Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Jan

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings

sugarDear Mark,

I do pretty well in the fitness department, love my veggies and get plenty of protein. My problem is that I can’t seem to shake my sugar cravings. Suggestions?

I get some version of this question on a fairly regular basis. A common theory says that we evolved to crave sweet tastes in order to seek out healthy fruits to diversify our diets. The problem comes in the current age when our inclination is bombarded with the likes of Coco Puffs, Snickers and pudding packs.

Research has found (surprise, surprise) that sugar has addictive properties complete with a serotonin rise and crash as well as some cranky withdrawal symptoms. And high fructose corn syrup? I could write a monolithic rant on the stuff. Though it’s multiple times sweeter than processed sugar, high fructose corn syrup doesn’t trip the satiety signal in our brains like sugar does. It’s the bottomless pit of sugars.

The goal, then, is to feed your body’s real needs. We did a piece on hunger a few weeks ago that talked about the body’s physical instinct to fulfill all its five tastes, sweet being one. Try working in some fruit (preferably a low glycemic option like berries) with each meal. Additionally, use spices like cinnamon, coriander or nutmeg as well as splashes of lemon, lime or pomegranate juices to add naturally sweet flavor to your foods. Additionally, cinnamon, nuts and a chromium picolinate supplement all help stabilize blood sugar, which can help keep those dip-related cravings at bay.

Keep in mind also that sugar cravings can signal that you aren’t feeding your body properly in other ways. Lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, caffeine crashes and plain hunger go hand in hand with sugar cravings. Research has even shown that a deficiency in alpha-linolenic acid (those handy little omega-3s) can dull a person’s perception of sweetness, encouraging him/her to crave more sugar to satisfy the natural taste. You gotta love those ALAs!

Another suggestion I have for battling the sugar beast: learn to enjoy your food more. Cravings often have psychological dimensions. Just two familiar words: comfort food. Step up your game a bit to make your meals even more flavorful and satisfying, and don’t eat on the run. Also, come up with some healthy indulgences like a great tasting herbal tea around midmorning or some strawberries with mascarpone cheese to get you through an afternoon slump.

In addition to plenty of rest, hydration and solid nutrition, exercise is absolutely essential in combating serious and chronic cravings. As I mentioned above, sugar raises serotonin levels, and that boost can easily figure into cravings. But guess what? Exercise raises serotonin as well. If you can, plan your workouts around the time of day when cravings tend to hit. If the cravings descend in the middle of the afternoon (as is common for many people) and can’t get away from work, find an excuse to step away and run up a few flight of stairs for your mission (real or concocted).

Uwe Hermann Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

How to Cheat

The Best Low Carb Fruits (and Worst)

DietHack: How to Manage Your Food Cravings

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