The transition from fall to winter seems to be the time of year that really kicks off holiday season. From Halloween to Christmas, November and December are the months of indulgence. No matter what the event- office parties, trick-or-treating, or Christmas dinner- each celebration seems to have one thing in common: sugar.
We are all programmed to like sugar. While everyone loves a dessert now and then, if you feel powerless to resist your sweet tooth, it may be your body's way of telling you that something isn't quite right. It can also be a part of your genetics.
New research shows some of us are more genetically prone to sugar and food addiction than others. Some people need more stimulation (a larger amount of sugary foods) to trigger the reward centre in the brain. This reward centre releases the "feel good" pleasure neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. The cause of dependence and reliance on sugar-laden foods and snacks is individual and may be multi-factorial for you. Two people with the same habits can have vastly different causes.
Now science can unlock part of your individual code. The "Nutrigenomix" test can help distinguish what preferences you have for sugar, and what nutrient deficiencies you are prone to, which can also increase your cravings for sugar.
Here are some common reasons why your body may be craving sugar, and tricks to start treating them.
Your Physiology and Sensitization
As food scientists have realized, sugar can be addictive. Its sweetness has crept into more and more foods, seemingly savoury ones. Many people end up with a palate conditioned to the sweetness of processed foods. When they do, the rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels can lead them to crave more.
Successful, easy strategies I use to combat sugar cravings include reducing portion sizes, requesting 'half sweet' and 'half sauce' when ordering drinks and meals. Replace one snack or meal a day with a homemade or fresh food option. Increasing fiber in your diet and replacing sugary treats with lower sugar fruits (berries, apples, kiwis, pears) can also be helpful to satisfy your sweet tooth and keep you satiated for longer. Do not choose no fat or low fat food products; the fat is replaced with sugar and exactly the opposite can happen. These foods drive obesity and diabetes.
Cook more and eat less processed foods. Online grocery shopping with home delivery is now coming to the masses. Supermarkets are delivering groceries to your door for the cost of an average specialty coffee. A crock-pot is another easy, affordable solution for ready-made dinners. Even home-baked pastries can be worlds better than store bought ones because they are often made with healthier fats, flours and less sugar.
Do you find yourself reaching for the M&M's when work gets busy? If the answer is yes, that isn't surprising. The stress hormone, cortisol, releases sugar into the bloodstream and can cause us to crave more sugar. This is often a contributing factor to belly fat around the mid section. In Palaeolithic time, that sugar spike gave people the "get up and go" to survive a tiger attack. In the modern world, where our stresses are mostly non-lethal, chronic stress leads to chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels.
Saying "no more" during busy periods and having a healthy boundary can help manage your stress response. Leave time for self-care. Book a massage, engage in one of your hobbies, or simply have some space to be spontaneous. Meet your physical activity quota by walking at least 10,000 steps a day and learn about helpful resources such as practising the relaxation response (active link: http://www.relaxationresponse.org/steps/). A guided meditation app called Stop Breathe Think, yoga, Pilates, and martial arts can also all do wonders.
Antibiotics are the twentieth century's miracle drugs, but they come at a cost. Repeated treatments can leave the body's healthy bacteria depleted and vulnerable to yeast overgrowth. People begin to crave sugar to feed the yeast. Use of NSAIDs (Advil, Ibuprofen, Naproxyn), excessive alcohol consumption and regularly eating packaged and pre-made foods can also lead to or exacerbate a yeast overgrowth.
A naturopathic or integrative physician understands the symptoms of various microbiome imbalances and how to accurately diagnose and treat them. This can help to restore your microbiome and alleviate sugar cravings.
A diet heavy in processed foods will leave the body short on the essential vitamins and minerals it needs. That malnourishment triggers signals in the brain to get calories quickly. Most people reach for sugar.
When people change their diet and choose foods rich in nutrients, their cravings often cease to have a hold on them. While a change in diet isn't always enough, it's an excellent way to start.
Low Blood Sugar
Low blood sugar can lead to people reaching for a sugary snack. If your mood dips around 10:00 a.m. or mid-afternoon, don't skip breakfast only to reach for a carbohydrate-laden snack later in the day.
Eat more frequently throughout the day, and increase the amount of fibre, protein and fat in your snacks and meals. Also try keeping healthier snacks like almonds and hardboiled eggs close to hand should cravings creep up on you.
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