by Sarah Senter, LAc, ACN / @medicine_kitchen
Gosh, I love the holidays. I truly do, actually. My family goes all out. But the one thing I could do without is the annual sugar marathon. How can we tame our sugar cravings this holiday season? What’s so wrong with indulging in the holiday sugar rush, anyhow? Let me break it down for you. There are actually some really simple and effective steps you can take to protect your health and curb sugar cravings as we head into the holiday season.
So, what does excessive sugar consumption really do to your body? First of all, it can lower your immunity by inhibiting certain cells from being able to fight pathogens effectively. Parents – you don’t want to risk this. It can also lead to inflammation and insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), not to mention have lingering or permanent effects on your metabolism. Refined sugar (and any food that spikes the blood sugar) is actually proven to be biologically addictive in the same way as gambling or cocaine can be. Ugh! So – I take it seriously when the holidays come around trying to seduce me into eating all of the sweet things. I put an action plan into place, and you can too. Here are some steps you can take to curb your sweet tooth and re-calibrate your palette, if necessary, so that you are the one in control of your food choices, and not your cravings.
1 / Stop and Taste the Carrots.
I love telling my clients to stop and taste things and really register their flavor. When we consume refined sugars and overly-sweet foods, our palette actually shifts to believe those are the norm, and it can make cravings worse. Re-train your taste buds to recognize naturally sweet flavors instead of artificially or excessively sweet ones. For example, carrots are very naturally sweet. So is cabbage, in fact, not to mention the wonderful variety of sweet fruits that come in and out of season. Stop and taste these whole foods and take time to register that this is the sweet taste that our bodies need to calibrate towards – not the sweet taste of soda or icing sugar. You can start incorporating more of these naturally sweet whole foods on a daily basis to stave off cravings and build a balanced foundation for your diet.
2 / Add Bitter Flavors.
Bitter flavor counteracts, or balances, sweet. When you find yourself really craving something sweet – take that as a sign to start incorporating more bitter flavors into your diet. Bitter salad greens like endive, radicchio, arugula, or mustard greens are a good starting point. Brussels sprouts and grapefruit, artichoke, broccoli, dandelion greens, and chicory are also beneficial. You may have noticed that dark chocolate tends to be a favorite dessert for many health-nuts, including myself, and there is good reason for this! The bitterness of the higher levels of pure cocoa in the chocolate balance out the sweet flavor of the sugar, giving your taste buds a balanced, rather than extreme, experience of sweet. This greatly reduces your body’s desire for high sugar flavors over time.
3 / Try some Herbs.
If you are struggling with cravings or even sugar addiction, try out some herbal products that may help balance your body from within. Gymnema Sylvestre (aka shardunika) is a must. This herb has anti-diabetic properties and has been called the “destroyer of sugar” in Ayurveda as it can neutralize sweet flavor. You can have a gymnema tincture or tablet before you consume sweets and you will notice a profound change in how your taste buds react to your dessert. Beyond neutralizing and regulating sugar and sweet substances after you have ingested them, shardunika helps regulate a healthy appetite, AND it helps lessen cravings for sweet things – it’s a good ally. Sweet Change is also a great tincture that incorporates gymnema with other Chinese herbs to help you curb sugar cravings and balance your taste buds. Simply spray a few times per day & get on your way.
4 / Balance your Plate.
This is a good trick. Instead of having a plate of dinner at a party, and then going back for a smaller plate of dessert, try adding on a small portion of dessert with your dinner plate – all on the same plate at once. This way, you can see dessert as the smallest portion of your meal, which it should be, it relation to all the other food you are eating. Think of your plate as a pie chart. Fill the larger, healthy triangles of the pie first – veggies and greens, protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. Then fill the smaller triangles – fruit, dairy, refined foods, and finally sweets as the smallest section. You’ll be able to see the whole picture this way rather than filling a second plate with sweets for dessert and running the risk of it being a way bigger portion than you planned, or even noticed.
5 / Don’t go Hungry.
It’s as simple as this: If you wait too long to eat (or drink, even) your blood sugar will drop, your body will get desperate and it will force you to grab something, anything, to give it fuel. During the holidays, this could easily end up being cookies in the office or a major pumpkin spice latte pick-me-up in the afternoon. It’s a miserable cycle to be in to have your blood sugar spiking up and down like this and it can wreak havoc on your hormones, especially. I’m talking to you, ladies. So be good to yourself, eat every 2 hours with some protein in each of your meals, cinnamon or clove spice are good to include with meals to keep sugar levels stable for longer & always hydrate with water to avoid this calamity 🙂
And in addition to this, relax & enjoy the spirit of the holidays, find joy and give joy. That goes a long way for your health as well. Sending you all peace and love this season.
Sarah Senter is an acupuncturist and founder of Medicine Kitchen. In addition, Sarah founded a business group this year called The Circle with two friends, both of whom have been featured on Love Child. For more on Sarah, follow her at @medicine_kitchen.