Q. I generally eat a healthy diet but find myself craving sugar in the afternoons at work, particularly when under stress. Can you recommend natural ways to control these cravings?
A. Highly stressed, type-A people are more likely to seek out sugary treats than their more relaxed counterparts. When you are under pressure and hungry, you're fighting an imbalance of body and brain chemicals that essentially demand a quick pick-me-up from the simple carbohydrates in sweet foods. In essence, your body is trying to self-medicate. Unfortunately, the boost from sugary foods is followed by an energy crash, leaving your body even more energy-starved than before the snack.
Start your day off right by including some protein in your breakfast, which smoothes out blood sugar fluctuations. Later in the day, outsmart your cravings by choosing nutrient-packed complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) just before the time your cravings usually set in. Skip the vending machine and stock up on air-popped popcorn, whole-wheat English muffins (try toasted with fruit-only jam), fig bars, or baked tortilla chips and salsa.
Taking the supplement chromium at breakfast time (600 mcg daily in the form chromium picolinate) may also help curb carb cravings, according to a recent study conducted by the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. Researchers found that men and women with atypical depression—a condition that, like stress, leads to cravings—cut carb cravings when taking this form of chromium (Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 2005, vol. 11, no. 5). Pre-empting the snack-attack time of day with an activity can help, too. Consider restructuring your day so that your afternoon lull becomes exercise time.
This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, author of the The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).