It’s approaching the end of a day.  You are sitting on your couch watching TV, and a food craving creeps upon you.  You feel like you NEED something sweet to quiet that craving.  Before you reach for just anything with sugar, learn the why, the what, and the how to satisfy your sweet tooth with healthy, natural alternatives!

Why do we crave sweet foods?

We all just want to feel good.  When humans eat carbohydrates, the brain chemical serotonin is released.  Serotonin is known as the “feel good” hormone, and elicits feelings of calmness, happiness, and balance (1).  This emotional reward trains our body to look for a sweet source to produce these good feelings again.

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Another reason for those cravings can be the result of low blood sugar.  Low blood sugar can result from not eating for several hours, certain medications, excessive alcohol consumption, and other medical conditions (2).

And not to forget that sweet food is the first food that babies may enjoy, and the “sweet tooth” of young children can help to introduce new food into the child’s diet (3).  And for full honesty and transparency, sweet foods really taste good too!

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a sweet treat, in moderation.  The issues of weight gain and increased disease risk occur with overconsumption of sugar.  It is incredibly easy to make the mistake of eating too much sugar, as sugar is “hidden” in numerous processed foods.

Americans, on average, over consume sugar and eat roughly 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  The guidance on safe sugar intake from added sugar from the American Heart Association is 6 teaspoons per day for women (100 calories), and 9 teaspoons per day for men (150 calories) (4).

What are added sugars?

The American Heart Association explains ‘added sugar’ to “include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal).

Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup) (3).”

If you want to know if a processed food has added sugar, review the ingredient list.  Common added sugars are; brown sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar molecules that end in the letters “ose.”  Please see more information provided by the American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp)

healthy sugar alternatives_2

How to satisfy your sugar cravings

The next time a sugar craving hits, follow these tips to help make a healthy choice!

Sweet Synergy.  The next time you crave a decadent dessert, try combining the decadent treat with a nutritious sweet.  For example, dark chocolate is delicious melted and enjoyed with cut up apple, banana, raspberries, and pineapple.  You can also combine dark chocolate chips with pureed pumpkin or Greek yogurt for a decadent, and nutritious pudding.

What about having a scoop of gelato or ice-cream topped with fresh fruit, and chopped nuts?!  Using this strategy, you will satisfy your craving, and get the added nutrient benefit from the sweet additions.

Better sweeteners.  Coconut sugar in place of white or brown sugar.  Agave nectar instead of corn syrup.  And stevia in place of any artificial sweetener. Delicious options are available for healthier sweetening alternatives.

The main benefit of these sweeteners is that they have a lower glycemic index compared to the traditional sweetener choice, and stevia is calorie free.  If you haven’t tried these options yet, I recommend trying coconut sugar for adding to hot cereal, and using in baking; agave nectar in place of syrup or honey; stevia in place of artificial sweetener in coffee or tea.

Quality over quantity.  Allow yourself to truly enjoy something rich and decadent, and find that treat in a small size.  For example, buy a rich chocolate truffle, and savor it.  Eat it slowly, and you will find that the richness will satisfy your craving.

When you want to enjoy a dessert out, share the plate, so that you eat less than 50%.  Don’t avoid your favorite desserts – learn how to enjoy them in a healthy way.

Steady blood sugar.  For many people, steady blood sugar can be achieved and maintained by eating regularly spaced, well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.

If you wait too long to eat, are not eating well-balanced meals and snacks, or are eating foods high in sugar, you may be causing your blood sugar to be un-balanced.  This can lead you to seek out sugary, fatty foods.  Eating 3 meals and 2 snacks a day will help to keep your blood sugar stable and also help to avoid sugar cravings.

You can have your cake and eat it too – with the knowledge on how to make nutritious choices.

Works Cited:

1) McIntosh, J.  Medical News Today: What is Serotonin?  Web.  Accessed December 2014. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248.php>

2) Mayo Clinic.  Diseases and Conditions: Hypoglycemia.  Web.  Accessed December 2014.  <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/basics/causes/con-20021103>

3)  American Heart Association.  Sugar 101.    Web.  Accessed December 2014.  <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp>

4)  Drewnowski, A., and Almiron-Roig, E.  Fat Detection: Taste, Texture, and Post Ingestive Effects. Chapter 11 Human Perceptions and Preferences for Fat-Rich Foods.  Web.  Accessed December 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53528/>

5)  Fries, W.  Web MD.  13 Ways to Fight Sugar Cravings.   Web.  Accessed December 2014.     <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/13-ways-to-fight-sugar-cravings>

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