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How to Kick Simple Carbs to the Curb and Handle Cravings

March 16, 2020

Carbohydrates come in many forms, for instance, bread, cookies, strawberries, and black beans are all examples of carbohydrates. However, not all carbs are created equal. Carbohydrates are a form of energy and a term that includes sugars, fibers, and starches. They’re called “simple” or “complex” based on their structure and what your body does with them.

Because many foods contain one or more types of carbohydrates, it can become confusing to distinguish what is healthy for you and what is not.

What are Simple Carbs and Complex Carbs?

Simple carbohydrates: These carbs are made up of easy-to-digest, simple sugars. Some of these sugars occur naturally in food, like fruit and milk, while some are added to the food we eat, like desserts, soda, and candy.

Foods with simple sugars often lack beneficial nutrients and fiber and digest more quickly. This quick breakdown can cause a blood sugar roller coaster, leading to a spike and drop and ultimately leaving you with cravings for more sugar.

Despite this quick breakdown, some varieties have their advantages. For instance, fruits are sources of simple sugars but also a great source of essential vitamins and minerals. These real food options differ drastically from processed foods containing simple sugars, such as cookies and sodas.

Complex carbohydrates: These carbs get their name from being, structurally, more complex.

This complexity helps to slow digestion, supports satiety after eating, and helps to reduce spikes in blood sugar, making it a good option for hunger and weight control.

Complex carbs examples include berries, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.


How to Kick Simple Sugars

Easily reduce or remove simple sugars in your diet by making small changes to the foods you buy or eat.

1. Eat more whole foods

For instance, switching from 1 glass of orange juice to 1 orange, you reduce your simple sugar intake by 11 grams, and you increase your fiber intake by 3 grams.

  8 ounces 100% orange juice 1 medium orange
Calories 113 61
Carb 26 grams 15 grams
Sugars 23 grams 12 grams
Fiber 0 Grams 3 grams

2. Be a sugar detective

When choosing a packaged food, check the nutrition label to identify the sugar content. For example, the sugar content of yogurt brands and flavors can vary dramatically. While some simple sugars in yogurt are naturally occurring, manufacturers often add sugar to enhance the flavor. Instead of purchasing a high sugar option, consider choosing a plain version and adding your own fruits or nuts for flavor.

3. Look for fiber

Compare nutrition labels to identify the highest-fiber food option. Higher fiber foods are more likely to help keep you feeling full longer and will keep your blood sugars more stable. Try upgrading your crackers, pasta, bread, or tortilla options to versions with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

4. Choose whole-grain options

A label marked as “made with 100% whole grains” is not enough. Check the ingredient list for the term “whole” as the first or second word. For example, when buying bread, look for the ingredient “whole wheat” vs. “enriched white flour” to ensure that you are really getting food that contains whole grains.

5. Switch out your beverages

Cut out the juices, sodas, and sugary coffee drinks and opt for more water. Other examples of hydrating fluid include infused water or herbal tea.

6. Skip the store-bought treats

Have a desire for a sweet treat? Make a healthier homemade version. Use oats or whole wheat flour instead of white flour or pureed fruit instead of sugar.


How to Handle Cravings

Despite changing your diet to reduce your simple sugar intake, you might find you still have a sweet tooth at heart. Here are some suggestions to minimize the risk of unwanted sugar cravings.

1. Eat regularly

Skipping meals can cause blood sugar crashes, leaving you with cravings for foods high in simple carbs that will help to raise blood sugars quickly.

2. Be prepared

Keep healthy options available at home and pack snacks when on the go to avoid settling for less healthy options.

3. Increase protein intake

Add protein to meals and snacks to help you stay full longer and to help keep your blood sugar more balanced.

4. Drink plenty of water

Sometimes we interpret thirst as a craving for sweets. Try adding fruit or herbs to your water for a refreshing flavor.

5. Ask yourself “Am I hungry?”

Are you eating because you’re feeling hungry or because you are angry, sad, bored, tired or something else? Raise your serotonin levels naturally with exercise, sleep, taking a bath, getting a massage, spending time with a friend, or watching your favorite film.

6. Manage stress

Under chronic stress, the hormone cortisol can remain elevated and can stimulate cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Manage stress with meditation, exercise, sleep, and taking part in your favorite hobbies.

7. Spend an extra hour in bed

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may cause us to eat an extra 300-400 calories the next day and, to keep levels high, we choose sugary or starchy quick-fixes. Create a nourishing bedtime routine where you’re regularly getting 7+ hours of sleep each night.

Changing Your Diet and Lifestyle Can Take Time

Changing your diet and lifestyle can take time but you're worth it. This week try upgrading just one or two foods you regularly consume to a version lower in simple sugars or higher in fiber. Make sure that you're carb smart. Keep practicing these choices and overtime you will have a diet full of healthy options!

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Megan Moore

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Megan Moore, RD, CSOWM, CD, CLT is a Registered Dietitian & a Certified Specialist in Obesity & Weight Management. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from Washington State University, she has passionately served the bariatric surgery community by providing nutrition education, support groups, cooking demonstrations, and running social media communities. Megan owns a private practice, Savored Nutrition, and contributes content for www.MyBariatricDietitian.com, a website designed to help pre-op and post-op WLS patients.