Let’s admit it. We love our desserts, and for most of us, eliminating the last course of the meal is the hardest part of following any diet. Dietitians and fitness experts always advice in ruling out as much sugar as you can from your diet because sugar is a source of empty calories with no nutritional value. Since it has no function to perform in our body, it gets accumulated in the fat cells and leads to weight gain. But across all cultures, home and abroad, there is a tradition of ending a good round of meal with an even good round of desserts. Most of us almost out of reflex start hunting for something sweet after every meal. So what could be the reason behind these sugar cravings
, this urge to end a meal with sweets? Lets find out.
According to Bangalore-based nutritionist Dr. Anju Sood, “After your meals, the main function of the body, which takes up majority of energy, is digestion. And because digestion takes so much energy, the body craves an energy spike which it gets in the form of sugar. Sugar forms a source of quick energy.”
In most cases, the craving is mostly due to psychological reasons than physiological. The desire occurs out of a habit of ending your meal with a sweet. Regular consumption of foods high in sugar and fat leads to a certain neurochemical wiring in the brain that automatically triggers the craving for these types of foods. If you have always associated “meal-ending” with something sweet, it is difficult to find the closure if you haven’t met the need.
Post meal sugar cravings can also be due to increased production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which is associated with mood-elevation. Consuming sugar (or other simple carbohydrates) is said to enhance the absorption of the amino acid tryptophan found in some foods. The tryptophan then enables an increased production of serotonin. Sugary desserts causes serotonin levels to rise, which make us feel happier, calmer and satisfied.
Uneven blood sugar levels after meal may also trigger these cravings. If your meal is not well balanced, and comprises mainly of carbohydrates (especially simple carbs), it results in an immediate spike in the blood sugar levels, only to drop suddenly after the meal. Your body can’t acclimatise to this dip in glucose levels and to get back to this soaring high, your body craves sugar. Dr. Sood adds, “simple carbs also digest very easily, which calls for more sugar for the fuel.”
The cravings can also arise as a complementary need to your very salty meal you just took. Something sweet afterwards is the body’s way of trying to create balance. Dropping all sources of sugar from your diet, and suppressing the sweet cravings completely, may only intensify the cravings, leading you to binge on sugary items later in the day.
How to Cut Down Sugar Cravings
1. Don’t cut down on sugar completely; craving sugar after a meal is natural. There is no need to go harsh on yourself. You can still enjoy your fill of desserts, but in moderation. Have nutritious dessert to end your meal and substitute refined and chemical-based sugar with healthy substitutes like natural sugars found in fruits, dry fruits, jaggery or honey. Add natural sweetness to meals with side dishes in the form of salads.
According to Dr. Sood, “You can have certain desserts even when you are on a diet. Dieting doesn’t mean that you have to cut out your favourite foods completely. As a dietitian, I let my clients have desserts because I balance out their meals and calories that way. While restricting your carbohydrate and fat intake on a diet, you may often crave sugar as your body needs energy and it may not be getting enough. To fill this energy deficit, I allow my clients to have a small portion of their favourite dessert.”
2. Balance out your meals: Add more of complex carbohydrates and low GI foods to your meals to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, legumes and most types of fruits are some of the best sources of low GI foods. Also refrain from foods that are very high in salt content. If you aren’t feeling full even after your meals, add more fiber to your diet, which will give you the satiating feeling for long, preventing you from binging into sugary foods after meals. Having a lot of protein also helps.
3. Few handy techniques such as brushing your teeth immediately after eating or chewing a piece of minty, sugar-free gum can help you cut down the instant desire to consume something sugary after a meal.
4. Sweetening your breakfast can also go a long way in cutting down these cravings. It is said that adding a small serving of something sweet to your breakfast can prevent sweet cravings later in the day. This is because when you wake up in the morning, your serotonin levels are at their highest and cravings are supposedly the lowest.
Remember, nothing harms if it is in moderation. Craving sugar after meals is a natural phenomenon, heeding to which is okay, provided it doesn’t become a heavy dependence, beginning to take a heavy toll upon your body and health.