Does that morning pastry leave you craving another treat two hours later? Or do you grab a candy bar to cope with your afternoon slump … and then reach for a cola to get out of your post-slump slump? Sugar cravings can get to the best of us; thankfully, Ali Miller, registered dietitian and nutrition expert from The Life Long Weigh, explains how to stop the cravings for good and shares a recipe to curb those cravings.
Why do we get sugar cravings?
The craving for sweets may be hardwired in our brain. Evolution has promoted the intake of sweet foods as bitter tannic or alkaloid-based foods tend to be correlated with poisonous plants, so the preference for sweet became a survival tactic. Also, our first taste as babies is sweet from initial breast milk. Carbohydrates stimulate serotonin and endorphin release which aids in a feel-good signaling in our brain. The intake of simple or refined sugars accelerates this process which leads to a rapid pick me up or “sugar high”; however, just as rapid as we get a kick, we notice an almost more impactful drop or slump in energy levels and mood.
This can truly create a vicious cycle of excessive sugar intake a candy bar after a high-carbohydrate lunch, then a soda as a pick-me-up following the candy bar, and so on.
So how much is too much?
Americans are drastically over consuming sugar at an average of 28 teaspoons of added sugar a day, way over the recommended limit of 6-9 teaspoons! This is easy to do with sugars finding their way into products that used to be sugar-free and I don’t mean artificially sweetened! Now days, breads, sauces, dressings, and virtually any processed food is drowned in sugar.
So what foods are best to choose?
All sugars are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are simple sugars. With sugar present in virtually every food product the answer is simple, avoid processed food products in general. Sticking to fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, nuts, seeds, and non-processed foods will lead us to a low-sugar diet aiding in weight loss, decreased cravings, and balanced energy levels.
Although the concept is simple, the application may be more difficult in our “Fast Food Nation”. I advise starting small, identify a couple simple whole food snacks to incorporate into your daily routine and go from there.
Use fruits as an option to distribute natural sugars paired with antioxidants and fiber to spread sugar throughout your day. Pair these fruits with nuts/seeds or cheese to balance your blood sugar levels and sustain your energy levels.
What about artificial sweeteners?
I don’t encourage these due to delayed sugar cravings. Research supports that people that consume diet products typically hold an additional 10-15 pounds, this may be due to a Pavlov dog effect.beyond this physiologically insulin is released due to this stimuli and excess insulin leads to..
Controversies on some of the chemical sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet), may lead to psychological and neurological damage as aspartame breaks down to methanol a toxic byproduct. Some have questioned FDA approval; however to date it is still recognized as safe due to its rapid metabolism.
- Saccharine (Sweet N’ Low) was removed from the market due to its correlation with tumors in rat studies (2001 label was removed due to varied metabolism in humans vs. rats).
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Sugar alcohols can cause GI disturbances (at 50 g/day or more) to include gas and bloating.
What are the best sweeteners to choose?
Best sweeteners to choose from include:
- Maple Syrup
And what about high fructose corn syrup?
Primary concern is its over-abundance in our food system and the fact that it is twice as sweet as cane sugar. Fructose is metabolized differently than glucose and leads to fatty liver and increased fat distribution in the body. Also, the processing to create HFCS results in mercury as a by-product. Some physicians are also restricting it due to the role in hypertension.
How do you recommend taming a sugar craving?
Ali’s tips for Taming a Sugar Craving:
- Consume fruits as snacks
- Pair carbohydrate foods with a protein
- Eat frequently
- Skip diet or artificial sweeteners
- Indulge occasionally
Banana Cocoa Frozen Whip
Source: Ali Miller, RD, LD
This light decadent treat is simple to whip up and serves as a healthy alternative to a chocolate dipped treat. Bananas provide a rich source of potassium and magnesium adding in blood pressure management and decreasing sugar cravings.
- ¼ cup almond milk, unsweetened
- 3 bananas, frozen
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- Pinch of sea salt
Optional: chopped walnuts
Blend ingredients in food processor or blender until light and fluffy. Top with chopped walnuts if desired!