Let’s get one thing straight. As dietitians, we absolutely believe that there is a place for indulgence as part of a balanced diet. Dessert after dinner on a night out with your girlfriends? Brilliant. Grandmas brownies? Divine. These things light us up, they make us feel good, and they’re a fun part of life. Oftentimes though, those pesky night time sugar cravings that hit while we’re sitting at home don’t leave us feeling good – we feel like we are a slave to the choccy crave. So why do we have these sugar cravings, and what can we do about them?
1. Unbalanced meals
Eating a dinner rich in quickly digested simple carbohydrates (think pasta and white rice) can cause our blood glucose levels to spike, but then drop rather rapidly. This drop can cause us to crave those foods that will boost levels back up again quickly (hello, sugar!). Try to incorporate quality proteins and small amounts of heart-healthy fats at each meal and snack to encourage balanced blood glucose levels in the evening, and therefore minimise cravings. Including protein and healthy fats at dinner will also help us to feel fuller for longer.
Tip: on those nights you do choose to have something like pasta, opt for a bolognese (meat-based or lentil), or try a chicken pesto pasta instead of plain tomato-based sauces to boost the protein content.
It’s very easy to fall into the pattern of ending your day with something sweet. In this case, we may not be experiencing an actual physiological craving for sugar, but rather we have trained our brains to anticipate something sweet due to an ingrained habit. Try breaking the circuit by going for a short walk or calling a friend, or brushing your teeth right after dinner instead. Another option is to replace the unwanted habit with a new one. Replace the confectionary option with a herbal tea, sliced apple and peanut butter, or a small serving of Greek yoghurt with berries and nuts.
It’s true, humans are prone to eating their feelings! Chocolate, in particular, is known to contain compounds that can alter the function of our nervous system by helping to release serotonin and dopamine; brain chemicals that help to induce feelings of calm, pleasure and satisfaction. If this is you, try to address the root cause of why you might be craving this little mood boost. Are you stressed, unhappy, anxious?
Download our free Food & Mood Recipe eBook to learn more about the foods that will help your feels with over 12 recipes for breakfasts, lunches and dinners.