‘That chocolate bar is calling my name!’ How many times have you reached for it, even though you were not hungry? Why is it so hard to resist sugary snacks, especially around mid-afternoon breaks? Apart from giving us a rush of quick energy and delicious experience it is also highly addictive: according to a new research study, refined sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine!*
The white death, the sweet poison... there is a reason why sugar received so much bad press recently. From poor skin, weight gain, fatigue, acne and skin aging to Diabetes, heart disease,dementia and even cancer – sugar causes enormous harmful health effects.
We've asked our experts to put together The Ultimate 12 Step Sugar-Free programme:
Cassandra Barns, Nutritonist advises, "Aim for foods that have a low glycaemic load, as their impact on blood sugar level is minimal and you’ll be less likely to experience blood glucose highs and lows that will have you reaching for the cookie jar. Make sure each meal includes protein, non-starchy vegetables and unrefined carbohydrates. Limit sweet tasting veg (parsnips, potato and carrots) and opt for green veg like broccoli and spinach, ideally making up half your plate. Good protein (lean turkey, eggs, fish, beans) are digested slowly and make you feel fuller for longer, carbs should be wholegrain varieties for the same reason".
I must not skip breakfast
According to Shona Wilkinson, Nutritonist at Superfooduk.com, ‘’If we don’t have breakfast, often by 11 am or midday, we become hungry and crave sugar, as our blood sugar levels drop too low. Try two poached eggs on a slice of wholemeal bread with some rocket leaves or a pot of sugar-free yoghurt with nuts and berries’’.
Think twice before you snack
‘’A healthy snack between meals can help while you’re giving up sugar, as it stops your sugar levels dropping too low, which can cause sweet cravings. Good examples include: two oatcakes topped with a tablespoon of humus or guacamole or cottage cheese and half an avocado. Avoid bananas and grapes and opt for berries as they are naturally low in sugar’’ Cassandra warns.
Want to quit snacking for good? Psychologist, Corrine Sweet, says “It is entirely possible to retrain yourself to break old, bad habits and adopt new, positive ones, to help you curb your food cravings. You need to identify your behaviours and make a decision to stop them. Then replace them with a positive strategy for curbing old habit patterns. This may take effort and time, as we often hang on to what is familiar, but if you stick to it, you will soon be reaping the rewards for a little thoughtful decision-making, retraining and application of willpower – with a little help from your Slissie friend.” Slissie (from £39.99, www.slissie.co.uk), which is the first of its kind as it delivers appetite-suppressing flavourings that instantly help you resist snack temptation. Slissie releases tasty, appetite-suppressing flavours, from vanilla to chocolate, which can help you resist eating things you know you really shouldn’t.
‘’Alcohol raises blood sugar, but being a liquid, it is even more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream than sugar. Alcohol also contains more calories than sugar: 7 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram! Alcohol binges are a classic way to set up a cycle of cravings for sugary, stodgy foods the day after’’, advises Marilyn Glenville, the UK's leading Nutritonist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar.
Look after your gut
Cassandra explains ‘’Overgrowth of unhelpful yeasts in the gut, such as candida, can contribute to, or exacerbate sugar cravings. Ironically, eating sugar and high-starch foods makes the candida overgrowth worse, so we become stuck in a catch-22 situation. To help solve this, try taking a high-strength, good quality probiotic supplement such as Immune Biotix from Quest Vitamins (£13.49, www.qnutrapharma.com) loaded with friendly bacteria’’.
Go easy on the tea and coffee
"Caffeine is a stimulant that causes our body’s stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to be released, which in turn cause a cycle of energy dips and peaks, and make you more likely to crave sugar later on. Decaffeinated coffee and tea contains other stimulants, so try better options such as naturally caffeine free rooibos tea" suggests Marilyn.
Consider natural sugar alternatives
"Xylitol is a naturally sweet substance found in many plants. In commercial preparations, it is found in granules and looks and tastes like sugar, although slightly less sweet. Stevia is a substance extracted from the leaf of the stevia plant. It is an intensely sweet substance and very little is needed to give a sweet taste – it has very few calories and minimal impact on blood glucose" says Shona.
Treat yourself to three squares of good quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa). Cassandra says, "this amount will only contain a relatively small amount of sugar, and there is also evidence that dark chocolate has health benefits or try a small pot of sugar-free plain yoghurt, with a teaspoon of pure cocoa or raw cacao powder."
Chromium to control cravings
‘’Chromium, this trace mineral has a vital role in supporting normal blood glucose levels, and therefore helping to prevent the dips that cause us to crave sugary foods. Try Quest Vitamin’s Ecuigluco (£12.40, www.qnutrapharma.com). This supplement also contains vitamin B3, which works closely together with chromium as well as green coffee extract to boost your metabilism. Chromium can take a month or longer to have its full effect, so persevere or start taking chromium before attempting to give up sugar" Cassandra advises.
Cassandra stresses "Moderate exercise helps us to feel energised, less sluggish, and healthier. It can help to control stress levels and also support blood sugar control to avoid dips that will induce cravings".
Reduce your stress
‘’Stress is one of the primary triggers for sugar cravings, as our body is being prepared for physical action (the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome). So try in any way you can to reduce stress, whether it is by delegating or reducing your workload, taking some gentle exercise, or practising yoga or meditation to help you relax. Reduced stress will often mean better sleep as well, which will mean better energy levels the next day’’ explains Dr Glenville.
Vitamin D can help boost serotonin levels, your happy hormone. Cassandra explains, "when serotonin levels are low, most people immediately turn to simple carbohydrates like sugar and chocolate. Include a supplement - go for a new, chewable Urgent-D (www.vegavitamins.co.uk, £7.95), which provides 2000IU."
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