How does a low-fat diet drive cravings?
Fat, carbohydrates and protein are the three macronutrients (not counting water) so in a low-fat diet, there must be a higher ratio of the other macronutrients. It’s very hard to overeat lean protein as it is very satiating so most people rely heavily on carbohydrates when they cut their fat intake. So a low-fat diet also a high carbohydrate diet.
Carbohydrates are the fastest digesting macronutrient - their breakdown begins in the mouth with the enzyme salivary amylase and they are quickly absorbed through the intestines and the sugars end up in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that is released when blood sugar goes up. It is a signal to the body to store energy. If there is a large blood sugar load, the pancreas releases a lot of insulin to try and get the blood sugar to a normal level, this causes blood sugar to drop rapidly. This blood sugar roller coaster leaves a person with cravings for more sugar, feeling tired, sluggish and irritable.
The blood sugar roller coaster
Because of the blood sugar highs and crashes, a diet too high in carbohydrates can leave you hungrier and eating more food than necessary than if the person ate a balanced meal of fats, proteins and carbohydrate. So a cycle starts of eating a high carbohydrate meal which leads to high blood sugar which leads to more insulin being released. Blood sugar then crashes and the cravings start. When insulin is chronically elevated cells become numb to its message to store sugar. People stuck in this situation begin to require more and more insulin to be produced to have the same effect.
When people turn to a low-fat diet they usually turn to grains, bread, processed snacks and low-fat dairy products which are all adulterated foods. Most foods marketed as low-fat are packaged, processed and have sugar added to them to improve palatability. When fat is removed from foods flavour and texture are altered and the item is usually less desirable. Food chemists are employed to tinker with ingredients by adding different types of sugar and other additives like flavours, thickeners, gums. I am always amazed by the number of different types of sugars added to these foods, some have 4 or 5 versions of the same thing - sugar. These foods do very little to keep people feeling satisfied and full after a meal. Instead, they are digested very quickly, enter the bloodstream as sugar and stimulate more insulin so the blood sugar roller coaster starts again.
What I notice personally is when I cut sugar, I stop craving the sweet taste. That doesn't mean I cut all carbohydrates, I’m active and need the energy. But when I incorporate the complex carbohydrate versions like starchy vegetables, rice or whole grain sprouted bread they don’t seem to affect my cravings.
Another plus to limiting sugar for more than a couple of weeks is that I feel my hunger response improve. I’m more satisfied with my meals with protein, fat and vegetables. When I get hungry again the feeling isn't as intense or immediate as when I’m eating more sugar. The hormone ghrelin is responsible for our hunger and tells us to eat more, even if we already ate enough for the day. Ideally when we eat unprocessed foods as close to nature as possible we stop being hungry when we’ve taken in enough nutrition for the day. But when sugar messes with our hunger hormones it can keep driving the cycle of hunger and cravings causing us to over-eat. I’ve definitely experienced eating a sugary pastry and then not long after be hungry again, even if my stomach might not even be empty yet.
So, you’ve over-indulged in the sweet stuff? Here are my 5 quick tips to help you reset your sweet cravings faster.
You made a decision to enjoy a food and life is for living so don't beat yourself up about it. One meal or treat won’t make you unhealthy just like one salad doesn't make you healthy. Cutting way back on food after something sweet is a sure fire way to set off cravings and a negative mindset.
Fats & fibre keep you full
Make sure your next meal has plenty of healthy fat and vegetables to keep you satiated. Avocado, coconut oil, eggs, quality butter along with the fibre and water from the vegetables will fill you up and give you a steady reserve of long-lasting energy.
Try a green drink
I love this Vitamineral Green powder to reset my taste buds from the sweet taste. Or try throwing leafy greens like kale, romaine, spinach, arugula, with fresh herbs like parsley, basil or cilantro, cucumber, celery, juice from a lemon and half an apple into a high-speed blender. The fresh green lemony taste can also wake up your taste buds from the sweetness coma.
This amino acid has been shown to effectively bust sugar cravings as they happen. If you find your willpower lacking grab a capsule and empty it on your tongue to stop yourself from spiralling down a sugary sweet rabbit hole.
If you can’t resist something sweet in the evening a cup of herbal tea might be just the thing for you. Pick up some great caffeine free options and stick unsweetened. I personally love Yogi Caramel Bedtime, it has L-theanine which is a very relaxing amino acid. The ritual of taking the time to sip a hot cup of tea will keep you busy enough to hopefully forget your need for sweet.
Additional things to consider
Are your cravings there because you are looking for comfort or maybe you are bored? Are you reaching for something sweet because you are sad, lonely, angry? Calling a friend or family member to unload what’s on your mind and distract yourself from something sweet could be helpful. Or if you would rather be alone, take a walk outside or set a 20 minute timer and do some easy stretches at home.
Slaying the sugar demon
In our modern lives, no one can let go of all added sugars forever. It’s just not sustainable or realistic nor would I personally want to. We can still enjoy treats but when we choose to, not when our blood sugar is out of control and sending us insatiable signals to consume more and more of the sweet stuff.