It’s an honour to welcome back Maryon Stewart, renowned PMT and Menopause expert with her tips on tackling chocolate cravings.
Over to Maryon:
What better justification than Easter to indulge in even more chocolate than usual. If in past years you have been guilty of binging on chocolate eggs and bunnies and felt guilty don’t be too hard on yourself as you are craving for a physiological reason.
You can curb the cravings with a little sound new knowledge. Apart from feeling better about yourself and liking your reflection in the mirror more, it’s important to take take stock as a sugar-rich diet has been linked to many debilitating diseases including obesity, diabetes, dementia and, the bone thinning disease, osteoporosis.
Whether it is the smooth as silk ‘mouth feel’, the comfort it brings or its distinctive flavour, chocolate seems to be giving pleasure to ever increasing numbers of people all around the Western world.
It has been estimated that one year’s output of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs in England weighs more that 1,500 African Elephants. Plus anyone who took the advice of the advertising slogan, ‘A Mars a Day Helps You Work Rest And Play’, which started in 1959, would have eaten nearly six tonnes of Mars bars by now.
So why is it that we are guzzling more chocolate than ever before? Is it simply the skill of the Ad man, or is there more to the story than meets the eye?
UK Government scientists have halved the recommended level of added sugar people should consume each day, including honey and sugar naturally present in fruit juice, and the World Health Organisation has also said that we should aim to get only 5% of our calories from added sugar.
Most of us consume way more than that and it’s not too difficult because even a can of fizzy drink would take us to our limit or over. Their recommendations are aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic and diabetes, which is very sound advice if people can control their cravings. But that’s the tricky bit.
Craving food, particularly chocolate, is very common, and affects approximately three-quarters of all women to some degree, with 60 per cent feeling that chocolate was a problem for them, particularly in their pre-menstrual week; and men succumb to cravings for chocolate too.
It is not uncommon to get into a routine of eating in excess of six bars of chocolate each day, sometimes whole packets of fun-size bars, or even a whole box of chocolate all in one sitting. Whilst a little of what you fancy does you good, excessive consumption does little for our self-esteem, or our waistlines.
The craving mechanisms
The brain and nervous system require a constant supply of good nutrients in order to function normally. Eating nutritious food little and often would probably provide all that was needed, and indeed is the way we were designed to sustain ourselves.
When we are busy and under pressure it is unlikely that we will shop for and prepare fresh food in the way that our grandmothers and aunts probably did.
In the mid 1930s, for example, we were eating on average four proper meals per day with one in-between-meal snack, whereas now in the year 2004, our habits have changed, for we are now consuming one or two proper meals per day, at best, with four or five in-between-meal snacks. Clearly, many of us are not providing our bodies with the raw materials needed for normal function.
When we haven’t eaten for a while or consumed much nutritious food our blood sugar levels drop.
The brain, which requires glucose in order function normally, sends out a red alert asking for more glucose, ideally in the form of nutritious food. Unfortunately, as we are not educated about nutrition, we often supply the body with refined sugar in the form of a sweet processed snack, or chocolate, which is largely composed of refined sugar, which doesn’t contain any vitamins or minerals whatsoever, but does demand good nutrients in order to be metabolised.
The result of eating the refined sugar snack is that the blood sugar levels shoot up rapidly, flooding the blood with sugar.
The brain then sends another message to say that there is too much sugar in the blood, which triggers the release of the hormone insulin, whose function it is to drive the sugar back into the cells. It does this so efficiently that the blood sugar levels then goes back to low again, and the whole cycle begins again as a result.
The trick is knowing how to break this cycle, which often develops into a real addiction, and just like alcohol, drugs or smoking, involves a period of withdrawal.
The Secret ingredients
There are three specific nutrients, which have been shown to be needed to maintain normal blood sugar control, but this has in fact remained a well kept secret. B vitamins (necessary for optimum function of the brain and the nervous system), Magnesium (which also is necessary for normal hormone function, and incidentally, is the most common nutritional deficiency amongst women of childbearing age) and the trace element Chromium (we are born with approximately 1/16th of an ounce which lessens as the years go by).
Chromium, like magnesium and B vitamins can be sourced in food, but we have to know where to look for them. At the Natural Health Advisory Service, where pioneered a system for chocoholics for over twenty years, we recommend a specially formulated nutritional supplement which acts as a short term nutritional prop to regulate blood sugar levels.
The preparation known as Chromium Complex contains B Vitamins, magnesium and chromium as well as a little vitamin C.
Consume nutritious food little and often to keep blood sugar levels constant. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, with a wholesome mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack to keep the blood sugar levels constant.
Eat fresh home cooked foods wherever possible.
Eat foods that are intrinsically sweet like dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds.
Relax whilst you are eating and enjoy your food.
Plan your meals and snacks in advance bearing in mind that calorie requirements are increased by up to 500 calories per day during the premenstrual week.
Always shop for food after you have eaten.
Cut down on tea and coffee –If these are consumed in large amounts, they can also cause an increase in the release of insulin. Large amounts of sugar consumed in tea or coffee can contribute to an unstable blood glucose level. Try Rooibos tea which is a herbal tea lookalike, and coffee substitutes that are available in the health food shops.
Concentrate on a diet rich in chromium, magnesium and vitamins B and C including wholegrains, chilli, black pepper, chicken, bell peppers.
Reduce your intake of alcohol –apart from the fact that alcohol is high in calories, in excess it can cause liver damage, which can lead to significant hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar. Replacing a meal with two or three gin and tonics, for example, can cause a profound rise and subsequent fall in blood glucose levels, producing all the symptoms of hypoglycaemia.
And, take regular exercise – This is the one factor that can improve the control of blood sugar, as well as having many other health benefits. Exercise increases the sensitivity of the body’s response to insulin, leading to smoother control of blood sugar levels. Ideally you should be doing at least four sessions of exercise per week to the point of breathlessness.
Sprinkle cinnamon on your food and to drinks to help curb cravings. Research shows cinnamon bark contains substances that block the digestion of sugar in your intestines. It suppresses enzymes in our pancreas and intestines which prevents blood sugar spiking.
In addition, the Ayurvedic herb Gymnema Sylvestre, the woody climbing shrub native to India and Africa, has been shown to curb sugar craving. It contains compounds called gymnemic acids, which have a molecular structure similar to glucose, decreasing the absorption of sugar from the intestine. gymnemic acid molecules fill receptor sites on your taste buds to curb sugar cravings and your intestines, reducing sugar absorption from food.
To try Gymnema Sylvestre, look for an extract that is standardised to contain at least 25 percent gymnemic acid. The clinical trials used doses of 200 to 400 mg per day. Beware though as it can upset your tummy, so it’s best to take it with food and shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women or those taking diabetic medication.
You will need to set aside some time for planning before you embark on the mission to reclaim your body and your brain. Make a menu plan for the week including snacks, and then go shopping, only buying what is on your list.
If you haven’t already got one, work out an exercise schedule, even if it is dancing or a workout video at home before the day begins and decide when you are going to steal the time for relaxation.
It is wise to record how you feel about your physical and mental shape, and your chocolate habits, before you begin, so when you go through the withdrawal symptoms in the first week you have a reminder to keep you on the straight and narrow.
We have helped thousands of individuals successfully along this path over the years, so I can say from first hand experience that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel.