In the nutrition space, you’ll hear comparisons between “simple carbs” and “complex carbs,” with the latter usually winning out, but what do these two types of carbohydrates mean for our overall health? Let’s start by understanding what they are, and how they differ, and then we can start to understand how to handle cravings.
Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar molecules and can be both natural or refined. Natural versions can be found in a variety of foods including fruits (fructose) and dairy (lactose), but most of the simple carbs crowding our day-to-day diets are added to foods. On the other hand, refined sugars are processed, which means you as the end consumer gets more sugar, but less of the good stuff, like fiber.
No matter if it’s simple or complex, the body converts all forms of sugar into glucose, then uses that glucose for energy. But, the body metabolizes each form of sugar differently. The fiber in natural sources of sugar (i.e. fruits and berries) helps slow down metabolism and makes you feel full. On the flip side, the body breaks down refined sugar very quickly, leading to temporary spikes in blood sugar levels and not feeling “full” post-meal.
The sugary dilemma
If you’re eating simple carbs, your blood sugar is likely to spike. And after blood sugar spikes, it must fall – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. No matter how many calories were in that ice cream sundae or candy bar, you’ll probably feel hungry again once the sugar high dies down. This can lead to overeating and increases the likelihood that your body will store excess energy (calories from carbohydrates) as fat.
Excess sugar also leads to a suppressed immune system, weakened eyesight, premature aging, heart disease and depression.
What about those ‘healthy’ added sweeteners?
While natural added sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave do contain slightly higher amounts of antioxidants and minerals, they’re still sugar at heart and therefore have the same blood sugar-spiking, addictive properties. Consuming added sweeteners of any kind in moderation is the best way to kick a sweet tooth to the curb.
8 ways to deal with sugar cravings
Knowing the health effects simple carbs and sugar can have on your body and health is a great place to start – but kicking cravings will come down to the powerful combination of knowledge and a shift in habits. To start to build healthy habits, we’ve curated a list of great ways to help you eat less sugar.
Drink peppermint tea
Next time you start to feel a craving (not to be confused with hunger – if you’re hungry, you should eat!), start boiling water and grab some mint tea. Minty teas like peppermint and spearmint have the unique ability to satiate a sweet craving.
Get moving! When a sugar craving hits, preoccupy your mind by doing a quick 8fit HIIT workout, stepping out of the office for a walk, or by unrolling your yoga mat for some stretching or moving meditation.
You’ve probably heard this before, but sometimes those feelings of hunger are actually signals of thirst. Focusing on drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water (about 2 liters) per day to stay fully hydrated, and you’ll notice cravings diminishing
Boost serotonin levels
Research shows that boosting serotonin levels can help you deal with sugar cravings. Some ways to increase serotonin include exercise, exposing yourself to bright light or sunlight, eating healthy foods, and doing things that make you happy, so pick back up a lost-long hobby or passion project, or spend time with your friends and loved ones!
Eat whole foods
Filling up on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean protein and healthy fats without added sugars will make you feel satiated and prevent the onset of post-meal sugar cravings. Processed foods and sugary meals will do just the opposite — they might taste good, but you’ll most likely experience a post-meal sugar crash followed by sugar cravings.
Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals doesn’t help you reach your wellness goals and also increases the chances that you’ll reach for something high in sugar when meal time finally arrives.
Trick your tastebuds
If you just can’t bear to live without the sweet stuff, you can trick your tastebuds into thinking you’re eating something sweet by adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and coriander to your coffee, oatmeal, smoothies or other meals. You can also reach for naturally sweet fruits and veggies to get your fix without added or refined sugar – whole, natural sugars like fruits always have a place in a healthy, balanced diet.
When unhealthy bacteria outnumber healthy bacteria in your digestive tract, it has been linked to conditions including anxiety and depression, and when we are stressed and feeling blue, it can be even harder to say “no” to sweets. Improving the healthy microbiota in your body by eating fermented foods can help prevent and treat anxiety and depression — and therefore sugar cravings. Fermented food sources include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles.