Sugar stimulates extreme reward centres in our brain, which can override normal self control mechanisms. No wonder sugar has been called ‘the new nicotine.’
Eating too much of the sweet stuff not only serves to expand our waistlines, it can also make us more anxious, can accelerate ageing and can increase our risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Let’s first look at some of the latest research then I’ll share with you my top foods for beating cravings…
The Sugar Link: A 2009 review of studies that included over 500,000 people found an increased risk of cancer, and of dying of cancer, for every extra unit of glucose in the blood.
Conventional doctors have long known that cancer loves sugar – in fact, PET scans operate on this premise. Doctors check patients for cancer by injecting them with radioactive sugar; if there’s cancer in the body it makes a bee-line for the sugar and lights up on the PET scan. Cancer cells are basically sugar guzzling machines: ‘A normal healthy cell has four receptor sites for sugar – a cancer cell has 96,’ explains Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy a leading integrative physician based in California.
The Sugar Link: Speak to any facialist and they’ll tell you sugar = wrinkles. Why? Sugar attaches to protein molecules in the body creating sugar proteins called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). The body reacts to AGEs by producing antibodies that cause skin inflammation. Sugar can also exacerbate skin problems. In fact acne has been described by two scientists as ‘skin diabetes.’
The Sugar Link: Although science has yet to make a direct connection between Alzheimer’s and sugar intake the case is growing. Several studies have shown that brain cells shrink and become tangled from high blood sugar levels over time.
Top 5 Foods for Beating Sugar Cravings:
Coconut Oil: High in lauric acid – a beneficial fat – coconut oil slows down the digestion of food, increasing the sense of satiety after a meal. It also slows the rate carbohydrates are broken down into blood glucose.
Supermodel Miranda Kerr swears by coconut oil to stay thin, a claim now backed by science. In one study, women who received two tablespoons of coconut oil (30 ml), daily, over a period of 12 weeks, experienced both a reduction in waist circumference, as well as a boost in their ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels.
Wild and organic animal protein: Eating protein with every meal, is like putting a log on your metabolic fire, according to Sarah Wilson author of I Quit Sugar. Go for a small amount of organic roast chicken, smoked salmon, prawns – naturally sweet – or one boiled egg. Vegans could try a ‘chia egg.’ Packed with fibre it will keep you feeling full.
Nuts and Seeds: I’ve written extensively about nuts in this article. But just to re-cap, a large scale study from Harvard University found those who include nuts in their diet are slimmer than those who don’t and also have a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. Thanks to the combination of protein and healthy fats – plus mood boosting magnesium – they are the ideal snack for when sugar cravings hit. Go for almonds (alkaline forming) cashews (which contain pre-cursors to serotonin) and walnuts (a source of omega-3 and melatonin). If you’re the type of person who can’t stop once you pop a packet, practise damage control by keeping a small SOS sandwich bag in your top drawer.
Avocado with vegetable crackers: A recent study found that half an avocado at lunch cut 4pm hunger pangs by 40 per cent. You can include avocado in your salad or dressing or slather it on vegetable crackers – I like these raw sprouted ‘crackits’ from InSpiral.
Sweet Potato: Dice up cubes and roast with a little olive oil to add to your dinner (and then lunch the next day) for a naturally sweet hit. Sweet potatoes are also rich in B6, which is important for the production of serotonin- the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter.
Finally, a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar diluted in water before meals can help control insulin and glucose spikes. Try to find an unpasteurized version; you’ll see a cloudy mass of good bacteria, known as ‘the mother’ floating in the bottle.
In terms of natural sugars the only ones I’d recommend are honey, maple syrup or Coconut Syrup – which are all lower in glucose and fructose than refined sugars, as well as being amino-acid and mineral packed.
Laura Bond is a journalist, author and health coach. She specialises in helping clients beat stress, reduce their toxic load and prepare their bodies for babies. To find out more, click here.