We have all been there; Busy at work, entertaining the kids, working through the endless list of ‘things to do’… When suddenly it hits us. I need something sweet… NOW! Our brain’s need for an instant fix tells us our good habits and healthy behaviours can go jump for that one moment of sweet ecstasy.
Why We Crave Sugar
A craving for something sweet normally happens when our blood sugar levels drop lower than they should be. This can occur when we have missed meals, after a hectic work/family day or, maybe, after a strenuous workout.
Our brains are programmed for efficiency which means when we need a sugar high we crave something which gives us an instant and immediate boost. We don’t want to wait to feel better, we want to feel satisfied NOW! We also want something which tastes nice and chocolate, for example, is designed and manufactured in such a way to prove rather addictive in such circumstances.
To binge on sugary snacks and drinks presents certain health problems. Firstly, it is disastrous for your energy levels. The instant sugar hit causes your blood sugar to spike followed quite quickly by a rapid drop which (guess what) causes you to crave more sugar, leaving you feeling limp and lifeless. This can have a strenuous effect on the body’s insulin production which can ultimately lead to diabetes if sugar consumption is consistently abused.
Protein is Key
The second problem is weight gain or, more specifically, fat gain. When the body takes a huge hit of pure sugar the combination of the high calorie count and instant absorption of those calories is too much for the body to process so it stores it as fat. There is a way, however, of avoiding the hunger pangs in the first place and therefore bypassing the physiological craving for sugary food. The answer? Eat small amounts of protein based foods every 3 – 4 hours throughout the day.
When you are hungry your body releases a hormone called Grehlin. It’s essentially what tells your brain you need food and initiates the need for something sweet. The hormone which counters the effects of Grehlin is called PYY hormone (Peptide YY). The PYY hormone is secreted in your gut after you eat and essentially tells your brain when you are full. The problem is the PYY hormone gets a massive boost of production from protein based foods but nowhere near as much from carbohydrate based foods. This means when you eat sugary carbs your brain doesn’t register as easily to let you know you are full. This results in you overeating on the wrong foods and STILL fancying something sweet afterward you have already eaten.
The end result here is you end up consuming way too much energy food, more than you can use, which your body very cleverly converts into ‘stored’ energy to be used later. In other words; fat.
PYY production is highest when you eat protein based foods and is one of the reasons a high protein diet works so well. This means you can eat much less (meaning fewer calories and less fat storage) and feel full on less food compared to carbohydrates. Protein also boosts muscle production and helps maintain a healthy immune system. All important things for staying healthy and lean.
Little & Often
Good quality proteins come in the form of lean meats, fish, low-fat cheeses, nuts, seeds and, also, dark green vegetables, such as; broccoli, spinach and rocket. Hummus is a great quick protein snack as are a handful of almonds or a good quality protein shake.
Aim to consume something every four hours to maintain your blood sugar levels to keep your energy up. Also, make sure you are consuming some protein with every meal. If you are training regularly you should be aiming for 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This will ensure you are repairing your muscles after exercise while maintaining your energy levels leaving you feeling balanced, happy and healthy!