Research has shown that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school – they can concentrate more easily and have improved memory. So, set your children up for success with these foods to give them sustained fuel throughout the day:
- Eggs: Aside from having protein, eggs are also important for kids because the yolks are an excellent source of choline, a B vitamin that is especially important in childhood for healthy brain and liver development and memory. For picky eaters, make eggs more appealing by scrambling them with cheese or serving them in the form of a breakfast sandwich. Other excellent sources of choline – though perhaps less amenable to the young palette – are tofu, beans, Brussels sprouts, yogurt and lean beef. Buckwheat is also an excellent source of choline – use it to make pancakes or waffles, which kids typically love.
- Whole-grain cereal or oatmeal: These breakfast or anytime foods are a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber and are kid-friendly foods. Even the pickiest kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so put tasty, natural ingredients between whole-grain bread.
- Leafy greens: It's hard to get kids, and even some adults, to eat leafy greens. But they provide plenty of iron, which is good for brain development. Try to hide spinach in a "green smoothie," mixed with berries, Greek yogurt, honey, other fruit and ice. You can even name it to make it more appealing to children.
- Berries: It's often pretty easy to get kids to eat berries, which have important antioxidants that have been shown to improve memory. However, if you have a particularly picky eater, smoothies are always the way to go when it comes to berries.
- Bright veggies: These also have antioxidants important for brain health. If you can't find other ways to get your kids to eat them, bake them as fun and tasty veggie chips.
Even though they’re solid, bones are dynamic, living tissue, made mostly from collagen and calcium phosphate, a mineral that hardens bone exterior. But as you age, existing bone breaks down faster than new bone is made, increasing risk of osteoporosis, a condition that reduces bone density and raises chance of fractures. Support your skeleton at any age with these expert suggestions.
Pump up protein
Collagen, a certain type of protein, forms bones’ scaffolding, enabling them to withstand stress. If you’re protein deficient, bones can become brittle, leading to breakage no matter how much calcium they contain because the body makes collagen from amino acids, protein’s building blocks. Get 15 percent to 25 percent of your daily calories from various protein sources. Good choices include organic, grass-fed buffalo; free-range eggs; and sprouted legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Limit acidic foods
Foods common in poor diets (pizza, white bread, potato chips, sweets) promote an acidic body environment. To achieve and maintain a healthy, neutral blood pH, your body will scavenge important minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and silica from more alkaline tissues, such as bone, which weakens them. Limit acidic foods like processed foods, sugar, grains, dairy, and caffeine or alcohol, and increase pH-balancing vegetables like zucchini and cucumber.
Watch calcium intake
Calcium isn’t the only player in bone density; in fact, many people actually have too much calcium in their bodies, which can contribute to kidney stones, joint pain, and possibly heart disease. Vitamin K2 regulates excess calcium deposits and supports bone integrity. Try 100 mcg vitamin K2 per day.
Weight-bearing exercises activate bone cells called osteoblasts, which form new bones. Climb stairs, hike, bike, or run for at least 30 minutes every day. Walking uphill is also a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact activity. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, exercise with a physical therapist’s guidance.
The hormones parathyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol all influence bone health. When one hormone is deficient, it causes a domino effect that imbalances other hormones, diminishing calcium absorption and deteriorating bones. If you’re a menopausal woman or a man with unusually low energy levels, work with an endocrinologist to get your hormone levels tested and develop a comprehensive hormone balance plan.[box]THE WRINKLES-BONES CONNECTION
Everyone gets wrinkles, whether from sun exposure, processed foods, or ageing. But research from the Yale School of Medicine shows deeper wrinkles may also indicate lower bone density, increasing fracture risk. Why? Skin and bones share the same building block proteins, including collagen, which keeps skin taut.
The Fix: Take 2,000 mg collagen (including types I and III) daily and eat foods containing lysine, an amino acid that helps your body build collagen and absorb calcium. Lysine-rich foods include fish, egg whites, and legumes. For overall skin health and wrinkle prevention, also opt for free radical-fighting fruits and vegetables, along with healthy oils such as alive oil and flaxseed oil.[/box] [hr]
Many people look forward to living a long life. But it’s hard to find someone who isn’t concerned with the physical symptoms that come with aging, from wrinkles to joint pain. In fact, a recent study found that habitual sunbathers are more likely to kick their habit at the threat of wrinkles than that of cancer. And as Baby Boomers reach their golden years, many are looking for ways to maintain their youthful appearance and lifestyle without undergoing injections and other invasive procedures. Shoppers seeking to naturally promote antiaging from the inside out have an ally in the supplement aisle: BioCell Collagen.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body, accounting for 30 percent of our total supply, and it mostly resides in connective tissues in the skin and joints such as cartilage, skin dermis, bones, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. When we’re young, collagen is abundant and allows us to move with ease, plus enables our skin to stretch and move without sagging or developing wrinkles. As we age, collagen production naturally slows and the overall amount depletes, which can result in undesirable wrinkles in the skin and painful stiffness in the joints.
Over 20 different types of collagen have been identified, but generally speaking, you’ll find two types in the supplement aisle: type I, which is abundant and found primarily in the hides, bones, and skin of animals, and type II, which is rarer because it is only found in cartilage where it naturally coexists with hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate in a blood-free environment.
Of these types, collagen is either unhydrolyzed (also known as undenatured) or hydrolyzed. In its original, unhydrolyzed state, collagen molecules are very large and therefore not effectively absorbed by the body. Hydrolyzation breaks down the collagen into small molecular weight fragments to maximize absorption, explains Joosang Park, MD, vice president of scientific affairs at BioCell Technology, makers of BioCell Collagen—a patented ingredient comprised of naturally occurring hydrolyzed collagen type II, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid.
The science of BioCell Collagen
When it comes to skin care, studies show that BioCell Collagen can reduce skin dryness and wrinkles. In a study, a daily 1 gram dose of BioCell Collagen yielded a significant increase in the skin’s collagen (including types I and III) content after just six weeks; the study’s participants saw a visual difference in the skin—a 76 percent reduction in dryness and a 13 percent reduction in fine lines and wrinkles—after the full 12 weeks of treatment.
BioCell Collagen also was shown to offer relief to those suffering from joint discomfort. In a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human study of 80 participants with a chronic history of joint pain, study participants experienced a significant reduction in pain and stiffness.
BioCell Collagen’s patented composition also delivers chondroitin sulfate, which provides shock-absorbing properties to joint cartilage, and hyaluronic acid (HA), which is critical to achieving lubricated joints and smooth, hydrated skin. In fact, in a human study, participants who took daily doses of BioCell Collagen saw hyaluronic acid levels increase 60-fold in their blood during the 28 days of the study period.
Furthermore, BioCell Collagen has been shown to inhibit hyaluronidase, the enzyme that destroys HA. Thus, BioCell Collagen packs an impressive dual HA mechanism to tackle aging-associated dehydration as well as replenish the loss of the various essential structural components of skin.
As a validation of the strong science, Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate has approved BioCell Collagen to help relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee and to help maintain healthy skin.
It’s impossible to turn back the clock on aging, but supplemental collagen can help stimulate the body’s own regenerative potential to achieve younger looking skin and more active joints … without going under the knife.
Look for BioCell Collagen in oral supplements such as Ultimate HA (Purity Products), BioCell Collagen (Health Logics), Jusuru Life Blend (Jusuru International), Hydroplenish (Nature’s Way) and Collagen Booster (Reserveage), and many other fine nutritional and skincare brands.
1. Mind your antioxidants
Known as the body’s “master” antioxidant, glutathione (GSH) combats free radicals and helps support immunity, the gastrointestinal and nervous systems, and more. Your body is most vulnerable to oxidative insult when you wake up—especially if you had a drink the night before, since the body uses glutathione stores to metabolize alcohol, says Lise Alschuler, ND, author of Five to Thrive (Active Interest Media, 2011). A low-nutrient breakfast of coffee and toast will send levels even lower, making this a great time to supplement with glutathione’s precursors, glutamine or N-acetylcysteine (NAC).
2. Moisturize and protect
Every morning, address the two most important skin care concerns—moisturizing and UV protection—by applying one dual-action natural cream.
Look for a product with nourishing oils, protective antioxidants, and minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to fight UVA and UVB rays. If you plan on spending more than 10 minutes in the sun, make sure you also use an SPF 30, or a moisturizer that includes an SPF 30.
3. Sleep tight
Sure, you feel better, but it’s no myth you’ll look better too when you get sufficient rest. Why? When you’re anxious or not getting enough sleep, cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases and attacks collagen—the important protein that keeps your skin taut. But during sleep, your body produces human growth hormone (HGH), which rebuilds and rejuvenates skin cells. Aim for eight quality hours nightly. If that’s not feasible: Tack on an extra half-hour per week, squeeze in 20-minute naps when you can, and exercise regularly to improve circulation and release stress-fighting endorphins.
4. Focus on cooking technique
Minimize damage from advanced glycation end products (these distort skin’s collagen) by boiling, steaming, poaching, or stewing your foods. “We don’t say, ‘never enjoy a grilled food,’” says Alan Logan, ND, coauthor of Your Skin, Younger (Cumberland House, 2010). But something as simple as poaching an egg, rather than frying it, can make a significant difference in AGE levels. In fact, high water content in the Japanese diet may be one reason why Japanese people tend to have fewer visible aging signs than Caucasians, says Logan.
5. Take skin-supportive supplements
What you put into your body is just as important as what you put on it. In addition to loading up on water- and nutrient-dense foods, supplement with collagen, a protein found in our connective tissues that helps keep skin wrinkle-free, and hyaluronic acid (HA), the hydrating sponge-like substance that provides skin with elasticity and moisture, to support a youthful complexion. As we age, we experience the loss of both, making supplementation important. Learn more about collagen from sponsor BioCell.[hr]
If everyone used the excuse that they're just too busy to work out, no one would be fit. The truth is, we all have many commitments. Of course you're not going to have time for a 5-mile run, 20-mile bike ride or long lifting session at the gym everyday, especially when factoring in the time it takes to get ready, drive to the gym, workout, cool down and shower. We all have too many commitments and responsibilities. But aside from being good for our physical health, exercise is often also an important factor in self-esteem and happiness levels. If you have time to watch your favorite television show for an hour every Monday night, then you definitely have time for a quick 15- or 20-minute workout. Here's a short but serious exercise routine that you can do every morning before hopping in the shower and heading off to work:
This core workout will make you feel the burn with only 15 minutes of exercise! Do the circuit three times, but make sure to rest for one minute between each round.
- 20 crunches: Raise legs and bend at the knees so lower legs are parallel to the floor.
- Leg raise: Lay on your back with your hands under your butt, palms down on the mat. Raise your feet 6 inches off the ground and hold for 30 seconds.
- Scissors: Keep the same position as above but raise one leg 6 inches higher than the other. Alternate your legs in a scissors motion for 30 seconds, making sure they don't touch the ground.
- Plank: Flip over and hold the plank position for 30 seconds. In the next two repetitions of this circuit, do a side plank on your left and then right sides.
- Bicycles: Finish the routine off with 30 bicycle-style crunches, adopting the basic crunch position but alternating touching the elbows to the opposite knees for each repetition.
Everyone loves snacks – they often help us get through the toughest days. But if you're on a diet, you're likely limiting your snacks because they connote something unhealthy that you shouldn't be having. In fact, it's good to eat healthy snacks when you're hungry – denying yourself food when you need it is not a great idea for both health and psychological reasons. But if you choose diet-friendly snacks, you'll stay on course and feel good. Here are some great healthy snack ideas:
- Popcorn: This healthy popped treat adds plenty of good fiber to your diet. Just make sure to choose lightly salted popcorn without artificial butter, which is not a healthy option.
- Chips: No, not potato chips – veggie chips, like beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini, kale and carrots. Simply use a mandolin to slice them thinly, place the vegetables on a parchment paper lined sheet and sprinkle modestly with salt and pepper and bake them at 300 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how thinly you've sliced them.
- Yogurt: Try plain Greek yogurt with fresh, in-season berries and a drizzle of honey. This high-protein snack is a good way to get you through the rest of your day.
- Crackers: If you're craving carbs, it's OK to eat a few multi-grain crackers that are low in fat and sodium. Top them with hummus and an avocado slice for a heart-healthy snack that's also delicious. If you just can't say no to cheese, swiss is a great low-fat cheese that's tasty, too.
- Oatmeal: Oats don't really seem like a snack, but they're filling ad provide excellent complex carbs that keep your blood-sugar level throughout the day. Give your oatmeal a protein boost by mixing in Naturade Pea Protein in Vanilla.
Since 1976, when the Okinawa Centenarian Study began peering into the lives of the longest-lived, their lives have become valuable guides, pointing researchers toward some surprising revelations. With roughly 50 centenarians per 100,000 (as much as five times more than in the United States), Okinawa has been the epicenter for research, along with the Mediterranean island of Sardinia (known for its 100-and older men), and Nova Scotia, where people have twice the chance of living to 100 as in nearby New England.
Just how do they dodge disease and mortality? Genes do play a role. The lucky one-fourth of us who possess a variant of the FOXO3A longevity gene are twice as likely to live to 100. But geriatrician Bradley Willcox, MD, who helped discover that gene in 2008 and co-directs the Okinawa Centenarian Study, stresses that genes aren’t the only factor. The other 75 percent of centenarians stay healthy through healthy lifestyle choices. These include calorie restriction and even more social interaction.
Daphne Miller, MD, an associate clinical professor in the department of family medicine at University of California San Francisco, traveled the globe—from Mexico to Iceland—to explore places where people experienced low rates of modern chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. She found that most have a diet rich in immune-boosting fermented foods (from Okinawan pickles to Icelandic yogurt), omega-3 fatty acids (from Nova Scotia fish to African nuts), and chemical-free, locally grown veggies and meat.
Along with diet, exercise, and avoiding tobacco, social connections are another important determinant of longevity, says Miller. One recent study from Rush University Medical Center studied 1,238 seniors over age 78 for five years and found that those with “high purpose in life” (a rich spiritual life, close family, meaningful hobbies, good friends) were half as likely to die during the follow-up period as those without.
“In Okinawa, they call it ikigai,” explains Willcox, noting that Okinawan elders are highly valued and sought after for advice. “It’s something to look forward to every day, something that gives life meaning.”
5 tips for Preventing Dementia
Contrary to the image conjured up by the word “centenarian” (an absent-minded elder suffering from the ravages of Alzheimer’s), research shows that as many as 25 percent of the 100-plus crowd show no sign of cognitive decline at all.
Furthermore, among those who do experience dementia, it didn’t surface until 92 or later. “Many believe the ageist myth that the older you get the sicker you get,” says New England Centenarian Study director Thomas Perls. “If this were true, it would follow that most if not all centenarians should have Alzheimer’s disease. Numerous studies disprove this assumption.” In fact, the same factors that prolong life can keep our minds sharp well into the golden years.[half] 1 Stay lean. One 40-year study of 1,152 twins found that those who were overweight in midlife were one and one-half times more likely to develop dementia by age 65.
2 Heart-healthy diet. One study from Columbia University found eating a diet rich in fish, veggies, whole grains, and good fats lowered the risk of cognitive impairment by 28 percent.
3 Move it. A daily one-mile walk reduces the likelihood of dementia by 50 percent, says George Washington University neurology professor Richard Restak, MD.[/half] [half_last]4 Try new activities. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently asked 1,300 people, ages 70 to 89, about their daily activities in middle age and in the previous year. Those that read books, played games, did crafts, and had a rich social life were 30–50 percent less likely to develop memory loss.
5 Be Social. A 2007 study of 823 people in the Chicago area found that “lonely” people (based on a survey given at intake) are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people who aren’t lonely.[/half_last] [hr]
Strategy #1 – Trim calories
Among the many strategies for living longer and avoiding disease, calorie restriction has perhaps the strongest scientific backing: more than 1,000 animal and human studies conducted during the past 80 years. Research shows cellular benefits from calorie restriction start to kick in with just a 10 percent cut. The hypothesis is that as calories are reduced—repeatedly exposing cells to mild stress—the body experiences what scientists call a hormesis effect: a generally positive adaptive response.
“The body believes it has an inadequate amount of food so it goes into more of a survival mode, where it strengthens its defenses at a metabolic level,” says Lisa Walford, coauthor of The Longevity Diet (Da Capo 2010), and curriculum director for YogaWorks Teacher Training.
There’s no rigid eating plan for calorie restriction. Some people graze on small meals throughout the day; others, like Walford, prefer to stave off hunger by eating a protein packed meal in the middle of the day, for example, 2 ounces of baked tofu with steamed vegetables in tomato sauce. Over 12 years, she gradually cut her calorie intake by 20 percent; she’s quite thin but has a clean bill of health, including low cholesterol and normal blood pressure and glucose levels.
CR diets may cause side effects, including bone thinning and lower libido in 10 percent to 15 percent of people. Some people go too far and get too thin, Walford cautions, and may get heart palpitations. (CR also isn’t recommended for children, people with eating disorders, or pregnant women.)
To keep bones strong, eat calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens; supplement with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D; and do weight-bearing exercises such as walking and weight lifting, says Walford. She also recommends 15 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of yoga daily. “Yoga makes me more sensitive to the effect that everything has on my health,” she says.
Strategy #2 – Fight Free Radicals
The oxygen you breathe helps tiny cell components, known as mitochondria, produce the energy that keeps the body alive. But this process also creates free radicals. Internal or environmental stress also can fuel excessive free radical production. Several animal studies have shown that white blood cells produce more free radicals when you’re psychologically stressed. When you breathe or eat toxins such as ozone or pesticide residues, your liver works to neutralize them—again, creating free radicals. And ironically, even some things that are good for you, such as aerobic exercise, increase free radicals.
To help neutralize rogue free radicals, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other antioxidant foods. Among the best are cloves, oregano, rosemary, and cinnamon; acaí and cocoa; raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries; pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts; artichokes; kidney and black beans; and raisins. Antioxidant supplements can help fill gaps.
To minimize toxin exposure, choose organic produce and chemical-free cleaning products when possible, and don’t use ozone-generating air purifiers, which can cause respiratory tract irritations.
As tempting as it may seem, don’t use exercise’s bad oxidative rap as an excuse not to work out. You can counterbalance aerobic exercise’s free radical effect by cranking up your antioxidant intake before or after workouts, Meletis says. And new research shows that weight training twice a week for an hour actually rejuvenates muscle mitochondria in men and women age 65 and older. “Over the course of time, your body becomes better at dealing with the oxidative stress, which means once you start working out, keep it going, because your body is literally becoming a better exerciser even at the mitochondrial level,” he explains.[box]THE PROBLEM WITH FREE RADICALS
Free radicals aren’t all bad—they fight infection and activate enzymes—but when they’re not busy with those jobs, they can go rogue, attacking and damaging cells throughout the body. This contributes to common aging indicators like poor eyesight and sagging skin, as well as diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.[/box]
Strategy #3 – Tame inflammation
It’s easy to tell when your skin is inflamed: It turns red. “But we don’t really have good measures of inflammation at the cellular level,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer (Fair Winds, 2010). “That’s a critical problem because inflammation is associated with every degenerative disease we know.”
Like free radicals, inflammation can be a good thing in small doses. Step on a nail and you want white blood cells and the body’s inflammatory chemicals to rush in. But these injury-fighting compounds also go into 911 mode in response to gradual cell damage by free radicals. The result of this damage, says Bowden, is chronic inflammation: in essence, inflammation that doesn’t know when to stop.
“Chronic inflammation is part of diseases as diverse as cancer, congestive heart failure, and digestive problems,” he says.
If you’re overweight, or have diabetes or dementia, “you definitely have chronic inflammation,” Bowden says. For everyone else, the best way to measure inflammation is to do a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) test. Studies show that CRP, which the liver produces as an immune response, can increase by 100 percent or more in response to inflammatory conditions. “The test isn’t perfect because it doesn’t tell you where the inflammation is in your body, but it’s the best we have,” Bowden says. Most doctors like to see a CRP score of 1 or less, he adds.
Balancing your ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids also helps. Bowden recommends eating two servings of fish a week, taking 1,000 mg daily of fish oil with EPA and DHA, and choosing olive oil or flaxseed oil over refined oils such as canola, corn, or generic “vegetable” oils. In addition, he says, “sugar turbocharges your inflammation-production pathways,” as do fried foods. Simmer or use a slow cooker rather than frying or grilling foods at high temperatures, which creates proinflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can damage nerve and brain cells as well as DNA.
[box]ANTI INFLAMATORY FOODS
To fight inflammation, Bowden recommends eating foods rich in phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, and other natural anti-inflammatory agents, including onions, leeks, garlic, leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, green tea, red wine, flaxseeds, and chocolate. The herbs parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, tarragon, and dill are anti-inflammatory, as are the spices ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.[/box] [hr]
Are you getting enough quality sleep?
One of the biggest contributors to early aging is poor-quality sleep, according to Andrea Purcell, ND, Portal to Healing Naturopathic Clinic, Costa Mesa, CA.
“Many people go to bed with lights on or surrounded by ambient light, which can interfere with sleep schedules and quality.”
Stress prematurely compromises hormone production and, over time, your cells aren’t able to repair themselves. We age because stress and lifestyle factors such as improper sleep and hygiene cause hormone depletion. But by triggering the release of growth hormones, sleep helps rebuild healthy cells and decreases the aging process.
Fight it: Sleeping at the right times helps our bodies repair the damage done during the day. And you don’t need to get a full 10 hours; you just need to maximize your hormonal release by sleeping at the right time. Your brain releases the hormone melatonin in response to darkness, usually between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. This triggers the release of a hormone called prolactin between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.; which activates the human growth hormone (HGH) throughout the night and helps repair and replenish the body.
Too much fat and salt?
If you eat a high-fat diet and too many high-sodium processed foods, you are more likely to experience accelerated and worsened cardiovascular aging, according to Douglas Seals, PhD, professor at University of Colorado at Boulder. Such dietary habits can also lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. As you age, you typically gain body fat—it’s where that weight accumulates that determines if it will affect your heart and cardiovascular system. Fat accumulated around the abdomen is a different kind of fat that secretes molecules that are harmful to your heart.
Fight it: Eat various fresh green vegetables for their antioxidants, which can help protect your brain and heart from free radicals and the development of oxidative stress. Do aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week and eat a healthy diet low in fat and sodium and high in fresh, nutrient-rich foods.
What about alcohol?
As you age, your body doesn’t process alcohol as efficiently as it does when you are younger, according to Avid Oslin, MD, associate professor at University of Pennsylvania. Alcohol consumption leads to a pattern of impaired executive functioning and impaired memory and interacts with many medications, particularly in older adults. For some medications, alcohol will change how much of the medication is needed to control the underlying condition, such as insulin regulation, which can result in an increase in side effects from the medication. For other medications, alcohol can interfere with how the medication works and thus make the medication less effective (for example, antibiotics and antidepressants).
Fight it: Stick to moderate alcohol intake only; no more than one drink per night and try to make it red wine, which contains antioxidants. Remember: a 70-year-old who consumes the same amount of alcohol as a 40-year-old will have a higher blood alcohol level and will show more impairment. Also, your brain doesn’t tolerate as much alcohol as you age. Thus moderation is always the key.
You know that feeling. You just had a very large, very filling dinner and you feel you couldn't possibly eat one more bite of anything. But slowly, you get the feeling that something's missing – something sweet. Even though you're stuffed, you practically need a piece of chocolate, or – even better – a slice of chocolate cake. This happens to many people, perhaps even most. But why? Here's some information on post-dinner sugar cravings and how you can beat them:
Why do I crave sweets?
We want sweet treats after meals for several biological, psychological and lifestyle-related reasons.
- Low serotonin levels cause us to want to eat sugar. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that elevates mood. Sugar can help the body absorb tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin. If you're feeling down, eating something sweet can boost your mood.
- Eating an unbalanced diet high in carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and then drop suddenly after dinner. Our bodies want this "high" again, so we look to sugar. We also experience low blood sugar when we're tired, which causes us to need more carbs for a pick-me-up.
- If your diet is low in fat, you could put too much strain on the body and cause insulin resistance, during which sugars are not being carried effectively throughout the body. This stress on our bodies leads to a need for sugar.
Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet and have normal serotonin levels, you might still be feeling that you "need" sweets after dinner due to psychological conditioning: Dessert was always what rounded out and finished a meal, so you feel like something is missing if you don't have it.
Why should I avoid them?
Like you've heard hundreds of times, you really should do your best to eat sugar in moderation. The more sugar someone eats, the more their body becomes used to it and wants it – this sugar craving is a vicious cycle. Here are some foods with "hidden" sugars to watch out for:
- Protein bars
- Coffee drinks
- Teriyaki sauce
- Salad dressing
- Flavored waters
How can I resist?
There are many ways to resist sugar cravings and potentially avoid them altogether! Here are some tips:
- Eat a balanced diet – don't overload on carbs, but make sure to eat plenty of complex carbs that help us to stay full between meals.
- Get enough sleep each night because being tired makes us crave the quick – but not nutritious – pick-me-up that sugar provides.
- Check labels! You never know where sugar is hiding these days. It's even in foods we perceive to be savory and health foods.
- If you just can't resist, try a tactic like brushing your teeth immediately after dinner so you won't be tempted to eat sugar.
- Or, even better, substitute chocolate cake and candy for fresh fruit like berries that also pack an antioxidant punch.
- Take a walk after dinner. Exercise can boost serotonin levels too, making it less likely that you'll need to have sugar!