10 Tips for controlling cravings

Got sugar on the mind? Chances are you're craving the chewy, chocolatey sweets you devoured during the holidays.
According to Sofia Segounis, a nutritionist at Truestar Health, a health and wellness clinic in Toronto, people develop sugar cravings because of an imbalance of the insulin hormone. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body secretes in order to convert the sugar in your body into energy -- insulin controls blood sugar levels. After eating your favourite sweets you experience an energy surge but then your blood sugar level drops, making you crave more sugar. You crave sugar because your body gets accustomed to having high blood sugar levels.
But too much sugar can make you feel moody and tired and it can weaken your immune system. Moodiness stems from the insulin imbalance and fatigue can settle in because the quick energy surge comes all at once. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar very fast and therefore you don't get a steady flow of energy -- that's why the surge's byproduct is often an energy slump. Excess sugar can weaken your immunity by suppressing the immune system's macrophage cells, which act as an important defense shield by removing unwanted substances from your blood such as bacteria and viruses.

If you want to jump off the sugar bandwagon, read these 10 tips to banish your sweet cravings.

1. Aim for hormonal balance
Sugar and high-refined carbohydrates like white rice, white pasta, and white flour are quickly converted into blood sugar and cause insulin levels to rise. Segounis says your diet should consist of a balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats at every meal. The proteins and fat slow the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, giving you a constant supply of energy over a longer period of time and keeping you feeling full longer.

2. Eat small frequent meals throughout the day
Eating regularly gives you energy throughout the day and regulates your blood sugar levels because sugar trickles into your bloodstream gradually as opposed to spiking quickly after eating sweets. Also, choose foods that are high in fibre. The higher the fibre content, the slower the sugar enters your bloodstream. Whole-wheat pasta, kamut pasta, brown rice, whole grain breads, and multigrain breads are all high in fibre. Other good sources, and great snacks, include vegetables, cheese and high-fibre crackers, and flaxseed, which you can sprinkle on yogurt or cottage cheese.

3. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a quick fix
Raid the fruit tray instead of the cookie jar. Pure fruit juice and fruit and nut bars will also give you a hint of sweet without the excess sugar.

4. Take vitamin supplements
Chewable vitamin C tablets help control sugar cravings. Natural vitamin C is found in citrus and kiwi fruit. Chromium helps the body maintain blood sugar levels and is found naturally in brewer's yeast, grains and cereals. Magnesium also helps to regulate blood sugar levels and is found in nuts, grains, beans, dark green vegetables, fish, and meat.

5. Drink herbal teas
Fruity herbal teas like orange peach, strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry taste sweet without adding sugar. Green and white teas may not taste as sweet, but they have the added benefit of antioxidants.

6. Read labels
There are hidden sugars in foods that you may not be aware of. Peanut butter has sugar in it, for example. Anything that says fructose (a sugar found in honey), glucose (found in most carbohydrate foods), and sucrose (common table sugar) means it contains sugar. Beware of foods that are labelled "fat free." Sugar is sometimes used to replace the flavour that is lost when the fat is removed. Conversely "sugar free" on the label means there may be added fat.

7. Chose natural sweeteners
Natural alternatives to refined sugars are pure maple syrup, barley malt, rice syrup and sucanat (granulated sugar cane juice). These are "healthier" forms of sugar, with more nutrients than regular refined sugar. The natural sweeteners are not released into your bloodstream as quickly as refined sugar, therefore lessening the likelihood of spiking your blood sugar levels.

8. Drink plenty of water
Making sure you're well hydrated will curb the urge to eat something whether it's sugar or not. So drink water to alleviate your tendency to choose a sweet snack.

9. Avoid temptation
Use restraint at the grocery store. Remember that if sweets are not in your house, you are less likely to eat them.

10. Don't substitute diet items for the regular sugar version
Diet pop may not be a better alternative to regular pop just because it has less sugar in it. It often contains potentially toxic sweeteners like aspartame. Consumption of more than approximately 40 mg of aspartame per kilogram of a person's body weight is considered toxic, says Segounis. She adds that while most people aren't ingesting that much aspartame, why bother risking your health? Instead of artificial sweeteners, Segounis suggests opting for the sugar derivative sucralose (chlorinated sugar).

A healthy dose of willpower is needed in combination with these 10 tips, warns Segounis, especially during the first week when you will still experience sugar cravings. After you get over this period of sugar withdrawal your sugar cravings will be reduced, you'll have more energy and be healthier overall.


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