It starts with a chocolate kiss from the candy bowl. The next thing you know, you’ve got your hands on a bag of M&M’s while plotting a late night with Ben & Jerry’s.
Research from France suggests sugar is more addictive than cocaine. As you sip your white chocolate mocha, your brain is busy releasing dopamine and opiates, highly addictive pleasure chemicals that trigger urges for more.
We assume a diet of chocolates and soda will keep us happy. Sinking your teeth into a donut does provide momentary pleasure, however sweets can ultimately leave us depressed and anxious. Research in 2002 looked at diet in six countries and found the higher the sugar intake, the more depression. It’s worse if your sugary drink is made with fructose, the cheapest version of sugar.
We know sugar’s downside. It packs on pounds, fuels pain, erodes teeth and drives up risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
And yet the average American enjoys 130 pounds of sugar per year, because saying no is not always easy. A Princeton study found rats suffer withdrawal symptoms when their sugary foods are removed. The good news is that Eastern wisdom and Western science offer us strategies for curbing our brain’s message and body urges to hunt down sugar.
How to Cut Sugar Cravings
1. Have a savory breakfast. This means eggs, sausage or oatmeal (butter and nuts, no raisins). As soon as you drizzle honey on your oatmeal or slather jam on toast, you’ve launched your next sugar binge.
2. Eat cooked leafy greens. Buttered broccoli, grilled asparagus, spinach and other greens boost energy and provide anti-sugar craving minerals like magnesium. The slightly bitter taste of greens also thwarts sugar urges.
3. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Studies show diet sodas stimulate cravings for real sugar while packing fat on faster than their sugary counterparts.
4. Sweeten with Stevia. This naturally sweet calorie-free herb can be used in your coffee, to make lemonade, puddings or shakes and baked goodies.
5. Get sunlight on your skin. Vitamin D helps us produce serotonin, a feel-good hormone that controls our desire for sweets.
6. Eat fat. Beneficial fats – from butter, nuts, avocado, wild salmon and olive oil – help stabilize blood sugar, preventing hunger, while stimulating hormones that keep us from feeling anxious and depressed.
7. Eat protein at each meal. Vegetarians often struggle most with sugar cravings. Meat, poultry, eggs and fish stimulate energy and mood-boosting neurochemicals, curbing a desire for sugar.
8. Sip a cup of gymnema sylvestre tea. A simple tea from this herb helps balance blood sugar while making it impossible to taste anything sweet after a few sips; your next bite of chocolate will be bland and greasy.
9. Sleep 8 hours. Lack of sleep stimulates ghrelin, a chemical that makes you crave sugar, and suppresses leptin, a chemical that tells you to stop eating. That makes the perfect storm for a sugar binge.
Although it can be challenging, licking the sugar habit comes with big rewards: a flatter belly, thinner thighs, more energy, better skin and fewer doctor visits.
Linda L. Prout, MS, is a nutritionist, speaker, and author of Live in the Balance, The Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program. She has been a nutrition consultant for more than 25 years including at the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley, CA and the Six Senses Spa in Turkey. Her East-West nutrition philosophy influences her nutrition plans and presentations for individuals and organizations around the world via email and Skype. www.lindaprout.com
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