According to 2007 statistics from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, there are currently 23.7 million of Americans afflicted with diabetes, which accounted for 7.8% of the population. To say that we are a sugar craving nation is an understatement. Of course, we did not catch the “diabetes virus” overnight. Long-term sugar and starch abuse results in insulin resistance, which increases blood sugar levels, and diabetes is just the final destination. That is the topic for another article, however.
In my clinical experience in guiding patients to weight loss and improved dietary habit, we often encounter the problem of “Doc, I keep dreaming about chocolate cake!” The basic principle to stop sugar cravings is to prevent rapidly spikes in blood sugar. When a massive amount of sugar enters into the bloodstream (after eating a Twinkie), the pancreas scrambles to send out large amounts of insulin trying to maintain blood sugar balance. This surge of insulin brings sugar rapidly into the cells, causing a dramatic drop in blood sugar. The brain senses this deficiency in blood sugar and sends out emergency signals, urging the body to hunt for food, and the most desirable food during that time is simple sugar, since it can be rapidly absorbed and enter the bloodstream. The vicious cycle continues – consumption of sugar causes sugar craving, which causes overconsumption of sugar, and more sugar craving. So, how do we break this vicious cycle?
There are several strategies that aim to balance blood sugar and decrease sugar craving, as described below:
1) Substitution – yes, we need to eventually quit eating so much sugar. To satisfy cravings in the initial phase of a diet modification, however, I would often recommend Stevia, a plant with very sweet leaves. The trick is, these leaves contain plant sugar that cannot, and will not be absorbed by human body. Therefore, eating it will not affect your blood sugar. What a perfect cheat in nature! Side note: a small amount is sufficient; putting too much will create a bitter taste.
2) Gymnema Sylverstre – this is an herb based in India, called “sugar destroyer” by locals. One research study involved chewing the leaves of Gymnema, and eating sweets afterwards.Amazingly, the subjects could not taste the sweetness, and even had an aversion to sweets.Later studies also demonstrated the potential of Gymnema in balancing blood sugar, thus minimizing cravings. This is my Ace and patient-favorite in craving control.
3) Chromium and Zinc – chromium is a mineral touted as one of the most essential elements of glucose tolerance factor, a complex that maintains the shape of insulin molecules, enabling insulin to effectively transport blood glucose. Zinc is a versatile mineral with many roles in the body. Its role in sugar metabolism is increasing the sensitivity/ response of insulin to blood sugar, making transport of blood sugar more efficient.
4) Vitamin B Complex – To effectively metabolize sugar to be used as energy, vitamin B complex plays an important role in the metabolic pathways breaking down sugar into energy. With the excess sugar intake in our modern society, Vitamin B can deplete quickly, and supplementing with Vitamin B complex can be helpful in sugar metabolism.
5) Gradualism – Be aware of your sugar intake by taking a diet diary, and make goals to reduce or replace sugar. For example, if you find out that you drink 4 cans of soda this week, make a goal to reduce that to 3 cans next week. Trying to quit cold turkey won’t work.
6) Beware of foods other than sugar that raise blood sugar too quickly – Carbohydrates, like pasta, bread, and white potato, can cause blood sugar spikes as well, triggering sugar cravings. Choosing foods that contain a lower glycemic index (a number assigned to each food based on the speed of the food being converted to blood sugar, compared to sugar or white bread, which is assigned with the number 100. The higher the number, the more easily it causes blood sugar spikes) is critical. If the majority of our diets contain foods with low glycemic index, such as vegetables, sugar cravings will disappear. The glycemic index chart can be found on the internet. Or, shoot me an e-mail and I will send you one.
Just by implementing some or most of the strategies indicated here, you are almost guaranteed a safe and effective path to eliminating sugar cravings and creating a healthier you! I wish you success.