It’s a busy time of year for us all, Spring seems too far away still and your best post-Christmas intentions have faded, leaving you reaching for something sweet and stodgy to lift your mood. But are you trading a short-term energy boost for long-term health issues?

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Sugar now accounts for a fifth of our total calorie intake. The amount of sugar added to everyday foods like ketchup, dressings and tins of beans has doubled over the past 30 years. What’s more, the food industry hides its cheaper, sweeter sugar alternatives behind scientific-sounding names like high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, maltose and hydrolysed starch – and then stuffs them into low-fat alternatives to make them taste better. It’s no wonder we’re walking blindfolded into sugar addiction.

Just why is sugar so addictive? 

Certain chemical reactions take place when we consume sugar. All sugars (honey, syrups included) are “fast releasing” and have the highest glycaemic index (GI); a unit of measurement which tells you the effect a particular food’s carbohydrate has on your blood sugar level.

When your blood sugar level increases, the hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to remove the glucose (sugar). Some goes to the brain and muscles to be used as energy, but any excess goes to the liver where it’s stored as fat, causing weight gain. Insulin is known as the fat-storing hormone.

White bread, pasta and rice are also fast-releasing carbohydrates. This means they’re quickly digested, causing a sudden and rapid rise in blood sugar levels. The subsequent release of insulin can then cause a sudden drop, leaving you tired, lethargic and more likely to reach for the energy boost of another fast-releasing food like chocolate or cake. And so the craving cycle begins.

 

Constant peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels can wreak havoc, causing symptoms such as irritability, poor concentration, dizziness, forgetfulness, excessive thirst, crying spells, insomnia and night sweats. Over time, your body becomes less responsive to the continual peaks in insulin levels and this can cause long-term, serious health problems such as type-2 diabetes and obesity.

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In addition to this, cheap sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (used in everything from cakes to soft drinks) suppress the action of leptin, a hormone that lets your brain know when you’re full. Sugar also depletes your stores of vitamins and minerals, and an excess of glucose has been implicated in anxiety, depression, eating disorders, fatigue, learning difficulties and PMS.

How to break the sugar craving 

If it feels like your sugar cravings have spiralled out of control, give these suggestions a try and watch your energy and focus return, your waistline shrink and your mood improve. Recognise that the human body naturally craves carbohydrate for fuel, but respond to these cravings with slow-release foods found in whole grain breads and cereals and sweet vegetables like carrots, beetroot and sweet potato. Carrot sticks are a great snack to have on hand. They’ll give you a little sweetness, but not too much of a hit.

  • Take a week or two to monitor when the cravings hit. If it helps, jot down your ‘trigger times’. What are the cues – stress, boredom, emotional downers or the need for a distraction?
  • When you notice a craving, think about what you need or do not need to eat at that moment. Are you actually hungry? Can you fulfill the need by having a hot drink, a quick walk, or by drinking more water?
  • Eat at regular times, including quality protein in the form of lean meats, nuts, beans and pulses at every meal.
  • Keep a handful of nuts at hand – almonds are perfect – for times when you feel your energy dropping and need a boost.
  • Sour foods such as lemons, plain yoghurt and fermented foods can curb sugar cravings.
  • Try adding Cinnamon which is a natural sweetener. It balances blood sugar levels and also has potent anti-inflammatory properties, being especially good for joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and all types of skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, and other inflammatory skin complaints).
  • Consider a chromium supplement, which can help get blood sugars into a healthy pattern – but speak to a nutritional therapist about this first.
  • Substitute white or brown sugar for a natural sweetener such as manuka honey – this is closer to nature and contains antibacterial properties. (It is however, still a simple sugar, so be mindful of amounts. Don’t be fooled by brown or raw sugar, it’s simply refined white sugar with molasses added).

 

Once you’re back in balance you may find that sugary foods no longer appeal. But if you do indulge once in a while it will be from a place of pleasure, rather than addiction.

Written by Daniela Barbaglia – Dip NT mBANT – Nutritional Therapist

If you’re interested in a nutritional consultation with Daniela, please contact the clinic on 01273 321133 to book your appointment.

Start the year with the right support to take you in the direction you desire.

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