After cutting back on sugar and carbs for a while, you understandably start to miss sweets. A common misconception is that you have to skip sweets to meet your goals, which isn’t the case at all. There are plenty of sugar alternatives that fit within the Primal and keto lifestyles, and stevia is one of them.
Stevia is widely used in the low carb community to satisfy sugar cravings or simply add a touch of sweetness to a hot beverage or dessert, but should it be? What is stevia? Is it safe? What is its effect on insulin, if any, and does it have a place in a Primal Blueprint eating strategy? Let’s investigate.
What Is Stevia?
A lot of people categorize stevia as an artificial sweetener, but it’s important to note that stevia is not an artificial sweetener at all – it’s a plant-derived natural alternative to sugar.
Stevia is an herbaceous family of plants, 240 species strong, that grows in sub-tropical and tropical America (mostly South and Central, but some North). Stevia the sweetener refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which you can grow and use as or with tea (it was traditionally paired with yerba mate in South America) or, dried and powdered, as a sugar substitute that you sprinkle on. It’s apparently quite easy to grow, according to the stevia seller who tries to get me to buy a plant or two whenever I’m at the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and the raw leaf is very sweet.
Let me guess. You’ve been on keto for 5-6 months and enthusiastically thinking this is how you’ll finally wrangle your sugar cravings into submission! You’re loading up on healthy fats, avoiding grains, and ditching highly processed, high-carb foods. Yet there’s that incessant nagging. You know, the one that tells you that life is too short not to indulge in that giant Costco muffin or the more paleo-friendly version, another square (or three) of dark chocolate. For a lot of people, including my own clients, moving toward a fat- or protein-dominant diet does the trick. You may have seen this article that Mark wrote earlier this year where he says “it takes two to three days of very-low-carb eating for the liver to start pumping out ketones” and that cravings will “decrease noticeably within three to ten days.” Research backs it up too, concluding that cravings are significantly reduced almost immediately as people get into ketosis. Things like sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and gut dysbiosis are also shown to cause cravings for a variety of physiological reasons. But let’s say you’re getting a solid 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, your stress levels are under control, your gut microbiome is balanced — and you’re still struggling with cravings. Then what? Why Can’t I Quit Sugar? Cravings are often more psychological than they are physiological. Maybe you’ve noticed that too. Maybe you’ve noticed that you start to have cravings any time you have a stressful day or feel anxious or deprived or smell something that reminds you of your favorite snickerdoodle cookie from childhood. In my experience, these are the top 5 emotionally driven reasons you might still be struggling with sugar cravings: 1. Your Diet is Too Restrictive Eliminating certain foods and food-like items like grains, sugar, and refined carbohydrates is a good thing in general. But being too restrictive — or perceiving how you’re eating as a diet can end up backfiring. In fact, this study shows a direct correlation between food restriction and cravings. Researchers looked at food cravings records of 52 women dieting to lose weight and 37 non-dieters and found that the dieters experienced significantly more food cravings, especially for sugary foods like chocolate. 2. Emotional Association Cravings are tied to the brain’s memory center. From celebrating birthdays and holidays with sugary desserts to being rewarded with a treat for good grades, sugar has always been along for the ride. So, it’s no surprise that when you go to a party or achieve a goal, or even feel down, your sugar cravings might feel irresistible. Not to mention the fact that your hippocampus, caudate, and insula (areas of the brain activated by cravings) are also in charge of housing your memories and experiences. 3. State of Mental Health Australian researchers conducted a study on pandemic-related depression, stress, anxiety, and well-being and found that 79% of the participants were struggling with mental health issues due to COVID-19. If you’ve been dealing with a new routine, financial uncertainty, isolation, or … Continue reading “5 Reasons You Can’t Quit Sugar”
Hi folks, in this edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin discusses why fasting might feel harder right now, why you need more than just a good workout plan, and what to eat when you’re sick of having eggs for breakfast every day. Keep your questions coming in the MDA Facebook Group or in the comments below.
Being home all day has been a real test to my willpower. Fasting is harder and I’m hungry all the time. Any tips for navigating this “new normal?” – Stephanie
I’m with you Stephanie. A lot of things feel out of our control right now and with so much uncertainty, just rolling with it might be your best bet for the next few weeks. Does that mean saying “screw it!” and scarfing down a few donuts every morning? Or grazing on chips and cookies throughout the day? No. But it does mean acknowledging your new routine, your new struggles, the fact that you’re under more stress than usual, and of course, the reality that you’re surrounded by food 24/7.
One of the purported benefits of a keto diet is that it will help tame unwanted sugar cravings. On the surface, it makes sense. If you want to get rid of sugar cravings, stop including a bunch of sugar in your diet. Out of sight, out of mind.
Or does it make sense? Maybe following a ketogenic diet where even nutrient-dense carbs are limited turns sweet foods into forbidden fruit (no pun intended). Sugar could theoretically become even more tempting because you can’t have it.
So which is it?