'Tis The Season for sweet treats and eats.
How many times have you looked down at an empty bag of candy, scraped the bottom of a carton of Braum's ice cream or devoured half-a-cake after initially going in for one small taste?
Sugar throws a sweet grenade into our perfectly planned diets and it is a key ingredient to better understand because it can feel addictive, to the point that our cravings for it consume our thoughts and crush our willpower.
If you are feeling utterly hooked on the sweet stuff, not to worry. There is nothing wrong with you. We all crave something sweet from time-to-time, but some of us are just more addicted than others.
In this blog-post, it is my intention to help take back control of your diet this Holiday Season, and better explain why your cravings for sugar get out of hand and what can you do to stop it.
First - What is Sugar?
The word "sugar" gets thrown around a lot like some form of evil component found in food, but sugar is a broad term. All sugars are essentially carbohydrates. They can be found in a number of foods - including many fruits and vegetables, as well as processed foods - and there is more than one type.
Some sugars, like naturally occurring ones found in nutritious foods, shouldn't be avoided and can actually have a positive impact on your health. However, added sugars are different. Here's why . . .
Added sugars are simple carbohydrates extracted from plants and typically processed further to remove impurities. These "refined" carbs are then added to other foods and drinks as a source of sweetener. The process of extracting sugar (from whole foods) strips away beneficial nutrition and leaves a carb-rich ingredient that is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. Of course, some added sugars are found in nature, like honey and maple syrup. Although one could argue these are extracted and processed by mother nature.
Regardless of how it is produced (natural or refined), added sugars are a source of empty calories in the diet, and too much of either can lead to weight gain (when calories are exceeded), mess with your blood sugar levels and contribute to other health issues.
Second - How Many Grams a Day Should a Person Consume?
Cutting back on added sugars in the diet is a great way to decrease calories without sacrificing nutrition. It can also help manage your energy levels, appetite, and mood better with improved blood sugar control.
The US Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping added sugar intake below 10 percent of total calories consumed and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g of added sugar per day.
I do not drink any kind of soda-pop or carbonated drink whatsoever EXCEPT for Topo Chico Mineral Water or others like S.Pellegrino, Perrier, or Ozarka Seltzer Water and this is why: a 20 oz. bottle of soda-pop contains an average 65g of sugar, which is equivalent to 1.77 shot glasses filled with sugar.
It doesn't help that added sugar is in just about every packaged food item you can think of, from bread, kid's cereals to fat-free salad dressing. Also, there over 50 different names for added sugar on the ingredients label. Your best bet for cutting back on sugar is to cook your own food at home where you can control what gets added or learn to read the ingredients label and look for ingredients with sugar or syrup in the name, or that end in "-ose".
Note: The average American consumes anywhere from a quarter to a half-pound of sugar a day. So processed foods account for nearly 90% of added sugar intake.
Third - Ways to Curb Your Sugar Cravings
Even when trying to eliminate sugar and avoid the temptation in the first place, cravings can still occur. To help combat some of this, stick to a balanced and healthy approach to dieting. Here are some of the best ways to improve your relationship with food and help calm sweet cravings in the process.
1. Increase Your Calories
Feed your body. Find out how many calories you need each day and don't cut too low. This will help control your appetite overall, can also improve your energy levels and help keep your mood in check. It is possible to lose weight without starving yourself.
2. Eat a Healthy Balanced Diet
The quality of your calories also matters. Eating more protein, more nutrient dense foods, and including fiber-rich foods may help.
Protein intake has often been associated with improved appetite and weight management, so it is no surprise that studies suggest including meat or fish with your meals can curb sugar cravings. In fact. in one study, increased protein intake helped reduce cravings a by 60%.
Fiber-rich foods, like whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes, are associated with improved appetite, blood sugar control and improved weight management. Consume broccoli, turkey, beef, potatoes, eggs, whole grains, and green beans for chromium; dairy, shellfish, dill and parsley for vanadium; whole grains, beans, spinach and pumpkin seeds for more magnesium; and meat, shellfish, beans, nuts and dairy for zinc.
3. Opt for Healthier Sweets
When cravings hit, you may be able to satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier alternatives like fruit and sugar-free gum.
Fruits contain natural sources of sugar that are less likely to mess with your blood sugar and energy levels due to their high fiber and nutrient content. They also contain significantly less sugar per volume compared to sweets and desserts. Try reaching for some avocado, berries, apple, banana, oranges, pear, or mango next time you need a fix.
4. Drink More Water
Dehydration can cause cravings. Since your body uses up glycogen stores more quickly during dehydration, drinking water could help calm your desire to eat more carbs.
More importantly, opting for water helps you cut out sugar-sweetened drinks and soda that are going to enable your sugar addition. Not a water drinker? Try sparkling water with added fruit and herbs for a sugar-free soda option that will help keep you hydrated.
5. Stay Busy
Keeping your mind active, especially while trying to restrict certain foods, can strengthen your willpower. Keep yourself occupied by finding activities that allow you to be creative or think strategically. This could be reading a book, playing a game, spending time with family, or just going for a long walk.
6. Cut Out Artificial Sweeteners
Some research has linked intakes of artificial sweeteners with sugar cravings. These sweeteners are sugar and calorie free but mimic the taste of sugar, which can leave you hanging for a reward response. Eating a lot of foods with artificial sweeteners can also encourage the intake of sweet flavored foods by developing a preference for them.
If you are looking to manage your sugar cravings, it might be worth cutting out artificial sweeteners as well or considering them a source of sugar in the diet, at least to start.
7. Manage Stress
High amounts of stress can cause an increase in cortisol, a hormone that causes increased appetite and cravings for carbs in particular. Finding ways to decrease stress or manage it in a more positive way, may be an effective strategy for controlling your cravings.
To help manage your stress levels try some of the following:
Increase your physical activity
Meditation or yoga
Take more time to take care of yourself and slow down - go for a walk outside, get a massage, take a nap, read a book, etc.
Surround yourself with positivity - spend time with close family, friends, or pets, watch a funny movie, or listen to music.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep can also cause cravings for unhealthy foods due to changes in appetite-regulating hormones and low energy levels.
If you are sleep deprived and feel like it may be affecting your diet, aim to get at least seven hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep a night. Here are some tips to help you get more sleep:
Limit distractions before bed by cutting off the TV, putting your phone away, and settling into a dark, quiet space.
If your thoughts are racing (thinking about all the things you need to get done), keep a notepad by your bed and write these things down. Then put them out of sight and mind and deal with them in the morning.
Eliminate all sources of light and sound. Use a sleep mask or earplugs if you need to.
Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
Eat a balanced diet with foods that help promote sleep.
9. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of being more present and aware of what you are putting into your body. If your relationship with food is a constant struggle, learning to eat more mindfully can help.
Research continues to suggest that mindfulness and intuitive eating can remove restrictions and negative thinking around certain foods and promote a healthier relationship with dieting, weight management and help address problematic eating behaviors such as food addiction.
You can learn mindful eating using a few tricks for slowing down and thinking things through.
One simple move is a good start when considering this lower sugar pathway. My recommendation is to eliminate all soda-pop (sugary) drinks and then grow from there . . .