Factors That Underlie Cravings for Sugar
For me, a lack of sleep is the biggest force sending me in search of carbohydrates. Besides lack of sleep, stress and emotional upheaval are also big factors that can send us to the cookie jar.
Another factor that drives cravings is the relationship of sugar and protein.
Carbohydrate and protein metabolism work hand in hand. Both the Western and Yin/Yang model illustrate this. When we eat meat, which is concentrated protein and fat, we crave concentrated carbohydrates like sugar. And, meat, contractive/yang demands expansive/yin offsets like sugar (see discussion below). Also, in order to metabolize refined sugar our body “likes” meat as a buffer. The rich minerals in meat help the body metabolize these concentrated calories so it does not have to tap into its mineral stores stockpiled in tissues, bones, and teeth.
The key to keep in mind when the goal is to cut out sugar (and calories), limit red meats, which set up cravings for sugar.
Metabolic stress. Another consideration is blood sugar levels. Because carbohydrate and protein metabolism are inter-related, when we eat a lot of sugar and other concentrated sweets, our body needs to be anchored by additional concentrated animal protein and fats in order to stabilize blood sugar. Have you ever noticed how much better you feel when you pair a glass of wine (an expansive sugar) with adequate protein and fats to avoid a hangover? For our body, might it not be much the same with sugar? We need protein and fats as a balancing buffer. Unlike alcohol, our body does not react to sugar with the same hangover warning, but the imbalance is there nonetheless, through a surge in insulin, along with dehydration, depletion,1 and cravings.
Counter-intuitive perhaps, but this is why “junk-food” vegetarians (who rely upon a diet of sugar and refined carbohydrates) often crave sugar. Without eating animal protein to counterbalance and buffer this expansive energy, they set in motion a blood sugar roller-coaster of “sugar-insulin-sugar,” along with insatiable cravings for more and more sugar-charged treats. Ironically, “like” craves “like:” Contractive foods (chips) do send us for expansive opposites (a Coke), but this safeguard relationship does not hold so well for expansive foods. We can eat/drink a lot of expansive “spacey” goodies without craving contractive offsets.
In addition, vegetarians can crave sugar, and acid-forming food, to offset the alkalizing nature of a diet heavily weighted toward fruits and vegetables. See acid/alkaline discussion and table, below.
Reasons to Crave Sugar:2
- Not enough sleep. (This commands first place. Most of us are sleep-deprived and reach for sugar for energy.)
- Not enough emotional support and sense of connection. (Sugar’s temporary “high” works to mask emotional stress and pain.)
- Too much stress. (Stress is contractive; sugar, expansive in nature, works as a counterbalance to stress.)
- Too few wholesome foods. (Fractured foods create cravings; it is easy to try to fill the vacuum with sugar.)
- Not enough…
- Sweet taste
- Expansive foods
- Acid-forming foods
- Too much…
- Contractive foods
- Alkalizing foods
- Carbohydrates vs. Protein
- Protein vs. Carbohydrates
Specific Strategies to Curb Sugar Cravings
- The easiest way to cut out sugar is to prepare your own whole meals since 70% of the sugar we consume comes from packaged/prepared products.3
- The vital force energy of whole foods satisfies and the creative process of preparation provides its own form of gratification.
- Allow enough time at every meal to chew well. Sweetness and complex tastes are unlocked when we chew well. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth and the true essence of whole foods is tapped only when we sit down long enough to chew well and enjoy our food. Whole plant foods such as grains, beans, and vegetables become sweeter the longer they are chewed, so chewing well can go a long way toward satisfying cravings for sweets.
- Try to cook in advance and have plenty of sweet, whole foods on hand. Some foods, as outlined on page 7 are inherently sweet. Foods all have an associated temperature, so you can choose warming sweet potatoes, oats, or the heat of lamb in the cold winter months; or cooling melon and pears, salad greens, tempeh, and barley in the hot summer months.
- Baking at high heat is a natural way to convert the carbohydrate energy of vegetables and grains into delectable sweet treats. Roasting root vegetables caramelizes their natural sweet starches into sugars, concentrating and intensifying their natural sweetness. Through the magic of heat and stable saturated fats, we can alter a pungent onion into sweet velvety smoothness.
- Have plenty of sweet substitutes like roasted parsnips, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, dried fruits, and perhaps some bananas, dates, and figs on hand. At the first sign of a sugar craving, try one of these first.
- Try salting fruit, even apples and strawberries. It intensifies their sweetness.
- Foods that are pungent, sour, or spicy help curb sweet cravings. Try radishes (at the end of the meal), lemon juice and water, or spices like cinnamon to satisfy the sweet tooth. And, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves regulate blood sugar.
- Raw carrots help raise blood sugar effectively but less dramatically than sugar, and for a longer time interval.
- Try to give up soda and other sugary drinks, and have plenty of water. Sometimes our energy fails us simply because we are dehydrated.
- Substitute fruit juices and sauces in cooking, as well as fruits and stewed fruits.
- Learn to read food labels, especially for hidden forms of sugar (September 07).
- The best natural sweeteners, with the greatest nutritive value and lowest sugar content (compared to sugar’s 99%), are amasake (40%), brown rice and barley malt (50%), and maple syrup and molasses (both at 65%). Rice syrup and barley malt are less disruptive to the mineral balance of the body, along with maple syrup which is indigenous to the Northeast.
- If you do give in to a sugar craving, enjoy it. We are not supposed to be good all of the time. Diversions are adventures. They are wonderful experiments, but we owe ourselves to take note as if on a real adventure, and make sure we pay attention afterward to how we feel. It is all information. And, this information just might make veering off course less attractive the next time.
Copyright 2009 Pathways4Health.org