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Un-sweeten Your Tooth
(Stop Your Sugar Cravings)
The “sweet tooth” has been a prominent metaphor from time immemorial which has elevated the food fantasies of many a men. Neonatal and early childhood studies reveal that human beings have a preference of sweet taste.
Carbohydrates such as sugar releases serotonin in the brain, a feel good chemical, that boosts our mood. So is it really any wonder that so many people crave sugar? Most people can relate to reaching for a block of chocolate or a can of soda to get them through an afternoon slump, or as comfort after a bad day.
Causes of Sugar Cravings
Low endorphin levels – Sugar cravings can be caused by a number of factors, both physical and physiological. One important influencing factor is the release of the hormone serotonin, as well as endorphins, when we eat sugary foods. Women may often experience sugar cravings when they are premenstrual, as this is when endorphin levels tend to be lowest. The release of such substances makes us feel good, a state which, understandably, we want to return to as often as possible.
In turn this may lead us to crave sweet carbohydrate containing foods. It is important to realize though, that sugary foods are not the only ones that have these effects. Fruit and complex carbohydrates will also have this effect on the body, although it may not be so immediate.
Drop in blood sugar levels – A drop in blood sugar levels can occur for a number of reasons. For example, if you haven’t eaten for a long time, you are doing exercise or you are stressed. This fall can leave us reaching for the nearest sweet treat to boost sugar levels as soon as possible. Unfortunately, if we use simple carbohydrates to replenish blood sugar levels we are not doing ourselves any favor from a cravings perspective. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar and refined grains cause a spike in blood sugar levels. However, this is followed in quick succession by a drop, leaving you once again craving sweets. It is much better to increase blood glucose at a steady rate by eating complex, low GI carbohydrates, which will keep sugar levels at a steady level for a longer period.
Fungal Infection – A less common cause of sugar cravings is a yeast or fungal infection in the digestive tract. These have a high sugar demand, leaving the host craving sugary foods to feed the infection.
Stop Sugar Cravings
Remove temptations – Go through your refrigerator and food pantry. Get rid of the cakes, ice cream, cookies, etc. When you go food shopping, make a conscious effort not to buy sweets. A good habit to get into is to take a walk instead of eating dessert. If, after 10 minutes, you still want sweets, gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash or brush your teeth. The aftertaste doesn’t mix well with sweets and you’ll probably lose your craving quickly.
Get distracted – By drawing your attention to something else, you will soon forget about your cravings. Whether it’s watching a television show, reading a good book, dancing to your favorite song, playing the piano, or even just taking a nap.
Avoid artificial sweeteners – Although these might seem like an acceptable alternative to sugar, without the calories and weight gain, they are in fact thought to increase sugar cravings. Foods containing these substances taste sweet; therefore the body expects a rush of sugar to follow. When this sugar hit doesn’t eventuate, cravings kick in.
Replace sweets and sugar with fruits – The sugars in fruits are digested differently than normal table sugar or sugar in candy and processed foods, mainly because table or processed sugar contains about 50% fructose, which is difficult for your liver to metabolize. Fruits contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and good phytonutrients, all of which help counteract the bad metabolic effects of fructose and glucose. The fiber in fruit also slows the absorption of the sugars so you don’t get as high of a sugar rush.
Read labels – You might be surprised to learn how much sugar there is in a lot of the foods that you eat. Being aware of sugar content can help you avoid high-sugar foods and kick the addiction.
Control blood sugar levels – Choosing low GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, pasta and oatmeal causes a moderate rise in blood sugar levels that stays constant for a longer period. This means you experience less blood sugar fluctuations and less sugar cravings. High GI foods such as white rice, potatoes, refined grains, and sweets cause a large increase in blood sugar, followed by a large drop that can lead to cravings. Try to base all your meals around low GI carbohydrates for best results.
Drink water – Sometimes we mistake hunger for thirst. If you feel a craving for sugar, first try drinking a large glass of water. If you are still hungry ten minutes later, have a small snack, but often this slight dehydration is misinterpreted as a call for food.
Eat regularly – By eating regular meals and snacks, you limit the likelihood of drops in blood sugar levels. It is important to have at least three meals a day and if necessary a couple of small snacks between meals. A good meal strategy would be to eat many small healthy meals spaced two or three hours apart throughout the day.
Eat protein – Protein deficiency tricks the body into having major sugar cravings. Include a small portion of protein in every meal. Mix it up a little as the key lies in getting the right type of protein. Try adding legumes, beans, nuts, steak, almonds, chicken, eggs, string cheese, fish, or a scoop of protein powder.
Add whole grain – Whole grains have high quality fiber in them which fills you up without causing any major spikes in insulin in the same way as other carbohydrates. Do away with pasta, white rice, and white bread. Incorporate whole grains in your meals such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and rye.