Despite the endless health campaigns encouraging us to cut back, sugar still accounts for a third of the average Briton’s daily calorie intake. Contributing to everything from weight gain to diabetes, we’re all clear that cutting back on the white stuff has never been more important. We spoke with Macrobiotic Nutritionist and wellness guru Nicky Clinch to get the lowdown on sugar cravings – from what they really mean to how to beat them.
Firstly – what exactly is a macrobiotic diet?
Macrobiotics isn’t actually a diet; it’s more of a philosophy that places emphasis on proper dietary practice in daily life. The philosophy – one I have followed for years and teach through my work as a life counsellor, chef and teacher – is loosely linked to Buddhism and is centred on creating balance and harmony within our bodies. We believe that by consuming a diet mostly of grains and vegetables and limiting the amount of animal products, your health and happiness will benefit greatly. In short, it’s all about creating balance in your body.
So how is this linked to sugar cravings?
In macrobiotics, the sweet taste and sweet cravings are commonly connected to a need for comfort, support and nourishment. Followers of macrobiotic diets also believe you have to balance the ‘yin’ in some foods with the ‘yang’ in others; our yin and yang can also be disrupted by overworking or excess stress in our lives. We believe sugar is a ‘yin’ food – any cravings you have could mean your balance, either emotionally or through your diet, is out of whack.
Got you. So can eating too much salty food lead to sweet cravings?
Absolutely. If we look at food from the understanding of yin and yang – two opposite energies which together create balance – salt and sugar consumption go hand in hand. If we eat very salty foods, which naturally carry more ‘yang’ energy, almost immediately or soon after we start craving more sweet foods, which are more ‘yin’ in energy. The problem is that if we eat a lot of excess salty foods as well as lots of sugar, we tend to find ourselves going back and forth like a yoyo, which then affects our energy, our emotions and prevents us from feeling balanced.
Can craving sugar be linked to ones emotions?
Yes – there is a fascinating ancient system called The Five Elements that I often use to help understand what may be causing someone’s cravings. When it comes to sugar, it is typically closely connected to our self-worth, a need for comfort and nourishment. Very strong sugar cravings are often a sign someone needs to emotionally take more care of themselves.
And are sugar cravings linked to hormones?
Yes, they can be connected to low levels of serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormone. If someone has pushed themselves too much and ignored their wellbeing, this is likely to result in very low serotonin levels and feeling low emotionally; this, in turn, can lead to strong sugar cravings. We can boost our serotonin levels (and thus avoid sugar cravings) by having a better work/life balance, building our self-worth and taking good care of ourselves. Try meditation, exercising in the fresh air, taking a holiday or time off or simply cooking a healthy meal for yourself.
Can giving in to sugar cravings lead to long-term health problems?
Unfortunately, yes. On a physical level, sugar depletes our body of minerals, weakens our adrenals and immune system and can lead to inflammation in the body. On an emotional level, if we are trying to take care of an emotional need with eating sugar we are not actually taking care of that emotional need, which therefore is ignored. There will never be enough sugar to take care of an emotional need, and so we end up eating more and more, which physically affects our health in the long-term.
Are there any sugar substitutes you recommend?
My favourite everyday natural sweeteners are brown rice syrup and rice malt syrup although I occasionally use maple syrup for more decadent desserts.
What is the best way to combat sweet cravings?
The fact you’re even having a sweet craving suggests your body is trying to tell you something – try to stay in tune with your body and make the effort to nourish it with the highest-quality foods you can. However, on the other hand, I so often see women trying to avoid sugar altogether that this actually leads to even more intense cravings and bingeing. If this is the case, accept that you need some sweetness in your diet – replace refined sugars with more natural varieties and allow yourself a little bit of sweetness each day – but always be sure to investigate what the deeper need is underneath.
Lastly – any top tips for keeping blood sugar stable?
This is crucial to avoid unwanted sugar slumps and subsequent cravings. The best way to keep blood sugar stable is to eat a diet of predominantly whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet, rye), vegetarian proteins and fish, plenty of seasonal vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds as well as natural condiments. Always make sure you carry healthy snacks with you wherever you go to ensure you have something to nibble on when your hunger arises.
Join Nicky on 30th June for a Head to Heart Workshop, a transformational session which will teach you how to live from your heart rather than your head.
For more information, visit NickyClinch.com