Can sour flavors defeat sugar cravings?

whitegrapefruitGot sugar cravings?  Try cancelling them out with sour.

It may sound counter-intuitive.  You’ve got chocolate bars or ice cream or cookies on your mind, but you eat a grapefruit and all thoughts of sweets evaporate.  Truthfully, there’s no research I know of that ‘proves’ this works, but it seems to help me.  It even borrows slightly from some of the popular celebrity “cleanses” that include vinegar or lemon juice.  And, since most of the foods we consider to be sour are a lot healthier than most of the sweets we crave, there’s not much downside to fighting sweet cravings with sour.

Try it out

The easiest way to see if this helps you is for afternoon snacks.  That’s a common time for people to crave sweets, either because of hunger or habit or some combination of both.  You have to be prepared, because sour foods aren’t what you typically find at a coffee shop or convenience store or break room or your own pantry.  You might need to pack your own foods from home or seek out take-out or restaurants with suitably sour items.  Here are 10 sour food suggestions:

  1. Grapefruit: Luckily grapefruit is in season, so eat a whole grapefruit.  It’s around 100 calories, loaded with vitamin C, potassium and other vitamins and minerals.
  2. Pickled vegetables: You can sometimes buy these in jars, or prepare your own version by mixing a variety of chunky vegetables with vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper.  Asian cuisine features many pickled vegetable choices.
  3. Tossed green salad: Dress with a vinaigrette, or just vinegar and salt and pepper.  Avoid prepared dressings that have added sugar sweeteners.
  4. Pickles: A large sour dill cucumber pickle could do the trick sometimes.
  5. Kefir: Plain kefir is very sour, but in a pleasing way.  Bonus points: high protein and high calcium.
  6. Raw fruits that are more sour than sweet (especially less ripe ones): blackberries, kiwis, some strawberries, some apples. A squeeze of lemon juice adds sour and can also keep sliced fruit from browning.
  7. Raw tomato: Best to use vine ripe summer tomatoes.  Slice and season with salt, pepper and maybe an herb.  Add vinegar if you want.
  8. Chopped vegetable salad with vinegar dressing: I like to use strong-flavored vegetables like broccoli, radish and cauliflower.  That way you get the benefit of the more bitter flavors added to the vinegar.
  9. Plain unsweetened yogurt: plain yogurt is less sour than kefir, and can be higher protein if you use Greek style.
  10. A chopped meat or fish salad with lemon juice or vinegar, seasoned with herbs or spices.  Smoked salmon tossed with a bit of lemon juice; leftover cooked chicken tossed with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper; pulled or BBQ pork seasoned with cider vinegar.  The list could go on.  Added bonus of meat salads: high protein so they’re very satisfying.

What about …

  • Straight lemon juice or vinegar?  I don’t recommend that.  Those aren’t filling on their own, and are extremely sour.  Plus too much acidic liquid like that could affect your teeth.
  • Sour candies?  No. By definition they have added sugar, or are sweetened in some way, defeating the purpose.
  • Other citrus fruit? Oranges and tangerines are delicious and may do the trick for you, with a combination of sour and sweet.  Feel free to try them, since they’re in season and flavor will be best.
  • Sour juices?  Grapefruit juice or orange juice might also work for you, but my preferred recommendation is to eat the whole fruit.  But here’s a little trick if you want to use juice: buy tomato juice or a blended vegetable juice (not a sweetened one!) and add a teaspoon of cider vinegar to the glass.  The very slight tang blends well with the vegetable flavors.  Almost like drinking salad.

What if you crave sugar for dessert?

You probably don’t want to eat a pickle or a chopped salad for dessert.  But you might opt for a grapefruit or an apple.  Or try this trick: when serving a meal, serve the tossed (or chopped) salad as the last course, sort of like a palate cleanser.  While you aren’t officially calling it dessert, it can work to fight off sugar cravings, so you don’t need dessert.

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