Sugar Showdown

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Why do we crave it? Here are some possibilities:

Genetics

“Cravings for sugary foods are hardwired into our genes,” says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, MA and author of Diet Simple (LifeLine Press, 2002). “We’ve survived on this planet because we’ve been able to overcome thousands of years of famine.” Our taste buds are trained to seek out sweet, fatty, calorie-dense foods. Basically, the more calories we eat, the more fat we can store up for times of famine.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

When levels of feel-good hormones drop during PMS it’s easy to run into the arms of Ben & Jerry. That sudden surge of sugar increases our feel-good hormone, serotonin, which is lacking at this time – but the results are temporary.

Hypoglycemia

When people suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) their bodies are hypersensitive to blood sugar levels. “When a hypoglycemic eats sugar, their body produces too much insulin,” says Nathaniel Clark, MD, MS, and National Vice President for Clinical Affairs for the American Diabetes Association. Blood sugar will initially rise, then plummet. “When it drops, they feel terrible and crave more sugar.” It can turn into a never-ending cycle.

Thanks a lot, Mom

When you were little and you scraped your knee, your mom probably soothed your hurt with a cookie or other treat. Did great on a test? Maybe mom rewarded you with ice cream. That tradition of sweets as a reward or a way to ease pain lives on. As adults, many of us reach for sweets when we’re feeling hurt, depressed or anxious.

Sweet success

The United States Department of Agriculture suggests keeping your sugar intake between six and 10 percent of your total daily calories. For a 1,600-calorie diet, that’s 10 teaspoons (40 grams) per day. (This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as fructose found in fruits and veggies, or lactose found in milk.)

To help you stay within these guidelines, be sure to eat regularly. If your blood sugar level drops too low, chances are you’ll crave that candy bar. For soluble fiber, try fruits like apples and pears, legumes like beans and peas, vegetables, cereals made with oats, and oat bran. For protein, eat small amounts of meat, poultry, dairy, legumes or nuts. And while soluble fiber and protein will help your meal go further, some cravings can result from dehydration. Take the edge off a craving by downing at least eight glasses of water a day.

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