Most of us will have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a healthy diet. Despite the protestations of the sugar industry, it appears we’ve sussed onto the fact that sugar-charged treats such as chocolate, biscuits and coffee bar patisseries do little for our waistline or well-being. Yet, while we may be sold on sense behind avoiding these sweet treats, for some of us, temptation can be simply too hard to bare. We may know damn well that a crisp green apple would make a fabulously healthy snack after lunch, but it doesn’t necessarily stop us raiding the vending machine or cracking into the chocolate Hob Nobs from time to time.
The traditional view of these dietary indiscretions is that they are the result of a weak will and lack of self-control. Yet, while a ‘sweet tooth’ may seem to be the rooted in some psychological feebleness, my experience tells me otherwise. Mostly, I have found that this issue is the result of an imbalance in body, not mind.
The body, like any well-oiled machine, likes to keep itself in balance. One area that the body puts a lot of time and effort into regulating is the level of sugar in the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise after a meal, the body secretes a hormone called insulin which helps bring blood sugar levels back to normal. However, it can happen that blood sugar levels drop lower than normal. The body will want to correct this. One way is to secrete hormones that push blood sugar levels up again. Another way, and this is where the trouble starts, is to stimulate the urge to eat something sweet.
If sugar cravings are a recurrent feature in your life, then balancing your blood sugar is top priority for you. The question is, how? Well, one of the most important strategies in this respect is to make sure you eat – regularly. Skipping breakfast, grabbing a light lunch and eating for Britain in the evening will do nothing to stabilise blood sugar levels. Eating three meals a day (yes, that does mean breakfast), is a central principle in establishing blood sugar stability. For many, eating healthy snacks such as some nuts or fresh fruit in between meals can do wonders to keep blood sugar levels from dropping into the danger zone.
Obviously, blood sugar balance doesn’t just depend on when you eat, but what you eat too. The most important thing here to base the diet around foods which give long, slow release of sugar into the bloodstream. Fast releasing foods tend to cause high peaks of blood sugar, which can over-stimulate the body’s regulatory mechanisms, leading to crashes of blood sugar within a few hours. It comes as no surprise that sugar-laden foods such as chocolate, biscuits, sugared breakfast cereals, and soft drinks tend to upset blood sugar balance. What is perhaps more surprising is that many starchy foods, traditionally thought of as being ‘slow releasers’, turn out to be nothing of the sort. White bread, rice, pasta and potatoes all cause relatively rapid rises in blood sugar levels.
The foods which tend to give more sustained blood sugar release include whole rye bread, brown rice, beans, pulses and most fresh fruits and vegetables. Another important dietary element for blood sugar stability is protein. Studies show that including protein (e.g. lean meat, fish, egg, natural yoghurt, tofu) with meals helps regulate the level of sugar in the body. What does all of this mean in practice? Well, instead of your favourite breakfast fayre of honey nut cornflakes, why not try some unsweetened muesli topped with natural yoghurt and raspberries. A chicken Caesar is a much better bet for lunch than a huge baguette. And while pasta may seem like an ideal supper, it doesn’t compare to a piece of fish with vegetables.