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Cut out the cravings

Do you ever have cravings for sugar, salt or caffeine? You wouldn't be alone. There are a few replacements you can make to discover a healthier you and banish those cravings forever

It's winter and it's a rare person who doesn't crave foods that we know are not good for us when it is dark and cold for weeks on end. "The most common cravings tend to be for carbohydrates and sugars like chocolate, cakes and biscuits," says Liz O'Byrne, a nutritional therapist who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare. "This happens to most people almost daily. It tends to happen when blood sugars are low, for example when you are hungry."

"People tend to have cravings for chocolate or sugar-based foods and also bread, scones and comfort or moreish foods like crisps," agrees Angela McGlanaghey of Simple Simon in Donegal town. "Cravings can be hard to overcome because most of the time they are psychological cravings, your mind is creating the craving and driving you to give in."

Seductive sugar

Sugar is hidden in lots of foods and drink, not just in sweets and cakes. Sauces, preserves, lots of processed foods and even bread include added sugars, and eating more than we should is addictive. Sugar is also found in tomato-based pasta sauces, mayonnaise, soups, salad dressings, baked beans,and fruit yogurts.

"Sugar cravings tend to be stronger and more frequent when we satisfy them with sugar or simple carbohydrates because we experience a sharp dip in blood sugar shortly after eating these foods," says Liz O'Byrne. "These cravings are strong because it's the body's way of telling us it requires something."

"Giving in to sugar cravings can cause blood sugar levels to swing up and down and we end up trapped in an unhealthy cycle which can lead to low energy, low concentration levels, light-headedness and mood swings. If you can stabilise your sugar levels you will benefit from better health with more energy, and you will sleep better. One way to do it is to detox for a couple of days then slowly reintroduce natural sugars over a period of time. You can keep cravings at bay by nibbling on nuts and seeds.

"There are a number of things we can do to keep blood sugars balanced and avoid the dips and spikes in blood sugar throughout the day," says Liz O'Byrne. "Eating every three to four hours, eating within one hour of waking, and eating protein with every meal or snack can all help. And also choosing complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates - think oats, whole grains, brown rice and brown pasta."

Mean caffeine

"Craving caffeine in coffee or tea and some fizzy drinks can also be as a result of blood sugars being low or just tiredness," says Liz O'Byrne. "Caffeine affects blood sugar levels like carbohydrates. Try to avoid sugar in tea or coffee and eat a snack containing protein and a complex carbohydrate at the same time. Also, finding a long-term solution to stress management is very important - think yoga and mindfulness, deep belly breathing."

Halt the salt

"Sometimes people crave salty foods like crisps or take away type foods. This could be due to dehydration and subsequent electrolyte loss," says Liz O'Byrne. "Try to avoid dehydration by drinking water throughout the day and extra if you are having alcohol. A good rule of thumb if you are drinking alcohol is to have a glass of water between every alcoholic drink."

Overcoming your cravings

"The best tips I can offer are: drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes and see - are you still craving the food or are you just bored. If not then get yourself a reasonable portion of the food you are craving and enjoy it. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, just don't go overboard."
Angela McGlanaghey

Super swaps

Instead of: chips and a shop-bought dip

Go for: crunchy satisfying foods like breadsticks or carrot sticks and hummus

Instead of: white carbohydrates like rice, potatoes and bread

Go for: quinoa, sweet potato, oats, rye bread or wholegrains versions that will not cause your blood sugar levels to spike. "Making your own homemade bread is much more satisfying and tastes a lot better," says Angela McGlanaghey.

Instead of: cow's milk

Go for: plant-based milk, especially if dairy doesn't agree with you

Instead of: fizzy drinks

Go for: water, or sparkling water if you like the fizz

Instead of: biscuits

Go for: oatcakes and peanut butter

Instead of: fruit yogurt

Go for: natural plain yogurt with berries.Fruit yogurts contain up to 8tsp of sugar per pot.

Instead of: cake or sweets for getting over an energy dip

Go for: raw energy balls.You can buy balls in health stores or make them yourself with a combination of almonds, coconut, seeds, dates and dried fruit.

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