What if you could take a pill that would slash your cravings for brownies, cookies, and ice cream? Yup, such a pill exists — and people are taking notice.
Read on to find out more about sugar craving pills, how they are said to work, and whether or not they’re safe and effective.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
There are clear, biological reasons why we all crave sugar from time to time. “Our body relies on glucose as a source of energy to fuel our organs and nervous system. As such, we often crave sugar which is a reliable source of glucose for the body,” says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, obesity medicine physician scientist and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Stanford explains that the brain, particularly the hypothalamus, influences why some of us crave sugar more than others.
Certain circumstances influence whether or not people crave something sweet, too. “They may be tired and stressed, or they may be consuming a diet lacking in calories or essential micronutrients,” says Summer Yule, M.S., R.D.N.
Other triggers for sugar cravings include low blood sugar, pregnancy, thirst, and certain prescription medications, Yule says.
How Do Sugar Craving Pills Work?
First, let’s talk about what these pills are made of. Several drugs and supplements, including neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor modulators (a long-winded name for a type of drug also known to reduce nicotine cravings) have been linked to reduced sugar cravings. But we’ll focus on pills made from the much hyped — and slightly more researched — Gymnema sylvestre.
The woody, climbing plant native to India, Africa, and Australia has been deemed a “sugar destroyer” and found to not only control cravings for the sweet stuff, but actually alter the way sugar-laden foods taste.
In fact, gymnemic acids found in the plants’ leaves eradicate sweet flavors so much that sugar is said to taste like sand, while fruit tastes like an “acid bomb.”
“Many of these pills work so that they bond to specific receptors on the taste buds to block sugar activation,” Dr. Stanford says. “This decreases one’s desires for sweet food.”
Can You Beat Sugar Cravings With a Pill?
Technically, yes. Research indicates that pills made of Gymnema sylvestre can reduce the sweetness and flavor of foods. Pills meant to curb sugar cravings can be a helpful tool for people with diabetes as well as for people who want to lose weight.
“There is some evidence that changing the perception of sweet foods may lead individuals to eat less, at least short-term,” Yule says. “This decrease in calorie intake could lead to weight loss — at least in theory — if it is sustained over time.”
But there are caveats.
First: “The effect may only last 30 to 60 minutes,” Yule says. So a holiday meal with a full dessert spread may prove challenging if you don’t time things right.
Secondly, research suggests pills made to reduce sugar cravings may have an opposite effect — in one study, participants craved more sugar when they lost their sensitivity to sweetness.
And thirdly, taking pills may not be the safest, most sustainable approach to reduce your sugar cravings.
Are Sugar Craving Pills Safe?
We’re not so sure yet. “There is not a lot of long term data on these pills, which is why I recommend caution,” Dr. Stanford says.
We do know that sugar craving pills made from Gymnema sylvestre should should not be taken with certain medications without the approval of a physician.
“Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid [these pills] due to limited information on safety,” Yule says.
How to Manage Sugar Cravings Without Pills
Sugar can in fact be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. “The term sugar includes the natural sugars in fruits and dairy products,” Yule says, “and these absolutely can be a part of a healthy diet.”
We should, however, limit the amount of added sugars we eat. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that no more than 10 percent of our daily calories come from added sugars. Rather than focus on altering the flavor of foods to reduce sugar cravings, Yule suggests sticking to foods with natural sugars when you have a hankering for something sweet.
It’s also a good idea to look at your diet as a whole. “One of the best ways to manage cravings of all types is to make sure you are consuming regular and balanced meals,” Yule says.
That means incorporating whole foods that contain three key components to keep you satisfied throughout the day. “Meals that are packed with protein, fiber, and water will help you stay full between meals so you may be less likely to reach for sugary snacks,” Yule says. Keep a water bottle on hand to stay well hydrated so you can prevent your body from misinterpreting thirst cues for hunger.
Whether your goal is to get healthier or lose weight, the most sustainable combo you can rely on is a healthy, balanced diet and regularly exercising — not a magic pill.