Let’s be honest – no one craves broccoli, or quinoa, or Brussels sprouts. We crave pizza, pasta, and cookies! However, we must learn to control and conquer these carb cravings in order to maintain stable blood sugar and avoid health complications due to high blood sugar.
We’ll begin by determining how cravings begin. When the body consumes a simple carbohydrate, it responds the same way as if it had consumed sugar. There is no additional nutrition available to slow the absorption of the resulting sugars into the bloodstream and therefore, blood sugar rises. This causes a rapid release of insulin, and directs the incoming calories into muscle, liver, and fat cells.
This causes the amount of calories in the bloodstream to become low, causing the body to run out of available fuel. When your brain registers “low-fuel” it prompts feelings of hunger, causing you to want to eat again after only a short period of time. And so the cycle repeats, potentially causing weight gain and blood sugar control issues.
The endorphins that are released into the body after you’ve eaten can also trigger a craving. Cravings can then become emotionally driven, especially if you are eating for comfort.
So, how can we break the carb craving cycle? Begin by cutting out all starchy and processed carbs for one week. That means no bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, pizza, crackers, bagels, cake or cookies. This also includes the carbs you drink. No sodas, sweetened teas, energy drinks, etc. Don’t worry, you can do it and it’s going to be worth it!
In place of those carb-heavy foods, focus on eating protein, lots of fresh, colorful vegetables, and plenty of healthy fats. An egg with sliced avocado for breakfast, a grilled chicken salad with oil and vinegar dressing for lunch, and steak with asparagus for dinner. That doesn’t sound too bad does it?
After the first week, you can gradually add back “good carbs” like quinoa, steel-cut oats, nuts, low-glycemic fruits like apples, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Quinoa is a great source of both protein and fiber. One cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. This combination not only fills you up, it helps stabilize your blood sugar, too!
Raw, unsalted nuts like almonds and walnuts are full of protein, healthy fats, and nutrients. This makes nuts a great addition to meals and desserts, and also qualifies them as an exceptional snack. A handful of nuts will help you stay full and energized far longer than a bag of potato chips would!
The fiber in the fruit and skin of an apple helps you feel full and satisfied, and slows the absorption of the apple’s natural sugars into the bloodstream. Sweet potatoes are a complex carb that is high in many nutrients: beta-carotene, vitamins A, B6, C and E, thiamine, niacin, and potassium. They also contain protein and calcium!
The best way to enjoy carbs is in combination with foods that will help to slow their absorption even more. If the complex carbohydrate is paired with fiber, protein, or fat, it is absorbed even more slowly and blood sugar will remain more stable.
It’s best to consume carbs earlier on in the day, at either breakfast or lunch. This gives the body time to process the carbs, and provides the opportunity to burn the energy off as you move about during the day.
Try to skip carbs as often as you can at dinner, because the body has less time to process them. Firstly, you’re more likely to have a blood sugar spike. Secondly, the body burns its energy stores as you sleep. If you consume carbs at dinner and then go to sleep shortly thereafter, your body has no use for the food energy the carbs contained. So, your cells then store that food energy as fat while you’re asleep.
Replacing your cravings foods with food hacks is another great strategy. If potato chips are a weakness for you, try replacing them with air-popped popcorn, almonds, or cashews. Sliced cucumber or zucchini are divine when dipped in hummus, pesto, even salsa. Yes chips taste good, but there are plenty of delicious, healthier alternatives.
Is that candy bar in the vending machine calling your name? Try a piece of whole fruits like an apple, peach, or melon slices to get your “sugar fix.” Fresh berries are a great low-glycemic sweet snack option, as well. Craving an ice-cold glass of soda? Try sparkling water jazzed up with lime or lemon slices. It provides a similar fizz but has far less sugar and calories.
Just because you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy good food. If anything, the knowledge that we now have about how food affects blood sugar gives us a special opportunity to eat for health… and for enjoyment. We simply have to put a little thought into our choices!