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Tracy Shawn: How to Conquer Sugar Cravings

Breakfast, exercise and healthy snacking can help kick the habit of quick-fix energy

We’re hardwired to crave sweets, and once we eat them, the brain responds by releasing the “feel good” chemicals — endorphins and serotonin. Yet we aren’t reaching for enough of the naturally sweet carbohydrates that sustain our blood sugars.

Instead, we crave simple carbs such as chocolate chip cookies, licorice and mocha cappuccinos — the stuff that shoots us up with only a fleeting fix of energy. The body responds to these overprocessed sugars by making large quantities of insulin, the hormone that lowers sugars, leaving us more drag-tired — and craving even more sugary foods — than before.

But knowing that we’re going to feel even worse later doesn’t always deter us from noshing on the brownies that call to us in the haze of an afternoon slump. So what to do?

Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast

According to Science Daily, University of Missouri researchers have found that eating a healthy, protein-rich breakfast reduces brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior. Thus, the craving for junk food is reduced. Also, eating a protein-rich breakfast increases overall appetite control, so there’s less temptation to snack between meals in the first place.

Exercise to Curb Cravings

Researchers at the University of Campinas in Brazil found that obese rats ate less after engaging in a regular exercise regime. In fact, these researchers discovered that the exercise increased protein levels in the hypothalamus — molecules crucial for increasing the sensitivity of the most important hormones that control appetite, insulin and leptin.

Exercise can also be used as a healthy alternative to snacking. Even a quick walk around the block may increase serotonin levels, making it easier to just say no to that glazed doughnut beckoning to you from the break room’s counter.

Keep Your Blood Sugar Going

Eating every three to five hours can maintain a more stable blood sugar level and help you choose more “sane” foods than the ones you may grab if you’re too hungry to think straight. As always, try to choose a combination of complex carbohydrates (think fiber-rich grains and produce to keep you full) and healthy proteins. Good choices include whole grain toast and nut butter, plain yogurt and sliced apple, celery and hummus.

Cut out the Extra Stuff

Besides the obvious sweets, think about all the foods — and drinks — in which extra sugar may be lurking. A grande café mocha at Starbucks has a whopping 35 grams of sugar, a seemingly healthy bran muffin may contain 34 grams — or more — of the sweet stuff, and even certain salad dressings, condiments, sauces, bread and crackers may be harboring more sugar grams than you’d guess. Make sure to read labels so you can make educated choices.

I, for one, would much rather have a cup of green tea at 0 grams of sugar and treat myself to a small dessert after dinner than drink an over-sugared beverage that’s going to zap my energy.

Natural Substitutions

Instead of loading your body with the average 39 grams of sugar in regular soda — or the chemicals of fake sugars in diet — drink half a glass of juice mixed with soda water. (The chemicals in most “fake sugars” aren’t good for your body, and may even make you crave the real stuff more.) Choose plain yogurt instead of fruit flavored (12 grams of sugar compared with the average 24) and add fresh unsweetened fruit. Go for a high-fiber cereal with an average sugar gram level of 10 (some are even at 0) instead of the sweetened stuff that can rack up to 39 grams per serving.

And when you really want a sweet, enjoy a good one: Health expert Andrew Weil, M.D., suggests treating yourself a few times a week to an ounce or two of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa. Dark chocolate is a good source of antioxidants, and some studies show may even improve heart health.

Whatever sweets you decide to indulge in, reduce the cycle of blood sugar blues — and cravings — by getting out of the habit of snacking on them for quick-fix energy. Rather, regard them as what they are — icing on the cake!

— Tracy Shawn, MA, “The Walk & Talk Weight Loss Coach”, is a certified nutrition and wellness consultant for men and women. She helps clients achieve their weight loss goals through individualized guidance and education. Click here to contact her.

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