Friday, October 23, 2009

Explaining Sugar Cravings

An enormous percentage of women crave sugar, carbohydrates, or alcohol. In most cases, these food cravings are not true eating disorders, but instead are signs of hormonal imbalance caused by a lack of healthy nutrition.

Your personal issue may be the afternoon snack (often chocolate or candy or a food that’s also heavy in carbohydrates), too many potato chips, the extra glass of wine at night, or a hundred other variations. But the underlying mechanism, and the way to curb cravings, is the same. And it has nothing to do with willpower, or your lack thereof!

Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or blue, we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin, and the body signals the brain that it needs a pick-me-up. This signal causes a sugar craving or carbohydrate craving.

Serotonin is our basic feel-good hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. And hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin. Unfortunately, sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.

If you eat a low-fat diet in the hope of losing weight, you unintentionally make the problem worse. If, like millions of women, you have eaten a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for many years, or followed fad diets, the odds are good that you have become at least partially insulin resistant.

Insulin is responsible for maintaining stable blood sugar levels by telling the body’s cells when to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Being insulin resistant means your body stops responding to insulin, and instead grabs every calorie it can and deposits it as fat. So no matter how little you eat, you will gradually gain weight.

At the same time, your cells cannot absorb the glucose they need, so they signal your brain that you need more carbohydrates or sugars. The result is persistent food cravings.

Even worse, insulin resistance leads directly to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Many experts believe it is the root cause of the epidemic of those diseases in America today. And a low-fat diet makes it far more likely you will suffer from this condition.

Millions of American women are now trying the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet. While these diets are an improvement over the conventional low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, they can worsen your metabolic problems, because dieting itself is stressful to the body. So many women need to heal their metabolism first before even considering weight loss.

Another cause of food cravings is adrenal fatigue. If you are under a great deal of stress, or suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, you are probably exhausted much of the time. This leads to adrenal fatigue or outright adrenal exhaustion, which in turn signals the body it needs a pick-me-up. You may resort to sugar or carbohydrate snacks or coffee during the day and carbohydrates or alcohol at night, all of which exacerbate the problem.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Choosing Healthy Drinks

There are many options for what to drink, but without a doubt, water is the best choice: It's calorie-free, and it's as easy to find as the nearest tap.

Drinks that are loaded with sugar are the worst choice: They provide lots of calories and virtually no other nutrients. Drinking them routinely can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other drinks have pros and cons, but in moderation, can fit into a healthy diet:

* Coffee and tea: These are calorie-free, as long as you don't load up on the sugar and cream. They are safe for most people and may even have some health benefits.
* Artificially sweetened drinks: These have no calories—a plus—but their long-term effects on weight and health are unknown, so it's best to limit them, if you drink them at all.
* 100% fruit juice: Fruit juice has vitamins, but it is high in calories, so stick to no more than a small glass (four to six ounces) a day.
* Milk: Milk is also high in calories, so there's no need to drink more than a glass or two of low fat or skim milk a day, and less is fine, if you get your calcium from other sources.
* Alcohol: Alcohol is both a tonic and a poison, and the difference lies in the dose and the person drinking it; moderation is key.