You know the drill – you eat lunch, then soon after you’re heading for the vending machine for a chocolate bar. Or you need another coffee with sugar at 3pm. And how many of us are thinking about dessert before we’ve even finished (or ordered) dinner? Why does this happen, and how can you take back control of your sugar intake?
1. Cut the salt
The first step to reducing sugar cravings is to eat less salt as salty foods make us crave sweet foods. Think about when you eat a pizza or sushi with lots of soy sauce – we usually want alcohol or a soft drink with it, or a chocolate gelato straight afterwards.
2. Deal with candida
If you’re battling a sugar addiction, it’s worth investigating if you have an overgrowth of the yeast candida in your gut. This can cause a strong desire to eat sweet foods as the yeast feeds off sugar.
It’s easy to get and can be easy to pass on through physical contact. Anything that puts your gut bacteria or flora out of balance will cause it, such as taking the contraceptive pill, antibiotics, vomiting, stress and consuming too many sweet things.
Treat candida by taking a good broad-spectrum probiotic, enjoyingmanuka honey, trying herbal medicines such as pau d’arco and horopito (available from a herbalist or health food store), and avoiding alcohol, refined grains and any foods that are high in sugar.
3. Chew mindfully
Chewing properly and mindfully is vital. Complex carbohydrates – such asfruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and legumes – have a sweet flavour that’s only released if they’re thoroughly chewed. Getting your sweet hit from these foods is far more nutritionally beneficial than eating handfuls of lollies or a donut.
Chewing also helps you assimilate the nutrients in your food; wolfing down a meal means you miss out on all that goodness, leaving you tired and a bit off, which is likely because you’re malnourished. And guess what you’ll crave then? Sugar.
4. Get sweet support
You may need some sweet support while you’re going through sugar withdrawal. Try the herb gymnema, which closes the tastebuds that detect sweet flavours and helps balance blood sugar levels, reducing your cravings. Ginseng and fenugreek can also help balance your blood sugar and take the edge off cravings.
Supplement with chromium picolinate, which balances blood sugar, and try stevia, a herb that’s 300 times sweeter than sugar and is readily available in a powder form.
5. Find a replacement
There’s no need to feel guilty about wanting something sweet. It’s a flavour like any other – sour, pungent, bitter, salty and astringent – and they all need to be included in our diet.
Depriving yourself only leads to bingeing, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. Instead, choose to eat complex sweeteners as a substitute to refined ones. Try ingredients such as maple, raw agave or brown rice syrup, raw honey and other complex sugars such as rapadura, muscovado and coconut palm sugar.
Yacon, a syrup derived from a South American root veg, is available from health food stores. It’s low GI so it has little impact on blood sugar levels, and it’s also a natural prebiotic, which helps improve gut health.
When it comes to chocolate, there’s no need to avoid it, just choose one that’s 70 or 80 per cent cocoa, raw and organic. It’s still high in sugar, so eat it sparingly, and enjoy it.
Are you a worrier?
The effect our emotions have on our health is becoming more known. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a sweet flavour is associated with the spleen and stomach, and this is where we store worry and obsessive thoughts. If you go over and over things in your mind, you’re using up a lot of energy and that needs to be replaced, often by something sweet. This craving could be for sweet treats or a wine at the end of the day. Try to take time out for yourself daily, and ease stress with activities such as yoga and meditation.