Many people struggle with cravings for sugary foods and carbohydrates and experience an energy slump mid-afternoon. We asked nutritionist Babi Chana for her expert advice on how to feel more energised throughout the day and combat cravings.
What and when we eat can influence our energy levels, mood, behaviour, concentration, stress and sleep patterns. Craving sugary foods may indicate that the frequency and choices of our eating patterns may need to be revamped.
All too often, sugar cravings lead to constant snacking on confectionary or processed foods, loaded with white flour or sugar. Refined foods are convenient and temptation abounds, but giving in to these sugar fixes can lead to lethargy, irritability and poor attention span. Breaking the sugar habit can lower the longer term risks, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and problems affecting the kidneys, eyes and nerves.
Keep your blood sugar balanced within healthy limits
To avoid these physical, emotional and mental slumps make sure you eat breakfast, lunch and an evening meal. Regular healthy meals outsmart constant snacking on junk foods.
Choose natural, whole-foods such as whole grains, cereals, brown or basmati rice, lentils, beans and pulses. These foods are unrefined and unprocessed. Once gathered from Mother Nature, nothing has been removed to strip away the goodness and no harmful artificial chemicals have been added.
Natural foods picked from a tree or pulled from the ground or sea contain good sources of complex carbohydrates, which take a long time to be broken down by our digestive system into their simple building blocks, or glucose. Complex carbohydrates, or starches, release their glucose slowly and steadily into the bloodstream, prolonging balanced blood glucose levels. Keeping “fuller for longer” by eating wholesome foods provides a steady supply of fuel to keep energy levels up all day.
Do NOT miss meals
Long periods without feeding can lead to low blood sugar, leaving you feeling tired, moody and peckish. A common misconception for weight-control is to miss lunch, but this is counterproductive, as it sets up hunger pangs and mid-afternoon energy slumps. As blood-glucose plummets, succumbing to unhealthy snacks often means that excess calories are consumed. Eating a nutritious, healthy lunch to keep blood sugar balanced is a sensible eating routine to curb binging habits later in the afternoon.
Waking up during the night or early hours with anxiety may also be due to low blood glucose, due to fasting too long between supper and breakfast. Since the brain has an absolute requirement for glucose as its preferred choice of fuel, when blood glucose falls dangerously low, the brain triggers the release of the stress hormone ‘adrenaline’ which alerts us to wake up and eat something or ‘break fast’ in order to restore blood glucose levels.
Sugar lows trigger stress
Adrenaline wakes us up in the morning, but during the day it makes us feel stressed and agitated, also playing havoc with our blood sugar levels. ‘Adrenaline junkies’ encounter blood sugar ‘highs’ as the hormone stimulates a sugar rush. The stress response plays a role in similar addictions to stimulants such as coffee, tea, alcohol and fizzy drinks.
LIMIT or avoid manufactured and fast foods
Refined carbohydrates, such as white sugar and white flour, or any manufactured food containing simple sugars are the worst choice to make. Junk foods such as fizzy drinks, white bread, confectionary and bakery products as well as so-called natural yoghurts and even savoury soups, sauces and main meals can be loaded with huge amounts of sugar. Even if they are labelled ‘low-fat’, be cautious and read labels. Daily coffee consumed at popular outlets can be alarmingly high in sugar content. Be careful what you blindly drink!
Boxes and packets do not grow on trees and contain “fast release” glucose that acts like rocket fuel, causing sharp surges in blood glucose which peak at dangerously high levels. To bring blood glucose back to within safe limits, the body reacts by releasing the hormone insulin, which signals cells to transport glucose out of the blood and store it more safely within cells. Eating too much sugar results in cells converting the excess energy into fat, driving weight gain.
Correspondingly high insulin spikes bring sugar levels crashing down again rapidly, leading to “highs and lows” that play havoc with appetite, making you experience sugar cravings and the need to constantly snack on sweets and stimulants.
Break out of the ‘sugar cycle’ with Chromium
Try adding more chromium to your diet, found in green leafy vegetables and whole grain products, as it can help to control blood sugar naturally. Chromium works together with insulin to channel sugar out of your bloodstream and into cells where it can be converted into energy. The challenge is that chromium is readily depleted from foods during cooking and processing, and UK soils also have very low levels of this important mineral so it is not easily passed up the food chain.
Take control of your energy levels and cravings
You could try a natural supplement such as Bio-Gluco Control to help to maintain steady blood sugar levels throughout the day. Bio-Gluco Control combines chromium with a natural maqui berry extract to help the body process sugar more efficiently, reducing cravings and energy highs and lows. Click here to read our review of Bio Gluco Control.
Babi Chana Bsc Nut. Med, nutritionist, physiologist and health writer – Babi is both a biochemist and a BANT accredited nutritionist. She has spent over 20 years working with community healthcare, health food shops and consumers. Babi lectures, trains and writes, giving advice on lifestyle, diet and nutrition.