For much of the country, winter means more time spent indoors and – for some – more snacking and the potential for weight gain. Throw in a few record-breaking storms like we’ve been battling here in the northeast and the dietary slip-ups can really snowball (no pun intended).
It’s nearly six weeks into 2015. Surveys suggest that you’re now well on your way to abandoning those New Year’s resolutions and reverting to your bad habits. Perhaps the weather thwarted your efforts or maybe your strategy was doomed from the get-go. In my previous post, I suggested breaking goals down into specific tactics, among them cutting sugar from your diet. I know, easier said than done, especially in light of research showing that sugar is more addictive than cocaine and results in withdrawal processes similar to quitting opiates.
For sugar addicts, conditioning oneself to crave less sugar can be a long, slow process. A diet based on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods – combined with regular exercise and stress reduction strategies – is and always has been the most effective way to get and stay lean and healthy. But sometimes, when willpower wanes, you need another ally in the battle of the bulge. While there’s no magic pill to take the weight off, modern science has revealed specific compounds that may help stop sugar cravings in their tracks. If you still find it challenging to finish a meal without something sweet, consider one of these supplements:
Sugar cravings – especially for chocolate – are often indicative of a magnesium deficiency. This critical mineral is involved in over 300 biochemical processes. Among them are blood sugar regulation, carbohydrate metabolism and the role of insulin in the body. In fact, several studies have demonstrated a reduced risk of developing diabetes among those consuming diets higher in magnesium. Along with stress, excess sugar in the diet causes your body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys. Magnesium is found in large amounts in the hippocampus – the emotional center of the brain. Studies have shown that magnesium levels affect production of the “pleasure neurotransmitter” dopamine. It’s been theorized that low dopamine levels and a stressed state trigger sugar cravings in an attempt to increase pleasure. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium and it’s hard to get sufficient amounts through diet alone. Supplementation is advised. Magnesium glycinate and citrate are the best absorbed forms of the mineral. Avoid the cheap, poorly-absorbed oxide form of magnesium, which is many popular multivitamins include. Aim for 400 – 1,000 mg per day. As an added bonus, magnesium has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.
Peppermint is a natural appetite suppressant. In studies, participants who sniffed peppermint every few hours ate less throughout the day. If inhaling the scent of peppermint oil doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps tea does. Sip some during a meal and you might be less likely to reach for dessert. Peppermint tea is known to induce calmness and relaxation, which can relieve the stress that often triggers sugar cravings. I’m a fan of Teavana’s white chocolate peppermint tea. Gum can have the same effect (just make sure it’s sugar-free, of course!) Even brushing your teeth has been shown to crush cravings.
Sometimes referred to as the “sugar destroyer,” gymnema sylvestre is an herb that has been shown to make food taste less sweet. In studies on diabetics, those taking gymnema supplements were able to lower their dose of diabetes medications. The herb also slows down the body’s absorption of sugar, balancing glucose levels in the body. The typical dose is 200 to 400 mg once or twice per day. I like this product but whichever brand you choose, make sure it’s standardized to at least 25 percent gymnemic acid.
Sugar makes the gut more permeable. This prevents optimal absorption of vitamins and minerals, creating nutritional deficiencies that can increase cravings. The amino acid l-glutamine helps repair the intestinal lining. Take 500-1,000 mg serving several times throughout the day. For some, this knocks out cravings within minutes.
5. Coconut oil
Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a huge fan of coconut oil, not only because of its high smoke point but also due to its proven antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil provide a quick burst of energy and far more satiety than sugar and other carbohydrates. It also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which decrease cravings for junk. To further assist with weight management, coconut oil also increases metabolism. A tablespoon of virgin coconut oil before meals may do the trick. I eat it right out of the jar and it fills me up right away – and for hours.
The chemical compound 5-HTP (5 hydroxytryptophan) is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, appetite and behavior. When serotonin levels are low, cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods kick in. Research has shown that participants who took a 5-HTP supplement ate fewer calories, felt less hungry throughout the day and lost more weight than those taking a placebo. I like this product. Try 200mg about 20 minutes before meals.