Craving sugar, whether it be gummy bears or chocolate ho hos, is a powerful urge that can be hard to resist. Many people feel deprived if the evening meal is not followed by dessert, and who hasn't jumped in the car and headed for the nearest ice cream shop to squelch that irresistible need for sugar? Sugar can affect you emotionally and physically. So what do you eat when the cravings hit?
The Feel-good of Sugar
When you eat sugar, your energy level increases and the insulin in your blood rises sharply. This insulin allows a chemical called tryptophan to enter your brain and release a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical that gives an overall sense of well-being. Beta-endorphin is another neurotransmitter that sugar releases. Sugar actually makes you feel physically good. Sugar may also be associated with emotional aspects of your life, like grandma's chocolate chip cookies.
Several micronutrients may help curb your sugar cravings. Most can be found in a good multivitamin with minerals. Zinc, vitamin C and the the B vitamin niacin help release serotonin to curb the cravings. Chromium enhances the effects of insulin by helping in glucose metabolism. Therefore, you need less sugar for energy, which may reduce sugar binges. Foods that contain chromium are grapes, potatoes and broccoli. You can find zinc in oysters, crab and beef; vitamin C in oranges, grapefruits and strawberries; and niacin in fortified cereals, tuna and salmon. Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin supplements.
Choose foods that are unprocessed. Unprocessed whole foods, such as whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables, tend to keep your insulin levels even and do away with that spike you get from refined or processed foods that encourage the sugar cravings. Try a snack of whole-grain crackers with grapes and cottage cheese or a low-fat yogurt and fruit smoothie. Vegetables with a yogurt dip or popcorn may take the edge off the sugar. Another strategy is to eat a baked potato with skin three hours after a meal. Put what you want on it, as long as it's not protein. Potatoes allow tryptophan to cross into the brain and release serotonin.
Proteins and Sugar
Completely eliminating sugar from your diet may not be feasible for many people. So if you feel you just can't resist, try this strategy offered by nurse practitioner Marcelle Pick of the Women to Women website. Indulge your treat with a bit of protein. Eat a small piece of cheesecake, custard or meringue, all made from protein. Or have a piece of cheese, milk or a handful of nuts with your treat of choice. The protein provides a slower rise in blood sugar and forgoes the insulin spike.