Does your chocolate croissant at breakfast leave you craving something sweet just an hour or two later? Are you surviving the afternoon dip by reaching for a tempting slice of cake, a packet of sweets or a fizzy drink? Eating sugar and carbs is a quick fix that might satisfy your hunger and give you a welcome boost of energy in the short term, but will actually leave you craving more sugar in the long run. If this sounds like you, then you need to learn how to satisfy your sugar cravings in a healthy way!
Sugar cravings are normal
Global sugar consumption has increased threefold in the last half century. Hardly surprising when you consider that our bodies are naturally programmed to crave sugar and sugar is so widely available. Our strong desire for sugar stems from a deep-rooted need for micronutrients, the type of which are found in fruit. Christine Gerbstadt, a dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association explains that, “sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth,” This is because sugar is a carbohydrate and carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes us feel good. They also discharge powerful endorphins, which are known to produce a natural ‘high’.
Common causes of a sudden increase in sugar cravings
Our normal sugar cravings may increase under certain conditions, such as during times of significant stress for example. Indeed research conducted at the University of Michigan reveals that sugar cravings can triple in intensity when raised levels of stress hormones are present in our body. Hormone levels are responsible for more powerful sugar cravings in premenstrual women too. The low levels of endorphins associated with this particular time of month, prompt many women to turn to chocolate and other sweet solutions as a result. Finally a number of digestive ailments (e.g. Candida) caused by large volumes of ‘bad’ bacteria (which feed voraciously on sugar), can also precipitate a sharp increase in sugar cravings.
Why some sugar is good for us
The good news is that sugar (in moderation) is beneficial and without this valuable source of energy we simply wouldn’t be able to function. Our body depends on a regular supply of calories to fuel it. And sugar, which is broken down from carbohydrates, is our body’s fuel of choice for the brain and muscles and is the most accessible for our organs and tissue. Sugar provides us with sufficient amounts of energy fast, which for our hunter / gatherer ancestors was an absolute necessity for survival.
Why too much sugar is bad for us
Harvard nutritionist Walter Willett is keen to point out, that in the absence of immediate exertion or starvation, sugar can deliver too much energy, too fast, causing our blood sugar levels to spike. This is rapidly followed by a sharp dip, which results in the type of acute sugar cravings that you’re no doubt very familiar with. These days we often eat far more sugar than our body requires because its hidden in a number of processed foods such as sauces, soups, bread, meat, salad dressings and soft drinks that we don’t suspect. As we also tend to lead a more sedentary lifestyle, we require less energy in the form of sugar than we ever did before. Over consumption of sugar not only triggers sugar cravings, it can also lead to a number of serious health conditions including:
• A weakened immune system
• Reactive hypoglycaemia
• Premature aging and osteoporosis
• Fungal infections including Candida Albicans
• High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and heart disease
• Autoimmune diseases
• Learning difficulties and ADHD in children
According to Dr. Abraham Hoffer, who has been studying the effects of sugar on our health for over 40 years, it takes approximately 15- 20 years of steady refined sugar and junk food consumption for an individual to develop a chronic disease like diabetes. Yet it doesn’t take a lot of sugar to put you at risk. Hoffer’s statistics reveal that as soon as consumption exceeds 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, the risk of chronic illness increases dramatically.
Choosing the right type of sugar
The type of sugar that we consume is important – highly refined, white sugar, which has had all of its valuable nutrients, including fibre, minerals, enzymes and vitamins, totally stripped, and is chemically bleached (which makes it hard for our bodies to digest), is best avoided. Natural sugars derived from raw fruit and grains contain significantly more nutrients and fibre and, as these are absorbed more slowly, they are far less likely to cause blood levels to spike. That’s why certified addiction specialist, Judy Chambers, LCSW, CAS, recommends having foods such as nuts, seeds and dried fruits, close to hand for whenever a sugar craving strikes.
3 sweet treats you can say ‘yes’ to!
Below are three delicious superfood treats, which contain sugar in a natural form that both satisfies your craving for something sweet and delivers an abundance of energy in an entirely healthy way.
Chocoholics can breathe a collective sigh of relief – you needn’t turn your back on cocoa in order to appease your sugar cravings in a healthy manner. Raw, organic chocolate bars are made from raw cacao, which is crammed with wholesome nutrients and completely unprocessed. Raw chocolate contains plenty of that all-important serotonin too, which means that it’s capable of satisfying even the most powerful of sugar cravings. And believe it or not, regular consumption of raw chocolate may even help you to shed a few extra pounds, thanks to its high content of chromium.
Goji berries are arguably the most nutritious fruit on the planet. These intensely sweet tasting berries are certainly the richest source of vitamin C and contain more beta-carotene than carrots. And goji berries are packed with powerful antioxidants that help strengthen our immune system, lower cholesterol levels, prevent premature aging and even reduce our risk of both cancer and heart disease. Whether enjoyed as a satisfying snack on their own or combined with a variety of nuts, seeds and other dried fruits in a home made trail mix, these life prolonging, strength building and libido enhancing berries will keep your sugar cravings firmly at bay. You can also add them to your favourite smoothie or make a rejuvenating tea, both of which are a perfect alternative to standard fizzy drinks.
Banana chips are deliciously sweet and fruity yet contain only natural sugars, making them the perfect treat for children and an ideal snack between meals. Just one handful of these chewy chips is equivalent to one of your recommended daily five portions of fruit. An excellent source of fibre and potassium, banana chips can be enjoyed straight from the bag, whenever a sugar craving hits. They’re also great cut into small pieces and mixed with nuts, goji berries and other dried fruits, scattered over desserts or used as an ingredient in raw cakes, biscuits and other sweet treats.