The Sugar Struggle Is Real: Five Tricks to Kick Cravings for Good

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Here’s how it happens: someone brought cake to work, and you had two (okay, three) slices. The donut box was left open and who can resist those Bavarian crème-filled beauties? You answered the 3 pm beckoning of the vending machine down the hall, again.

These are only a few of a million sugar indulgent situations that we face on a daily basis. Evolutionarily speaking, we are preprogrammed to salivate at anything sprinkled or frosted. High-calorie foods are good investments for a species that spent 50,000 years scrounging for food. Our brains remember that surge of happy juice we got from our last cupcake and we can’t seem to help ourselves. These days, however, when food (especially the overly processed, low-quality kind) seems to be EVERYWHERE, we have to smarter than our genes.

Identify Your Triggers
The best way to avoid a food craving is to prevent what triggers it. Do you cave every time you pass the break room? Try a different route. Have a hard time resisting sweets at lunchtime? Pack a lunch and make it whole fruit instead of a 44 oz sweet tea. There’s still some ice cream in the freezer and we don’t want it to get freezer burnt! Don’t buy the sweets you can’t resist, thus forcing yourself to drive to Dairy Queen. Figuring out what triggers a craving, be it circumstance, time of day, habit, emotions, or hormones, is key to empowering yourself to resist it. Next time you find yourself with your hand in the cookie jar, slow down and analyze how you got there.

Prevent Cravings with Healthy Habits
Another great way to prevent a hankering for Honey Buns is by eating nutritious food regularly throughout the day. Snacking on nutrient-dense food every three-four hours leaves you satisfied and less likely to grab some sugar-laden convenience food. Meals and snacks should include a source of lean protein, heart-healthy fat and fiber to keep you energized and prevent post-prandial crashes. Avoid sugar substitutes, which perpetuate sugar urges.

Taking Sugar Head On
A recent study has found that merely focusing on the negative long-term consequences of giving in to cravings can significantly reduce their intensity. Researchers used an MRI to study subjects’ brains response to pictures of junk food. Thinking about future implications reduced the urge to eat and increased brain activity associated with inhibitory control. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your actions, even if you may not always feel in control of your body.

Remember: Cravings Only Last For a Short Time
The typical duration of a craving is 15 minutes. Keep this in mind and distract yourself for a quarter of an hour. Phone a friend, take a walk, pray, meditate, clean your bathtub, check your emails…the list of things you can accomplish in 15 minutes is practically endless. Researchers recently found that subjects could resist cravings by tapping on their heads with their finger for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of repetitive movement may save you thousands of calories.

Forgiving Yourself After an Indulgence
Studies have shown that everyone has cravings, regardless of their weight. No one is perfect. It’s unrealistic for anyone to expect that they will never, ever eat another piece of birthday cake. If we’re honest, having a small portion of sweet goodness every once in a while can actually help you stay on track. You are not a failure so don’t treat yourself like one by sabotaging yourself and your health goals. Instead of giving up and devouring the rest of the turtle cheesecake in a fit of self-loathing, forgive yourself and move on.

The Good News
The more often you can resist cravings, the less likely you are to have them. Start crushing cravings today and feel better than ever.

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Oh Sugar, Why Must You Torment Me So?

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I watched the clock intently: 10:32 pm and slowly counting. The baby was sleeping soundly in the next room. My eyes followed my husband as he headed to bed. Now’s my chance.

Five minutes later, standing in front of the fridge, spoon and empty pint of chocolate peanut butter Haagen Dazs in hand, I was humiliated. Disgusted. I looked around me in shamed shock, wondering what had just happened.

Nati always has room for ice cream.

Nati always has room for ice cream.

Preprogrammed to Crave Sugar

Em's first taste of ice cream.

Em’s first taste of ice cream.

If you suffer from sugar cravings, you may be wondering if you were born this way or were conditioned to have a penchant for gummi bears. A fetus will drink more amniotic fluid if it has been injected with a sweetener. In fact, this is a common medical practice to treat excessive amniotic fluid. In addition, sugar can actually have a small analgesic effect when infants ingest it. So, even in the womb we are genetically and evolutionarily wired to crave sweets.

Sugar on the Brain

Sugar consumption stimulates the release of two chemicals. After chowing down on that 3:00pm Snickers bar your brain lights up like a Christmas tree. Dopamine floods the reward center of your brain, making you feel like an addict who just indulged in their drug of choice. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on our mood, is also released. Sugar eventually disrupts nerve cell communication and attributes to brain fog.

Sugar: The Full Effect

Sugar affects almost every system of our bodies, and not in a good way. Sugar raises our risk of heart disease by increasing triglycerides and decreasing our “good” HDL cholesterol. Continual excess sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Sugar causes the release of hormones, which trigger an inflammatory response, thus people who eat more sugar increase their cancer risk. The sweet stuff may even be to blame for those premature wrinkles!

High-Fructose Corn Syrup, One Bad Mamma Jamma

This concentrated sweetener made from corn affects our body differently than glucose, the sugar our cells prefer. Fructose does not trigger our satiety cues or lower ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so we don’t feel fuller when we ingest it. Metabolizing too much fructose can overwhelm the liver, causing fatty liver disease. Fructose has no known health benefit to date.

Natural Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?

Local honey used for a vinegraitte. Photo courtesy Rachel Durrent.

Much like table sugar or corn syrup, honey, molasses, and maple syrup are all sources of simple sugar. Even though they offer additional benefits: minerals, antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties, or calcium and iron, as in the case of molasses, these sweeteners have high sugar contents and should be moderated.

A Sweet Victory

The struggle against sugar cravings is real. Every cell in our bodies was made to want sugar, to NEED it. However, there are ways to conquer the beast, to step away from the donut and toward a healthier existence. In the next article, we will focus on tactical maneuvers to combat sugar.

Meet the New Meat

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Meat production is not a new thing to Columbia, Missouri. Drive out of town in any direction and you’ll reach a meat processing plant within three hours. Meat in Columbia, however, is different. A lot different.

The average American consumes 200 lbs of meat every year. In order to feed the animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates, we have to devote over 3/4ths of the produce from US farmland to animal fodder. And here’s a statistic that will floor you: a pound of beef  “requires 298 square feet of land, 27 pounds of feed, and 211 gallons of water” and that’s not taking the gasoline it takes to ship it all across the nation into account. Considering population growth and the increased demand for meat from developing countries, many scientists have shifted their focus and resources to coming up with viable alternatives that leave a fraction of the carbon footprint.

Ethan Brown is the CEO of Beyond Meat, a company that turns soy and pea protein, along with amaranth, into a viable meat substitute that looks just like chicken. Brown partnered with Fu-Hung Shieh, a food scientist previously employed with Quaker Oats. Shieh uses a fancy-schmancy extruder machine that is responsible for everything from Fruit Loops to cookie dough. Beyond Meat chicken is gaining notice from the likes of Bill Gates and New York Times Best-Selling cookbook authors. You can currently find Beyond Meat products in select Whole Foods.

Chicken from Beyond Meat. Courtesy Beyond Meat

Chicken from Beyond Meat. Courtesy Beyond Meat

Only miles away, scientists are growing meat using a 3-D printer and a petri dish. It takes several weeks of printing an embryonic goo and incubating it until 700 beef cells are combined to make a small piece of muscle. This ground-breaking technology, marketed under the clever name Modern Meadow, was the brain child of theoretical physicist Gabor Forgacs, who originally used it to make transplant organs as well as medical research. Modern Meadow still has a considerable way to go to have the capability of producing meat for mass consumption, but for now they’re making a sizeable income manufacturing leather.

Whatever the seemingly outlandish, or slightly gruesome, method of producing alternative-to-meat proteins, they are likely not going away any time soon, and neither is the problem they are trying to fix.