetness.
Here are three desserts that can help squash a sweet tooth without added sugar.
Baked Apple (Serves 4)
- 4 apples (we recommend fuji or green tart apples, depending on what is available and your preferences, but any will work)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 teaspoons vegetable-based butter spread (make sure it’s trans-fat free)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- From the top of the apple, scoop out the core, but do not cut all the way through. You simply want to create a well at the top of the apple. In each apple’s “well,” add 1/2 teaspoon of butter spread and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
- Place the apples in a baking pan with a lip or in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon and place in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the apples are tender.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 apple): 89 Calories, 17 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 0 g protein, 4 g fiber, 4 g sodium
Skinny Speedy Walnut Oatmeal Cookies (Makes approximately 14 cookies)
1 cup quick rolled oats
- 2 overripe bananas
- ½ cup crushed walnuts
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Mix all three ingredients together.
- Portion out 1 tablespoon of mixture on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 55 Calories, 2 g fat, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 1 mg sodium
Easy Healthy Strawberry Mint "Ice Cream" (Serves 2)
- 1 cup strawberries, quartered (or frozen sliced strawberries)
- 2 fresh mint leaves
- 1/3 cup smooth and creamy yogurt, plain nonfat (we use plain but vanilla would work as well)
Put strawberries in a glass bowl and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Strawberries should be partially frozen, but not hard. (If using frozen strawberries allow them to sit at room temperature for about five to 10 minutes.) Using a blender, pulse the strawberries, mint and yogurt together. Once combined, blend on low speed for 15 seconds to make it very creamy. Place your “ice cream” back into the bowl, cover with wrap and freeze for at least 60 minutes. Divide into two bowls and serve. Tip: Allow this treat sit for a minute to get softer and it will taste even sweeter.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 40 Calories, 0 g fat, 2 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 23 mg sodium
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