Sugar, chocolate, doughnuts, potato chips, pasta or bread — if you have carbohydrate cravings, any of these foods may haunt you. And while you may not normally think of alcohol as a carbohydrate, it too can induce similar cravings.
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Carbohydrate cravings are not a matter of inadequate willpower, according to Women to Women, an organization dedicated to holistic medical practice for women’s health; there are remedies for carbohydrate cravings.
Food Craving Causes
Low blood sugar and low serotonin levels can both cause food cravings. Serotonin is a hormone in the brain that helps make you feel good. When it is low, sadness or depression may result.
Eating sugar or other simple carbohydrates helps temporarily because they stimulate serotonin release. If you are insulin resistant — your body is still making insulin but the cells do not respond to it — you may also develop persistent food cravings.
Adrenal imbalance can also cause food cravings, according to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. Self-medicating with sugar, carbs, coffee or alcohol just makes the problem worse.
Diet and Carb Cravings
Women to Women advocates a healthy diet, moderate exercise and pharmaceutical–grade nutritional supplements to help break the cycle of carbohydrate cravings.
They recommend 60 to 70 grams of protein a day. For fats, Women to Women suggests saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with an emphasis on polyunsaturated, to help you feel sated and less likely to overeat.
Avoid oxidized or rancid fats, trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats. Eat complex carbohydrates, which help to moderate blood sugar swings and provide fiber.
5-HTP and Carb Cravings
5- hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a nutritional supplement that may help reduce carbohydrate cravings. Extracted from the seeds of a legume called Griffonia simplicifolia, 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin.
The theory of using 5-HTP for carbohydrate cravings is linked to serotonin deficiency as the source of those cravings. 5-HTP increases serotonin secretion and helps stop cravings. A study in the October 2009 “International Journal of Obesity” reported that obese women who took 5-HTP had greater appetite control and lost weight.
Although it’s not quite the same as willpower, you may be able to use your mind to decrease cravings. A study in the December 2010 issue of “Science” reported experiments designed to decrease response to certain types of foods. People who repeatedly imagined eating a particular food ate less of it.
The researchers theorize that the act of mental imagery decreased the subjects’ responsiveness to the food and decreased desire to eat it even though they still considered the food palatable.
Low Carb Diets and Carvings
Cutting back on carbs may actually increase your cravings. Research in the April 2011 “Obesity” examined the effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on food preferences, food cravings and appetite.
Obese adults followed one of the two diets for two years. Those on the low-carb diet had significantly higher cravings for carbohydrates and high-fat foods, although they were less bothered by hunger.