It’s no secret that we all love sugar, and sometimes our cravings can lead us to overindulge and consume too much of the sweet stuff, making it more difficult for our bodies to use up all the extra energy it provides. Although sometimes we can’t curb our sugar cravings, it is important to be aware of how much we are consuming. It is also useful to understand why we have these cravings and the fact that we don’t need to deprive ourselves, as the majority fail to realise that we actually need it, especially for energy! To help know all things sugar, we have caught up with Ruth Tongue, expert nutritionist at FOGA, who offers her top five ways to decode your sugar cravings.
The menstrual cycle can affect people very differently, and many start to notice pre-menstrual symptoms a week before they’re due to start their period. One of the main causes of these symptoms can be due to the dramatic dip in oestrogen as it gets to its lowest point in the cycle. This natural fall in oestrogen often accompanies a fall in serotonin; the neurotransmitter that keeps us feeling happy and calm as well as improving sleep. It’s not surprising that if serotonin levels fall, we naturally crave carbohydrate-rich comfort foods and sugar as these are the foods that not only boost serotonin but are often associated with feeling happy. One useful trick you can do to counteract this is to eat foods that are high in chromium for example; whole grains, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes.
There is no doubt you’ve experienced that 3pm craving for a pick-me-up snack, coffee, or sometimes both! These cravings are most often due to a post-meal dip in blood sugar and insulin levels. If your lunch was high in refined carbs, including; white pasta or jacket potatoes, without the intake of enough protein or fibre, this dip in blood sugar will be more dramatic and your body will feel that it needs an energy boost. So, what is the solution to avoiding this blood sugar, energy and cravings rollercoaster? Firstly, I would suggest ensuring your lunch has a good amount of protein and fibre, which could be done by incorporating chicken or tuna, beans or eggs which are all great sources of protein. Serve this with a hefty serving or salad or veg, or instead of white refined carbs, swap them for slow-releasing carbs like quinoa, sweet potato or wholegrain couscous. If you feel like you need an afternoon pick me up, I would recommend the delicious January box of Plantshakes from FOGA; a range of instant whole plant smoothies made from freeze-dried fruit and veg, where each sachet contains at least 3g of fibre, alongside having a sweet taste without the added sugar, meaning the energy release will be controlled.
Why is it that when we’re tired, we also feel ravenous? There could be a number of reasons, one being; when we’re sleep deprived, our brain produces less of the hormone leptin, which is responsible for making us sense when we’re full, and more of the hunger hormone Ghrelin, which means we lose the sense of fullness and gain the ability to carry on eating. Another reason for junk food cravings could be that when we’re sleep-deprived our pleasure responses to food are heightened. On top of this, lack of sleep increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which decreases the levels of serotonin, leading to cravings for serotonin carb boosting foods. My main recommendation for people who are struggling with sugar cravings and weight gain is to focus solely on their sleep habits for a month as consistency is key. The results you’ll see in all areas of your wellbeing will be significant.
Taking all of the above and throwing in dehydration, salt imbalances, nausea, and low blood sugar, you will get even more sugar cravings after a night out! It’s no surprise that when you are hungover, all you want is a can of coke and a family packet of biscuits. To avoid this, focus on rehydration, and eat plenty of protein to keep blood sugar levels steady, as well as foods that contain plenty of water and carbs – fruit being the perfect option. Eating small amounts often will keep nausea at bay and help control spikes and dips in energy. Foods that are naturally high in potassium such as fruit and vegetables will also help to balance the salts in your body.
When we’re stressed, we produce the two main stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline, in excess quantities. These hormones, in particular cortisol, signal to the body that it’s in danger and therefore will need energy to fight whatever the stressor is. This is why when we are stressed our desire for calorie-laden, energy-rich foods increases. Firstly, try and minimise stress levels, this could be done by mindfulness and simple breathing techniques, along with strategies to reduce the number of stressors we’re faced with each day. As a next step, when you notice that your stress levels are higher than usual, it’s essential to keep up the basics of a healthy diet, intaking plenty of fruit and veg, lean protein, wholegrains and minimally processed foods. It is important to make sure you have plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as bananas, avocado, pumpkin seeds, green veg and legumes, as magnesium increases the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation in the body.
This article was provided by FOGA.
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