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The Science Behind Your Cravings and 10 Healthy Foods to Beat Them
Can’t seem to resist those cravings for sweet snacks? Learn what your cravings mean and which 10 healthy foods you can reach for instead.
COVID-19 has changed eating habits. Staying home more to curb the spread of the virus, people are turning to food delivery and food options that may be fast but unhealthy. Add the stress of finances or being cooped up, and you can’t seem to stop reaching for those cookies or ordering that bubble tea. How can you resist those cravings for sugary snacks and replace them with healthy foods? First, you need to understand how your body processes energy, so that you can reach your health goals by working on creating healthy eating habits that are sustainable.
What Do Unhealthy Cravings Mean?
We all know that too much sugar is bad for our health, but not many of us understand the science behind it. Knowing exactly how sugar impacts our body can help us make a big difference in our dietary lifestyle.
We get energy when the foods we eat are converted into blood sugar. However, eating unhealthy foods, such as sugary snacks or potato chips that are high in simple carbohydrates, causes your blood sugar to spike and your body to release a lot of insulin to lower it to a safer level. Your body might release too much insulin very quickly to bring your blood sugar down, which then causes your blood sugar levels to be low. If you’ve ever felt a sugar high followed by a crash, this is what’s happening in your body. Afraid that you’ll run out of energy, your brain then sends you signals to bring your blood sugar back up quickly, by making you crave foods that will raise and increase your energy fast. You start craving another round of cookies or chips and the roller coaster begins again. Now you know the meaning behind your cravings for that bubble tea or chocolate bar when you’re tired and running on empty.
Balancing Your Diet to Stop Unhealthy Cravings
Balancing your blood sugar will kick those cravings to the curb. “The key to balancing blood sugar is to eat foods that prevent too much insulin from being released, such as protein and healthy fats, and consuming only small amounts of sugar (if any),” writes Casey Seidenberg in The Washington Post. Eating regularly and eating the right foods will help you keep your blood sugar levels in balance. When your brain sees that you’re maintaining enough blood sugar, it won’t send you hunger signals because it sees that you have enough energy for your body to function well.
Unlike desserts and white pasta that give you a sugar high (yes pasta is a simple carbohydrate that converts very quickly into glucose!), protein and healthy fats provide slow and steady forms of energy. Protein helps you feel satiated, meaning that you feel fuller for longer and experience less cravings or overeating. “Many of the amino acids in protein help build the brain chemicals—such as dopamine—that make us feel good” the article continues. “When we feel balanced and energised, we are less likely to seek a sugar high.”
You should also ensure your diet includes other important nutrients such as fibre, which is digested slowly and stabilises your blood sugar. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are examples of fibre and complex carbohydrates that won’t send your blood sugar levels into overdrive. Iron and B vitamins also important to maintain your energy levels and beat those cravings.
10 Healthy Foods to Beat Cravings
Eating a diet rich in healthy fats and protein will reduce hunger and cravings, which will naturally stop you from giving in to those cravings for a quick fix. Add these 10 healthy foods to your grocery list and fuel up your body with regular meals and snacks to reach your health goals!
Salmon and other fatty fish are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and high quality protein, which keeps you satiated for longer on relatively few calories. Salmon is also loaded with minerals and nutrients such as iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, all of which are essential to keep your body in optimum shape.
2. Whole Eggs
Incredibly nutrition-dense and packed with protein and fat, eggs make you feel full for longer and suppress your appetite. A study observing 30 overweight women found that participants who ate eggs for breakfast had higher levels of satiety and ate significantly less over the next 36 hours, when compared to participants who ate bagels.
A whole grain which is extremely high in fibre, quinoa also contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Its low glycemic index means it doesn’t disrupt your blood sugar levels. Add it to your grocery list and sub out white rice for this wholesome grain the next time you cook!
4. Beans and Legumes
A great source of protein on the cheap, beans and legumes are also high in fibre and slow to be digested, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Choose red or green bean desserts when you want something sweet, and the protein and fibre will help balance out the breakdown of glucose in your bloodstream. Add legumes to your diet by mixing chickpeas into your salad for a protein punch, or by blending it into tasty hummus for healthy snacking.
5. Dark Chocolate
A study on 16 men found that eating dark chocolate promotes satiety, lowers the desire to eat something sweet, and suppresses calorie intake when compared with eating milk chocolate. Participants who ate the dark chocolate ate 17% less food than participants who were given milk chocolate. If you’re a chocolate addict (who isn’t?), switching from milk to dark chocolate may help you eat less sweets and reach your health goals faster.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage have a potent combination of protein, fibre, and low calories to make them a weight loss food powerhouse. Being high in fibre and protein makes these vegetables very satiating, so you feel fuller for longer. Of course, they’re packed with nutrients!
Munching on a big, crunchy apple blunts your appetite because chewing sends signals to your brain that you’ve eaten something substantial. Raw fruit also has a lot of fibre, which slows digestion. Skip fruit juices–especially those with added sugar–and choose whole fruits instead.
8. Greek Yogurt
Skip regular yogurt with added sugar and choose Greek yogurt for your breakfasts and smoothies instead. Greek yogurt has almost twice as much protein as regular yogurt, and will leave you feeling satiated. It’s also a great source of calcium and probiotics, which helps to banish bloat!
Drinking coffee before your exercise routine can help you stay active when you would otherwise feel tired. Studies have shown that caffeine may improve exercise performance by 11-12%. Another study found that 100mg of caffeine (about half a cup of coffee) increased the resting metabolic rate of participants by 3-4% over 2 and a half hours.
If you’re feeling hungry between meals, reach for a handful of nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts. Almonds in particular are a strong source of protein, and they also supercharge your metabolism and promote weight loss. Afraid you’ll crunch too many nuts? Reach for pistachios the next time you buy a nutty snack. Research has found that the process of shelling pistachios can cause you to slow down on your munching, and the shells remind you how much you’ve already eaten.
Cravings Meaning You Need to Balance Your Lifestyle
You now understand how important it is to keep your blood sugar balanced by eating healthy foods. But if you still feel the urge to reach for those sugary treats for a quick fix, your cravings may mean your lifestyle is out of balance. “Stress causes the hormone cortisol to flood your body, releasing glucose from your liver, which in turn raises your blood sugar,” Seindenberg writes. “Poor sleep also can trigger excess eating, including increased sugar consumption, as you seek energy to combat your fatigue.” If you’ve been flooded with cravings for sweet things, take a look at your lifestyle and see if you’ve been having enough sleep and rest, and if you can reduce your stress levels. Try cooking cleanly and simply at home with the above healthy foods. After all, the key to a healthy lifestyle is balance.
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