If you find yourself hankering for sugary sweets throughout the day, know that up to 90 percent of the population experiences cravings, according to a June 2016 review in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
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This might be one of the reasons why the average American adult takes in about three times the recommended amount of added sugar per day, which is 25 to 36 grams, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
This is problematic, as excessive sugar intake is associated with chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease.
One way to curb sugar cravings is to eat more vegetables — especially first thing in the morning. Vegetables may help reduce your sugar cravings, and they also play a role in disease prevention, per a July 2012 review in Advances in Nutrition.
Are You Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies?
There are a few reasons why eating veggies for breakfast can curb your sweet tooth.
1. Bitter Veggies Reduce Sugar Cravings
Bitter vegetables include greens and cruciferous veggies like arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens and kale. It turns out they have an effect on the way our bodies interpret appetite and cravings.
"Compounds in plants bind bitter receptors, increase salivation and stimulate the production of digestive juices from the stomach and pancreas," Nazirber Maduro, RDN, the founder of Naz Maduro Nutrition in Queens, New York, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Therefore, bitter vegetables can be useful in helping to diminish sugar cravings," Maduro says.
This might have to do with the effect our bitter taste receptors have on the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. In a small October 2015 study of 20 people in Neurogastroenterology and Motility, researchers found that those who ingested a capsule containing a bitter compound ate fewer calories at mealtime. They also found that levels of cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that suppresses appetite, were significantly higher.
2. Vegetables Help Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Another reason to add vegetables to your breakfast is their effect on your blood sugar levels, which can have a tremendous effect on your cravings. For this reason, Alana Fiorentino, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist, recommends higher fiber vegetables as a way to combat sweet cravings.
"Sugar cravings often happen when blood sugar levels dip, which is more likely to happen when people skip meals or consume meals that aren't balanced with adequate protein and fiber," Fiorentino says.
"When we consume a balanced breakfast that includes high-fiber vegetables, it can balance blood sugar levels and potentially prevent sugar cravings later in the day."
So, what vegetables should you eat at breakfast to keep your blood sugars stable? Go for:
- Brussels sprouts
- leafy greens
3. Vegetables Can Help You Feel Full and Satisfied
There's no question that vegetables are more nutrient-dense and filling than sweets.
"Since vegetables contain loads of fiber, vitamins and energy-boosting minerals, it would make sense that adding veggies into your morning routine could leave you feeling full and satisfied, thus decreasing your desire to consume a sugar-filled pastry instead," Elizabeth Gunner, RDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Gunner recommends adding spinach to your breakfast because it's loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber — and is easy to sneak into practically any breakfast like a morning omelet and a berry smoothie. "The vitamins and minerals can help to provide your body with the essential nutrients it needs to function optimally while the fiber can aid in feelings of fullness throughout the day," Gunner says.
She offers another solution: "Sometimes the only way to get rid of a craving is to do the unthinkable: Indulge in that very sugar-laden treat. The reality is that food does not only fulfill nutritional needs — it also fulfills social, emotional, cultural needs and so much more."
How to Eat More Vegetables for Breakfast
Rather than completely overhauling your breakfast, combine bitter greens with typical breakfast staple foods, such as scrambled eggs with kale or a lemon-arugula salad with hard-boiled eggs and toast.
Try including vegetables in your breakfast and see how it makes you feel. If you still find yourself yearning for an apple fritter, cut it in half and enjoy it with your veggie-filled dish on the side.
And find some inspiration from a few of our favorite vegetable-packed breakfast recipes below:
- Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: "Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity"
- AHA: "How much sugar is too much?"
- Frontiers in Bioscience: "Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Health benefits of fruits and vegetables"
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: "The Bitter Taste Receptor Agonist Quinine Reduces Calorie Intake and Increases the Postprandial Release of Cholecystokinin in Healthy Subjects"