Do you often crave a chocolate bar and you feel like you can’t really survive without eating it? Well that happens to the majority of us, especially when we have got used in eating lots of sugary foods and sweets often. When you start looking into it, you will realize that even big branded coffee stores serve coffee – a drink that most of us have on a daily basis in more than one servings – which contains 20tbsp of sugar. Just imagine what amounts of sugars contain the ready-made packages, sweets and cakes the super markets sell. It’s not only the sugars though, it’s also the saturated fat that the food contains (1). This could easily lead to cravings as it has been found that both sugars and fats are affected by the opioid peptide system (1), and the more we consume palatable foods the more we want them. Moreover, sugars are now added in the most processed foods such as yogurts, juices, cakes and biscuits. We all need to learn how to read the labels on the products carefully and understand what they contain and what is hidden inside them.
Why do we crave sugary and fatty foods?
Food cravings are very common especially among women either who suffer from an eating disorder or are obese (1). Sugar is a carbohydrate which is known to stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin (2). Specifically, when we consume carbohydrates both brain serotonin and tryptophan increase and when we follow diets which contain protein, both hormones seem to remain stable (2). The taste of chocolate for example causes to most of us a natural high feeling which triggers a reward system. This reward system causes us to keep rewarding ourselves with sweet treats or foods high in sugar and fat which can make us crave it more. There is a finding though that we might crave chocolate because of its high magnesium content, despite the fact that we don’t usually crave other foods such as nuts that are much higher in magnesium (3).
Here are five tips to help you improve your diet and stop craving sugary and fatty foods.
It is recommended to eat every 3-4 hours. Waiting too long between meals may cause you to snack on sugary and fatty foods or overeat during lunch breaks, as your body needs to satisfy somehow the feeling of hunger. Eating regularly healthy snacks – low in sugars and fat content – can stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent you from giving into sweet cravings (4). Choose wholegrain and fiber rich foods like brown bread, pasta and rice, vegetables, fruits and other type of snacks such as peanut butter on rye bread which will make you feel satiated.
Proteins and amino acids, contribute to lots of functions in the body with some of the most important to be muscle growth, organ function and health – well-being maintenance (5). If you want to tackle sugar cravings, you need to eat more satiating foods that will keep you full for longer. Eating protein rich foods like seeds, nuts, eggs, lean meats, legumes, fish and shellfish, will keep you feel full for longer and keep your blood sugar levels steady (4). Following the ‘Choose my plate’ method (choosemyplate.gov), will help you also understand portion sizes and how much protein you can consume per serving.
Staying hydrated is essential. You may feel hungry and crave sugary and fatty foods but in fact you could just be very dehydrated. Zip water as often as possible and try to drink at least 2 L of water per day along with lots of vegetables and salads which are also high in water content (4). If you are not a big fan of water you can have herbal teas, decaf on normal coffee without sugar or cream and you can add some fresh fruits inside your water drink and top up the flavor.
Do not skip breakfast
This is something that you are definitely aware. Try to have a filling breakfast on a daily basis and not to skip it. A breakfast which contains complex carbohydrates, is high in fiber and contains the right amounts of protein will top up your energy levels and help you start your day satiated without having any feelings and cravings for sugary – fat foods (6). If you skip your breakfast it’s almost sure that you will run for the piece of cake, biscuit or chocolate you will see in front of you the moment you feel the hunger.
Eat foods which contain chromium
The mineral chromium may help in keeping blood sugar levels stable (7). It can also ease cravings for refined carbohydrates as it plays an important role in the regulation of insulin (5). Try to add to your diet foods that contain chromium as it helps in improving blood sugar utilization (5). Foods high in chromium are vegetables, fruits, shellfish – especially oysters – and nuts such as brazil nuts.
Following a balanced lifestyle along with the above advice, it will definitely help you improve your diet, physic and wellbeing while it will stop you from craving the ‘empty’ caloric foods.
- Yavonki, S. (2003). Sugar and Fat : Cravings and Aversions. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, (3), 835 – 837.
- Fernstrom, J.D. and Wurtman R. J. (1972). Brain serotonin content : physiological regulation by plasma neutra l amino acids. Science, 178 (4059), 414 – 6.
- Bruinsma, K. and Taren, D. L. (1999). Chocolate: food or drug? Am. Diet. Assoc. 99 (1), 249–1256.
- Hark, L. and Deen, D. (2005). Nutrition for life. The definitive guide to eating well for good health. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley.
- Gibney, M. J., Lanham-New, S., A., Cassidy, A. and Vorster, H. H. (2009). Introduction to Human Nutrition Second Edition. Willey-Blackwell, The Nutrition Society Textbook Series, ISBN: 978- 1 – 4051 – 6807 – 6.
- Hoertel HA, Will MJ and Leidy HJ (2014). A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls. Nutre J. 80 (13)
- Ryan GJ, Wanko NS, Redman AR, Cook CB (2003). Chromium as adjunctive treatment for type 2 diabetes. Ann Pharmacother.;37(6):876-85.2.