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Q
Combating Cravings?
I've been able to give up meat, dairy, even smoking cigarettes, but sugar is the one that gets away. What can I do to curb my cravings? Why do some people have a sweet tooth and others don't?
A
Answer (Published 2/21/2005)

I don't know why some people have a sweet tooth while others can resist sugary snacks. Part of the problem may be that sweets are often given to us as treats when we're young, developing our taste for sugar and associating sweets with rewards. In some people, sugar has an effect on mood, which is another factor that may underlie cravings. Eating sweets can increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help you relax, suggesting that some cravings are stress-related. In fact, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, reported last year that chronic stress may explain why some people crave comfort foods. In studies with rats, the researchers found that chronic stress prompted the animals to engage in pleasure-seeking activities, including eating high-energy foods (in the rats' case, sucrose and lard). The study was published in the Sept. 30, 2003 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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You can try a number of different strategies to try to overcome your sugar craving:  

  • Try to satisfy your cravings with fruits that falls low on the glycemic index (berries, cherries, apples, pears), which are healthier than other sources of sugar and give you the added benefit of fiber.
  • Experiment with the Chinese strategy of eating more bitter foods to balance your craving for sweets (curly endive, radicchio, cooked greens, some olives, etc.)
  • Try the Ayurvedic herb gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre). Known as the "destroyer of sugar" gurmar is reputed to slow both the absorption of sugar into the blood stream and the conversion of sugar into fat. It also may help curb your appetite for sweets.
  • Working with a hypnotherapist in an effort to reduce your sugar cravings might be helpful.
  • Practice breathing techniques, progressive relaxation and exercise as a means of reducing the chronic stress that may underlie your cravings.  

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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