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How to Conquer Your Food Cravings

03/20/2015 01:27 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
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People are constantly telling me about how healthy their meals are during the day, but what sets them back are their cravings. You know the feeling: someone orders pizza late in the evening, doughnuts appear on a colleague's desk, and every other day is someone's birthday!

No matter how good your intentions are to eat well, there always seems to be another reason to get side-tracked. If these occurrences are happening too often, chances are you're probably a few pounds too heavy or already have the beginning of some health issues, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes type 2.

Food cravings tend to be associated with sugar, fat and salt. This doesn't mean you are deprived of these foods. Cravings have to do with the pleasure centre of your brain. These foods raise your serotonin (happy hormone), but also raise your blood sugar too quickly, which ultimately leads to a blood sugar crash. This can become a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

Sugar & Sweet Cravings

1. Ice Cream

The smooth and creamy texture and flavour make this a common craving. Half a cup of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream has close to 400 calories and 30 gm of fat. For a woman, that is about 30 per cent of her daily calories and half her fat! Instead, substitute frozen yogurt, gelato, slow-churned ice cream or sorbet, which range from 100-130 calories and 4-7 gm of fat per half cup.

2. Chocolate

Chocolate cravings may be linked to low blood sugar, stress or changing hormones. Dark chocolate has more nutrients than milk or white chocolate, but is similar in calories. Dark chocolate has antioxidants and may raise the good cholesterol and lower the bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. Eat in moderation, since one ounce of chocolate, no matter what variety, has about 170 calories and 12 grams of fat.

3. Avoid All Diet Beverages

Even though you're getting 0 calories and fat, you are still communicating a sugar craving to your brain. In turn, your body is tricked into craving more calories. The calories you have saved with the diet beverage will be made up later in the day, guaranteed!

Salty Cravings

1. Potato Chips

The salt and crunchy texture make this a popular snack. There's no such thing as having a handful of chips. If you're sitting down to an 8 ounce bag, you're consuming over 1,200 calories, 80 gm fat and over 1,400 mg of sodium! That's close to an entire day's worth of these nutrients. Instead, try veggies and a quarter cup of hummus for a mere 100 calorie snack, 5 gm of fat and only 200 mg of sodium.

2. Popcorn

If you're enjoying a popcorn with butter topping from a movie theatre, you're downing close to 1,200 calories, 50 gm of fat and over 1,500 mg of sodium. Your best bet is to go for the small bag without the butter, which comes in at only 300 calories, 9 gm of fat and 500 mg of sodium.

Fat Cravings

1. Meat

Foods such as rib roast, fatty ribs and pastrami make us salivate, as well as raise the serotonin in our brains. We crave fat when we're stressed, anxious or depressed. Fatty meats are not only high in calories, but the fat is saturated, which can lead to heart disease as well as obesity. The sodium and nitrates in processed meats lead to high blood pressure and a variety of cancers.

Lean meats, such as top sirloin, tenderloin, extra lean ground beef, chicken and pork, all have less fat and calories and can satisfy your fat cravings. Eight ounces of rib roast has over 800 calories and 60 gm of fat. A tenderloin steak has only 300 calories and 11 gm of fat. You can have your meat and eat it too!

2. Pasta

Fettucine Alfredo is otherwise known as "Heart Attack on a Plate!" With over 1,000 calories and 60 gm of fat, you'll understand the nickname. The cream, butter and cheese are the culprits. Go for a tomato or marinara sauce instead, which only has 400 calories and 12 gm of fat. Substitute whole wheat and you'll get double the fibre.

That Afternoon Snack

Our weakest moment seems to be around 3 p.m. - 4 p.m. Your blood sugar may be low, and a quick simple snack including sugar, fat or salt would raise your energy levels. But only temporarily -- the cost being excess calories. These afternoon cravings are usually due to not eating nutrient-dense foods throughout the day; perhaps you skipped breakfast or didn't have a substantial lunch. Whatever the reason, combine two of the food groups for your snack such as fruit and nuts; an egg and small whole-grain pita; cheese and crackers; or Greek yogurt and fruit. This will raise your blood sugar slowly and fill you so you don't over-eat at dinner.

Breaking the Habit

You can break the habit of craving high calorie, high fat and high sodium foods by starting a new practice. Each meal must include three of the four food groups. Breakfast can be eggs, fruit and yogurt. Lunch can include a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with fruit. Dinner should contain at least four ounces of lean protein, vegetables and whole grains.

Snacks are equally important to maintain level blood sugars. Keep your snack calories to no more than 200 after 8 p.m. Our brains are actually wired to crave junk food later in the evening. After two weeks, your body will start to crave these healthier snacks and you will have begun the process of educating your taste buds to want cleaner food.

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