We've all been there: a single cookie that turns into two or three, a few too many pieces of candy (we're looking at you, Halloween-ready shelves!), or just an extra-high stack of brunch pancakes. Whatever you've eaten, you likely recognize one of the many unpleasant symptoms of sugar overload, whether it's a queasy stomach, exhaustion, a headache, or just feeling generally less than tiptop.
Of course, we always recommend trying to eat as intuitively as possible in the first place. Tune in to your body's needs, and eat as mindfully as possible (read: scarfing down anything while watching TV or scrolling Instagram isn't doing you any favors). For more on mindful eating, check out this post. We also recognize, though, that no one can be perfect all the time, and for those less-than-ideal moments, it's best to be armed with a plan of action.
Make your next meal super blood-sugar-balancing.
"Eating a ton of sugar throws your blood sugar out of whack, which will have you crashing quickly. When this happens, you typically start craving more quick carbs—it's a vicious cycle!" explains Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian and author of Eat More Plants. She recommends making sure your next meal helps stabilize your blood sugar. "Think protein, fiber, and healthy fat. This trio of nutrients will help slow the rate at which nutrients enter the bloodstream1, stabilizing your blood sugar curve and activating hormones that satiate your appetite to put the hangries to bed."
Nielsen recommends making sure your plate is filled with at least half colorful veggies, with 20 grams of protein (she loves high-fiber plant proteins like raw pumpkin seeds or lentils). For good fat, Nielsen loves avocado. "You could also make a beautiful chickpea scramble or a smoothie with plenty of greens, a good plant-based protein powder, and hemp hearts," she says.
Load up on fiber and water.
Fiber and water might be the magic combo to help with the bloating that comes with excess sugar intake, according to Allison Gross, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Curator. "The combination of fiber and water helps to flush out our system, which can mitigate those feelings. It also keeps us feeling full, which curbs hunger and gives us better control over our eating the following day. Making food choices when starving is never a good idea!" she says. Gross recommends starting your day with a high-fiber carbohydrate at breakfast—she likes Smart Bran cereal or Wasa Whole Grain crackers—and aiming to drink 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day. "After a week of this, your system should feel flushed out, and your taste buds will be recalibrated so the cycle of sweet cravings will be broken," she says.
Load up on bitter greens.
"Overdoing it on sugar can make you feel pretty nauseous and sick to your stomach; I find that bitter greens—an ancient digestive aid—are a great balm for too much sweet," says Nielsen. She recommends making a bitter green smoothie that contains half a cup of curly parsley, a couple of stalks of celery, some cucumber, and a knob of ginger (to battle the nausea). "I also like to include a slice of lemon, with the peel, as the acid will settle your stomach further, and it really brightens the taste of so many greens," she says.
Focus on inflammation-fighting foods.
One of the primary reasons too much sugar can make you feel unwell is that it spikes your blood sugar, and thus tends to create inflammation in your body (for more on how sugar contributes to inflammation, check out this piece).
"To help ameliorate the damage, make sure you pile your plate with anti-inflammatory all-stars at your next couple of meals," recommends Nielsen. "Feast on cruciferous veg like kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower; add plenty of turmeric and ginger to your meals or drinks; include a couple of servings of omega-3-rich seeds such as ground flax or hemp.”
Even better? You can stave off sweets cravings by loading up on nature's own super anti-inflammatory candy. "Berries are packed with anti-inflammatory flavonoids and perfect for satisfying any residual sugar desires," says Nielsen.
Think about a long-term plan.
Sometimes, sugar cravings can signify other health imbalances that should be addressed. "For the best sugar success, talk to your functional medicine health practitioner about some vitamin and mineral deficiencies you might have that can be causing sugar cravings," suggests Nicky Yelton, a registered dietitian. Yelton recommends doing a full panel so you can fill in the gaps on any nutrients you might be lacking. "I also have had a ton of success with supplementing glutamine2, and glutathione specifically, for sugar cravings," Yelton says. "Glutamine is an amino acid2 that I've found to help reduce sugar cravings. It's a precursor to glutathione, which means it helps your body create it. Glutathione is our master antioxidant that aids in natural detoxification and reduces inflammation, which can help minimize the negative impact of sugar." Of course, you should talk to your doctor or R.D. before adding anything to your routine, but bringing up the supplement with them is a great place to start.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.