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Get rid of your sugar craving

Can’t do without sweets? Maybe it’s time to stop giving in to your sugar craving. “The truth is that we can survive on a sugar-free diet because all the sugar that our bodies need is present in the carbs and the natural sweets we eat every day,” says Dr Rekha Sharma.

brunch Updated: Nov 09, 2013 17:08 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi
Hindustan Times

Johnny, Johnny! Yes, papa
Eating sugar? No, papa
Telling lies? No, papa
Open your mouth! Ha! Ha! Ha!

That was when you were just a baby. And since then, the sugar fetish has just grown, hasn’t it? So what is it now? Chocolates, brownies, gulab jamuns and rasmalais? Or several cups of tea and coffee with lots of white sugar? Or perhaps just two glasses of fresh fruit juice? Or just breads, pastas and other everyday regulars... Many of us indulge our sweet tooth often, if not every day. And of course it makes us happy. But the truth is pretty bitter. Dr Rekha Sharma, president, Indian Dietetic Association, claims there’s no need for extra sugar in anyone’s diet. "The truth is that we can survive on a sugar-free diet because all the sugar that our bodies need is present in the carbs and the natural sweets we eat every day," says Dr Sharma.

But what about our energy requirements? After all, doesn’t the body need glucose to keep running at its energetic best? "Sure it does. And that’s where good sugar and bad sugar or natural and added sugar, enter the picture," explains Sharma. "The problem is that we love sweets too much and end up stuffing ourselves with bad sugar."

Experts say that the three essentials to our diet – sugar, starch and fibre – are all basically sugar. During digestion, complex sugars such as starch and fibre take longer to digest and enter the bloodstream, but the simple sugars gain quick access, cause a spike in blood sugar, and have harmful effects (such as weight gain and liver problems), if taken in excess.

While doctors claim that all bad sugar is simple sugar (such as your white table sugar), they clarify that not all simple sugar is bad (sugar present in fruits and vegetables, for example). "It actually depends on the source. Most naturally found simple sugars are not bad. However, added sugar can create havoc in the system," says Dr Mahindra Sehgal, senior diabetologist in Mumbai.

So what are natural sugars?

Natural v/s Added
Natural sugar in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains is simple and good sugar. These foods also contain vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fibre.“The presence of fibre in any food item makes a significant difference as it slows down the absorption of sugar, which in turn moderates the impact on blood sugar,” says Dr Sehgal. “However, when any type of sugar is added to foods during processing, cooking or at the table, the calories consumed are without any nutrients or fibre. This added sugar is bad sugar.”

An excess of bad sugar over time can lead to sugar addiction, say experts.

Sugar addiction
“Well, it may not be as bad as drug addiction, but in the long run it can have adverse effects on one’s health,” says Dr Sharma. Dr Sehgal agrees. He says that we are genetically not designed to consume the amount of sugar that we currently eat. “And this excess sugar is what gives us that ‘happy feeling’ or as we call it, sugar rush,” he says.

Experts insist that the average intake of sugar should not be more than 10 per cent of our daily calorie consumption. “Anything above this is unnecessary,” he adds.

Doctors say one should consume natural sugar as far as possible. “Trade brown for white, whole fruits for juices, stop adding sugar to tea or coffee and of course stop bingeing on cakes, pastries or sweets,” says Dr Sharma. “Have one if you wish, but then turn away. If you want more than one, bite into sweets made with fructose or natural fruit sweeteners.”

Natural simple sugars

These foods are naturally sweet...
Apples Crunching on one before bedtime or during mild activity will keep your blood sugar from dropping.

Banana This on-the-go fruit is a good source of fibre, potassium and vitamin C. Also, it has a medium range on the glycemic index.

Pineapple A small serving of juicy pineapple packs a lot of sugar in small amounts. Go for it when you crave something sweet.

Prunes This chewy snack gets its ‘super fruit’ nickname because it’s a great source of antioxidants as well as potassium.

Carrots Boiled or fresh, carrots pack in a lot of good sugar.

Beetroot Easy to prepare, beetroot is sweet and very healthy. Helps maintain your blood sugar levels.

...and so are these
Yoghurt The healthy benefits of this calcium and probiotic-rich food make it a good source of sugar.

Whole wheat breads Carbohydrates play an active role in balancing blood sugar levels. Opt for stone-ground whole wheat bread over the more-processed fine-ground wheat or white bread. “Roti, paratha, pasta all get converted into sugar and fulfil the body’s sweet need,” says Dr Sehgal.

Dark chocolate With cocoa content above 70 per cent, you still get to feed your sweet tooth. But the sugar content is minimal as compared to milk chocolate.

Don’t become a sugar addict!

1. Be aware of your cravings. “When you crave sugar, don’t just run to get it. Stop and think why you need it: because you are depressed and unhappy? Bored? Hungry? Sugar creates that happy feeling in your brain, and you could be craving sugar for a number of reasons,” says Dr Sehgal.

2. Do you feel low without sugar? Try dark chocolate or fruit instead. Lay your hands on alternatives that aren’t as bad for you or don’t get your blood glucose to spike.

3. Scale it down, slowly. It doesn’t matter if you take a long time to kick the sugar habit. “If you are thinking about sugar, get up and do something; distract your brain in another direction (other than the sugar you are craving),” says Dr Sharma.

4. Exercise! Sugar raises serotonin and dopamine levels, which satisfy cravings, say experts. Exercise does the same thing! Try exercising when you have sugar cravings… get that rush safely.

5. Have it close to your workout. “There is a better chance of burning carbs as energy if consumed close to your workout sessions and have it stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver rather than as fat!” says Dr Sharma

From HT Brunch, November 10

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