Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: A quick guide to curbing your sugar cravings
DO YOU need a sugar fix? If your sweet tooth is leading you into the temptation of chocolate, biscuits and sweets more often than is healthy, it could be more than just a matter of lack of willpower.
We all know the dangers of too much sugar in our diet – from obesity and type 2 diabetes, to dental caries and mood swings, sugar has a lot to answer for. Even though most of us know that it is not good for us, we still love it. It triggers a dopamine response in the reward centre of our brain, and the more we eat, the more we need.
The World Health Organisation recommend that we should have no more than 25g (or about 6 teaspoonfuls) a day. Most Irish adults eat around four times this amount. Of course, we know the obvious sources of sugar in our diet – cakes, biscuits and that wee chocolate bar we just can't do without at 3pm – but we are also consuming sugar in plenty of the savoury foods on our shopping lists too.
Soups, sauces, bread, crackers and breakfast cereals are some of the less obvious culprits that are adding up to too much of the white stuff in our diets.
Whether I am working with clients on a one-to-one consultation, or with groups in workshops, the sugar question comes up time and again. So here are a few ideas to help you curb your sugar cravings and help get your sweet tooth under control.
Know your labels. Reduced sugar, lower sugar or no added sugar doesn't necessarily mean you are buying a low-sugar food. Keep an eye on food labels and get into the habit of screening the food you buy for its sugar content. Forget about the marketing hype on the front of the pack and instead check out the amount of sugar per 100g of any food you are buying; 5g or less per 100g is low sugar.
:: Don't buy it
If your fridge and cupboards are full of tempting high-sugar treats, you will eat them. If sugar isn't in the house, the choice is easy.
Make a low-sugar start to your day. Porridge with berries and nuts, a low-sugar granola or muesli, (remember, 5g or less per 100g), or a couple of scrambled eggs with wholegrain toast make a low-sugar start to your day.
:: Eat more vegetables than fruit
If your five a day means five portions of fruit, then your sugar intake could be too high. Aim to have a maximum of three portions of fruit a day and choose lower-sugar varieties like berries, pears, plums, apples or kiwi instead of tropical fruit like mango, banana or pineapple.
A general guideline to remember is fruit that grows in a temperate climate like ours tends to be lower in sugar than tropical fruit.
:: Avoid fruit juice
There can be as much sugar in a glass of fruit juice as there is in fizzy drinks.
:: Don't skip meals
Often when we get hungry, we want a quick fix and often that quick fix is a sugar hit. Eat at regular times for breakfast, lunch and dinner if possible.
:: Have healthy snacks handy
Nuts, fruit, natural or Greek yoghurt, oatcakes and cheese are a healthier choice than sugar-laden snacks.
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Think about supplements. There are plenty of nutritional supplements that can help take the edge off sugar cravings, so if you are really struggling, I would suggest looking out for a combination containing chromium, magnesium and B vitamins to help get your sweet tooth under control.