After a season of overindulgence, the new year often prompts us to clean up the diet. For me, the focus this new year has been to eliminate refined sugar once again. I was reminded how frustrating it can be to put your mind and spirit to something so clearly, only to find that the physical desire for sugar still remains. So here we revisit how we can help ourselves to eliminate these ever so powerful cravings.
What causes sugar cravings?
The body (and in particular the brain) requires glucose (sugar) in the blood to survive, and is constantly burning glucose for fuel (energy). Typically the body is able to regulate the amount of blood sugar in the blood through the secretion of insulin from the pancreas, but if this mechanism is not working optimally we may become hyper- or hypoglycaemic or develop Diabetes. But even if we don’t suffer from these conditions, we will all experience fluctuations in blood sugar throughout the day. When our blood sugar drops lower than the normal range though, we can experience any or some of the following symptoms: sugar cravings, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, anger, headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, dizziness and thirst. Here are some factors that can contribute to a spike/drop in blood sugar:
- Eating simple/refined sugars or carbohydrates
- Skipping meals, and not eating brekfast
- Heavy alcohol consumption (more than 2 units)
- Macro nutrient imbalance
- Stress and overwork
- Lack of sleep or adequate rest
- Heightened emotions
How do we regulate blood sugar to reduce sugar cravings naturally?
- Reduce/eliminate caffeine. For some people, caffeine can cause a spike (and then drop) in blood sugar. Take note of how you feel for the 1-4 hours after you drink coffee. If you notice any of the symptoms described above, then you may need to limit or cut coffee and/or tea
- Follow a proper eating rhythm. Blood sugar fluctuations occur when we skip meals, and when we don’t follow a consistent and predictable eating rhythm. So, don’t skip meals (especially breakfast!) and make sure you eat 3 solid meals per day (with 2 small snacks in between if needed). Resist the urge to snack/graze all day
- Ensure adequate protein intake, especially at breakfast. Protein helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels by pulling sugar into the cells, which in turn helps to regulate appetite and reduce sugar cravings. A recent study (Maki, K. Et al, 2014) showed that women who ate a high protein breakfast had better control over glucose and insulin levels than those who ate a high carbohydrate breakfast
- Combine carbohydrates with good fats. Fat slows the absorption of sugar (glucose) into the blood and prevents sugar highs and lows. This helps to regulate the appetite
by keeping us fuller for longer. High levels of fat in the blood also affect the body’s ability to clear sugar from the blood. Examples of sources of good fats are foods like cold water, oily fish, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and organic dairy
- Decrease stress. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between a perceived threat and a real one. So when we are stressed (even if it is just because we are late for work) we overproduce cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are responsible for raising blood sugar to help boost energy when it’s needed most (for flight or flight). Daily stress reduction techniques such as yoga, tai chi, exercise, meditation or breathwork have been shown to reduce stress hormone levels, therefore helping to balance blood sugar
- Focus on healthy, complex carbohydrates rather than refined ones. My favourite healthy carbs to regulate blood sugar are root vegetables, such as carrots, celeriac, beets, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables.Oat bran (such as that used in muffins) has also been found to be helpful for insulin regulation
- Ensure you have enough fibre in your diet. Fibre helps to delay the absorption of nutrients, especially sugar, reducing the trend of spikes and lows in blood sugar levels
- Drink 2-3 litres of clean filtered water per day. When blood sugar levels are high, they need lots of water to leave via the kidneys. The body cannot regulate blood sugar adequately if it is dehydrated
- Take natural supplements to help regulate blood sugar. The most well known supplement for balancing blood sugar is Chromium. Visit your local health food store or see your naturopath to discuss the best brands to take. Other supplements that may help are Magnesium and Spirulina
- Get enough good quality sleep. Ever noticed how much you crave sugar when you’re tired? Inadequate sleep dramatically reduces glucose tolerance, making glucose uptake less efficient and resulting in higher blood sugar levels. Higher evening stress hormone levels are also linked with insulin resistance
- Reduce the amount of refined sugars in your diet. Highly processed sugars are absorbed too quickly into the blood stream, causing an immediate spike in insulin. What goes up must come down, and a blood sugar low results. This can create a ‘false hunger’, where the body signals us that it is hungry, when in fact blood sugar levels are merely low and the body requires more energy
- Listen for the hidden message in the craving. The body has an amazing wisdom. Sometimes, when we are craving sugar, there is a psychological aspect at play too. Perhaps we need more ‘sweetness’ in our lives, or we need to experience more pleasure, or connection with others. If we take the time to notice, we can often see that is more than just sugar we are craving
Bringing it all together
This list may seem a little daunting or overwhelming to take on all at once. But even a few simple changes can make a positive impact on blood sugar regulation, reducing sugar cravings. Slowly integrating these principles into your life will not only reduce inflammation in the body (which leads to disease) but also ensure that you decrease your chances of diabetes or hypo-/hyperglycaemia. Rather than a diet, this is a lifestyle. Take it slow.
If you’d like to discover more about how to transform your relationship with food, weight and body, then book your free 30 minute exploratory phone session withLouise. Call Health In The Bay on 9904 1333 to schedule a suitable time.
Louise Jeffrey is a Nutritional Therapist who specialises in treating food, weight and body challenges. Her one-to-one sessions and workshops combine the powerful new fields of Dynamic Eating Psychology and Mind-Body Nutrition, and make use of (where relevant) modalities & skills such as acupuncture, clinical hypnotherapy, practical coaching, results-oriented psychology, clinical nutrition, body-centered practices, mind-body science, and a positive and compassionate approach to challenges with food and health.