End Carbohydrate Cravings

Replace your snack foods.

By Kevin RR Williams

NUTRITION Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are all complex carbohydrates. These aren't necessarily enemies to good health because they also provide nutrients and fiber to slow the conversion and absorption of glucose. Empty carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, bread, potato chips, cookies, candy, cake and sugary beverages are the enemies. An average person consumes the equivalent of 52 spoonfuls (208 grams or about 1/2 pound) of sugar per day! (Certainly not me, of course.) This glucose overload from sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or converted carbohydrates raises insulin and, unless you're a marathoner, is stored as muffin-top fat, which can lead to many health problems[1-3]

Potato Chips and Cold Turkey

Because empty calories lack adequate nutrients, our bodies crave more. Hence, whether you eat a snack-size or family-size bag of chips, you're not satiated. There's truth in the slogan, "I bet you can't just eat one." Lay's® has since updated this to, "One taste and you're in love" (sidebar). These are clever ways of saying that most empty-calorie, high-carb foods — not just one brand of potato chips — are addicting.

Recovering addicts must abstain from addictive substances and even the neighborhood where they purchased them. That's right, in some cases they need to move. Similarly, you can't return to the same donut shop for morning coffee while munching on chia seeds. I'm not an extremist when it comes to nutrition. (Stop eyeing that article in the sidebar.) In the absence of other health problems, moderation is easier to maintain in the long run than total abstinence from snack foods. One look at my great pizza quest reveals that. But if you can stop 'cold turkey,' more power to you.

Harvard nutritionist Dr. Walter Willett writes that proteins often carry as many calories as carbohydrates, but deliver those [calories] over a longer period of time. This leads to more stable blood sugar levels, reducing your food cravings and helping you reduce between-meal snacking. [4]

Eat What's There

What's the number-one reason why we snack on chips, soda and cookies? Because they are there — easily accessible. If you can't stop filling your cart with addictions, perhaps the first item on your shopping list should be someone else's name to shop for you.

Many fast-food restaurants gladly convert a sandwich to a "meal" by adding chips or French fries and a soda. Chips do not make a meal. (If potato chips are the only "side" option, perhaps you should rethink your dining establishment selection.) What's on top of your home refrigerator, in a canister on the counter, in a kitchen cabinet, office cubbyhole (and hopefully not between the mattresses or in a nightstand)? More empty carbohydrate snacks. Let's split the blame. It's not entirely your fault. There are snack-food pushers on every corner. It's your environment that needs to change.

Basically, if you have easily accessible healthy snacks, you'll reach for them to satisfy those gnawing cravings. So step one is buy less junk. Spend twenty minutes chopping several days worth of carrots and celery into bite-size pieces. Place these veggies in an air-tight container with fresh water and store in the refrigerator. Because carrots are root vegetables, they absorb moisture. This enhances the texture and flavor so you can snack on them raw (without calorie-rich dressing or hot wings). Having a large batch of precut veggies also makes it easy to add them to salads, stir fry or pasta. (Whoops.)

In the table below with sortable columns, notice how sugars and carbohydrates in a cup of celery compare to those of a few cookies or a candy bar. Remember, carbs are essentially sugar so you should add them up. Note too that it only takes about 25 pretzels to reach the adult recommendation of 1500 mg of sodium per day.

Image Food [5] Serving Size Sodium Calories Sugars Carbs
celery Celery 1 cup 96mg 19 0.8g 3.6g
carrots Carrots 1 cup 88mg 52 6.1g 12.3g
cheez it Cheez It Original Snack Crackers 27 crackers (30g) 250mg 160 1g 18g
potato chips Lay's Barbecue Potato Chips 35.4g 190mg 190 2g 19g
cookies Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies 3 cookies 110mg 160 11g 21g
pretzels Rolled Gold Classic Pretzels 9 pretzels (27.6g) 560mg 110 -- 23g
snickers Snickers Bar 2 oz 140mg 271 26.2g 34.5g

Click any image for larger version. Then click left or right to advance through them.

According to MayoClinic, based on a 2000-calorie-per-day-diet, 225 to 235 grams of good carbohydrates are recommended. If endeavoring to lose weight, less might be consumed. Snack food flavor selection can dramatically affect sodium, calories and carbohydrates. People often combine snack foods and exceed suggested serving size.

Need A Drink?

If you're hooked on soda pop, drink more water, or at least drink a glass of water before and after drinking soda to curb your thirst. Many times the aversion to water is simply the acrid taste from the tap. Try spring water or reverse-osmosis water. There's no shame in ordering water with your meal when dining out.

Summarizing today's tip so easy, you'll slap yourself in the forehead while balancing on a scale. Stay A Bit More Healthy by cutting up some celery and carrots to trim your sugar, sodium and empty carbohydrate consumption. By volume, you can eat more, raise the quality of your carbohydrates and weigh less. Now take the poll of shame.

  1. Carbs, Fats, and Calories in Nuts and Seeds. about.com ^
  2. Bad Carbs. amazingbodynow.com ^
  3. Avoid Empty Carbohydrates. healthy-living.org ^
  4. How To Lose Weight By Avoiding Carbohydrates. livestrong.com ^
  5. Calorie Count. caloriecount.about.com ^
  6. Image by Kevin RR Williams.