Conquering Sugar Cravings

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪sugar cravings‬‏

Because of our social conditioning, love of sugar is one of the most difficult harmful food cravings to conquer. Not only is sugar everywhere, it forms part of such cherished memories as Grandma’s cookies, birthday cakes, holiday treats, etc. Therefore, trying to cut refined sugar out of one’s diet, or one’s children’s diet, can get a pretty serious emotional kickback: “Are you telling me we’re going to have a birthday party without a Double Sugar Bomb Birthday Cake? Do you mean to say I can’t take my grandchildren out for an ice-cream?” Just try it, and you’ll see how personally people take it.

In my experience, the number one vulnerability factor that leads people to succumb to sugar cravings is hunger and the low blood sugar levels it evokes. It’s very, very hard to resist a scrumptious glazed cookie when one hasn’t eaten all day. Therefore, the number one defense against sugar cravings is not just to eat on time, but to have satisfying meals that stave off hunger and delight the taste buds. For me this might be a slice of artisan sourdough bread, spread with butter or homemade cream cheese, and a big salad; or a bowl of lentil soup and a platter of fruit; or an omelet made of home-grown eggs and some sliced veggies with a dip.

Even so, merely not being hungry makes no guarantee against sugar cravings. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be so many sugar addicts. Awareness, distraction, alternative rewards (buying a book instead of a cake) and educating oneself on the dangers of sugar consumption all help, but truly I have no perfect solution – if I did, I’d be very rich (and probably not very popular with the food industry, for whom cheap, easily added, infinitely stored white sugar is a godsend).

I will probably be battling sugar cravings for as long as I live, but I’m in a much better place than I was several years ago, when I wasn’t even aware of how harmful sugar is, given how socially acceptable it is and how its dangers were smoothed over even while I was taking nutrition courses in university. At least now I know what sort of a many-headed monster I’m up against; as soon as I cut off one head in the form of an ice-cream box I don’t put in the supermarket cart, it rears another as my mother-in-law offers me some cookies. But my sword – my knowledge, determination, and wish for better health for myself and my family – is ever ready.

Commitment to healthier cooking

Image result for healthy cooking
When I graduated with a degree in nutrition from a prestigious university, I knew a great deal about enzymes, hormones, and dietary regimes for various ailments, from diabetes to kidney dysfunction – but next to nothing about how to make healthier choices for simple homemade food cooked for basically healthy people.

Sure, I knew the basics – avoid over-processed junk, eat plenty of fruit and veggies, reduce sugar and salt. But I didn’t internalize the importance of what comes into the process of making food: organic vs commercially grown produce, pasture-raised eggs and meat vs animals raised in crowded feedlots. I wasn’t fully aware of the detrimental effects of commercially processed oils, or even sugar.

Fast forward a few years. I’m pregnant with my second child, and a friend sends me the wonderful book Nourishing Traditions. I gobble it up, fascinated. Some things I disagree with, but so many more make perfect sense. I discover a wealth of information about the diversity of diet and traditional food preparation techniques. My horizons are expanded, but I’m also discouraged. This is too much for a family who love their triple chocolate ice-cream and depend on the convenience of plastic white bread.

Slowly, bit by bit, I become convicted that health is a treasure in the sense that it makes everything else possible, and that it is my job, as the cook of the family, to make the most effort towards preserving and enhancing health. My means are ridiculously inadequate. I happen to be married to a man who isn’t exactly on the same page; who doesn’t just think that whole grains are nothing more than a nutritional fad, but who requests desserts, foods fried in large quantities of unhealthy oil, etc (we did make some progress there over the years, I am happy to say).

I yearn to exchange all the junk for an invigorating array of fruit and vegetables, for high-quality natural oils and whole flours, and excellent fresh meat, fish and dairy products. I yearn to remove all the temptations from us. I do so wish I could be the one who does the shopping, but unfortunately, this isn’t practical.

More recently, reading Sugar Blues made me more mindful of the effect sugar has on people, especially children. It’s actually chilling. Intelligent people lose all rational thought and consume foul junk like candy and soft drinks as if those were manna from heaven.

So, what do I do? I cook. I cook for my family. The ingredients are often inferior, but here’s what I do:

I cut down on desserts. I’ve realized that I can spend hours working on a fancy layered cake, lovingly decorating it, and what I’m really doing is investing my time in a poison bomb that is detrimental to my family’s health, because I don’t have the whole flour, high-quality eggs (depends on season), healthy oils and natural sweeteners that would make such a dessert even somewhat more nutritious than its store-bought equivalent. So, if I can’t make a dessert or a treat that isn’t an anti-nutrient, I don’t make it at all.

Of course, this has a downside, being that my husband, if he sees I’ve stopped making sweet treats, buys them at the store instead. Then he introduces something that is even more loaded with sugar and unhealthy oils than what I would have made at home. But my protest, in refusing to make such things, creates an echo that really serves to convince my family, bit by bit.

Same goes for white bread. Making bread from scratch is time-consuming, and I’ve repeatedly told my husband I don’t see the sense in doing it if I end up with a product that, nutritionally speaking, is only slightly better than what I can buy at the store (though it does taste better). So more recently we’ve been experimenting with slow-rise breads made partially of whole grain (because my husband still claims that bread made entirely of whole grain is too dense for him).

Of course, I cook a variety of real food – soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, meat, fish, and eggs-based stuff. In short, I’m doing the best I can with what I have, at this moment.

Why sugar addiction is so hard to beat

Image result

Of all the changes one might try to make to improve one’s nutrition, eliminating or reducing the intake of added sugar is probably one of the hardest (but also one of the most crucial) things to do. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Sugar is everywhere. It is ever-present and very socially acceptable, being used as part of every gathering, food treat, or celebration. Children get candy as a reward for good behavior. Almost every occasion, from birthday party to wedding reception, is impossible to imagine without cake. Furthermore, many alcoholic drinks – another social convention – are heavily sugar-laced.
  2. The love of sugar is biologically ingrained. On a biological level, sweet taste allows one to assess the ripeness of fruit, therefore helping choose the ones which offer most nutritional benefits – as in nature, sugar is a component of nutritionally dense foods. The consumption of sugar is chemically rewarded by the brain – it acts on the pleasure-center and triggers the release of serotonin, which in turn floods our bodies with pleasant sensations. The problem is, this kind of biochemical high is also addictive – when the consumption of sugar is over-indulged, on attempting to break it one might literally find oneself feeling and behaving like a junkie on withdrawal.
  3. Commonly used in food industry – sugar is one of the favorite ingredients of food industry, and do you have to ask why? It’s cheap, has a pleasant taste and an almost infinite shelf life. It is used, therefore, to entice innocent people, cover up for bland taste inferior ingredients are responsible for and, in short, to line the pockets of the food conglomerates.

I have stated before that I am an acknowledged sugar addict. I’m not saying “recovered” or “former”; I will probably struggle with this affliction for as long as I live, but eating well, resting well, and being aware of the problem helps quite a bit. One interesting book I am reading now is The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet. It isn’t a new book, and some of the things they recommend and/or allow are outdated, but overall they have an interesting approach. Their attitude, in a nutshell, is reducing hyperinsulinemia by limiting carbohydrate-containing meals to one per day. Other favorite reads of mine are Sugar Blues and Beating The Food Giants.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

I would like to thank the several readers who sent me a link to the book of Dr. Weston Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. You can read the book – which I highly recommend – online if you follow the link. This was the first time I heard of Dr. Price’s research, and I must say his findings are striking, not to mention highly convincing. The facts speak for themselves.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dr. Price, he was a researcher in the 1930’s who traveled all over the world and collected data on how the contact with modern civilization and modern food impacted the primitive cultures who were exposed to it for the first time. That unique point of time made the research possible – finding truly primitive communities would be a lot more difficult today.

Dr. Price was a dentist and originally his research focused on the condition of teeth, but it soon becomes very clear that teeth problems are just the tip of the iceberg when we come to deal with trouble brought on by the de-vitalized nutrition of modern age.

Even though Dr. Price’s research was conducted such a long time ago and science has marched a long way since, I believe his findings are still and probably even more relevant today. When I think of why his conclusions weren’t widely publicized and the entire approach to nutrition wasn’t revolutionized, the only reason I can come up with is that it would be so inconvenient to many people. Dr. Price offers no easy solutions, but clearly states that it takes a great strength of character to give up the food that is bad for us.

This strength of character is something that the establishment thinks we lack. They view us as a complacent herd. When I was a student, our professors clearly told us that most people don’t have the willpower to change their lives and improve their health. Therefore, we were to focus on the easy, temporary solutions, not the truly effective ones.

Furthermore, the food industry clearly doesn’t want us to put too much thought into what we eat. It’s far too easy for them to toss a handful of artificial vitamins and minerals into junk food like sugared cereal, and market it as health food. It is especially maddening to think that many of the junkiest foods out there are directed towards children and parents of young children – and many parents don’t hesitate to give their children highly sweetened and processed foods, thinking they are healthy because some synthetic vitamins were thrown in.

Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook

naturalhandsmint

I am happy to announce that my natural health book, Nurturing Hands, has been revised, expanded, newly edited, generally revamped and re-released as Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook. It is now available both in print, in a neat compact pocket size (134 pages, 4.99$) and in a digital version both on Kindle (2.99$) and Payhip (2$). It includes sections on nutrition, natural birth, breastfeeding, and health-promoting kitchen tips.

Working on this book was tremendously satisfying, like weaving together threads that have been loose for a long time. I hope readers find it both educational and enjoyable.

I am offering up to 3 review copies to my blog readers – if you are interested, just drop me a line through the contact form or in the comments.

Fenugreek: A WonderHerb

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices.

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium – and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn’t even think of or aim for (since my baby was almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that’s really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive – and, apparently, less effective – than the real thing. I’m not sure you can buy Fenugreek everywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season.

Here is the recipe we used:

– about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably.
– a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
– 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
– juice of one lemon

– salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, place everything in your food processor. Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:
Image taken from here.

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don’t mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby’s diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don’t smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Recently I’ve decided to try growing some fenugreek from seed, to see if the fresh leaves are as good or better as the dried ones we use in various dishes. So far it’s proving very easy to grow – I just made a shallow trench in one of the garden beds, threw in some dry Fenugreek seeds from the store, and almost all of them sprouted. Once the leaves are big enough to use I’ll be sure to let you know how it has turned out.

Nourishing Traditions and breastfeeding

Image result for nourishing traditions

Disclaimer: this post focuses only on the section on infant feeding in “Nourishing Traditions”, which is just a small part of the book.

As I approached the section on infant feeding in Nourishing Traditions, I was looking forward to a detailed survey of breastfeeding practices in traditional cultures, including perhaps a comprehensive list of foods which are thought to be beneficial for nursing mothers, plus detailed suggestions of milk-boosting diets, meals, beverages etc.

I was disappointed. At the beginning of the chapter, the author says that the importance of breastfeeding your baby “cannot be overemphasized.” However, I felt that the rest of the chapter contradicts this statement by concentrating mostly on recipes for homemade baby formulas, and by providing some advice which is outright detrimental to successful breastfeeding.

Are homemade “natural” formulas better than commercial formulas? Perhaps. Let’s even assume so. But no formula will ever come close to breastfeeding, either in nutritional content or otherwise. Mother’s milk is the food God designed for babies; cow’s milk is the food God designed for calves. It’s as simple as that. Cows’ or goats’ milk protein is unlike the protein in mother’s milk and is less well suited to human infants. Yes, it is possible for a baby to grow up just fine on formula, but on all points – nutritious, emotional and immunological benefits, protection from exogenous diseases, convenience and price – the score of breastfeeding is way higher. Therefore, as I see it, it’s definitely worthwhile to do everything possible to ensure that the baby is breastfed.

The author flatly and unequivocally states that the optimal duration of breastfeeding is “six months to a year”. This essentially means that some babies should be completely weaned as early as six months of age – which is just plain wrong, both according to the current position of the WHO, which states that

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond”

– and according to wisdom of most traditional cultures. As a matter of fact, I find it astonishing that a book which takes such an obvious stance of learning from traditions of various people around the world blatantly ignores the fact that in traditional cultures, breastfeeding normally continues well beyond one year and certainly beyond six months! In the Jewish tradition, the standard length of breastfeeding is two years.

The statement, “remember that babies should be chubby” (page 601) really grated on my nerves. Is there no room for diversity, no role for heredity to play in the baby’s body build? This expectation from two tall lean parents to produce a fat little butterball baby, makes mothers anxious about their milk supply when in fact they have plenty, and causes them to rush to supplement with formulas and artificially fatten up their babies.

When I came to the final page, titled “Tips for Successful Breastfeeding”, I was dismayed to find much of the same counter-productive advice you often hear from doctors whose knowledge on breastfeeding comes close to zero. Yes, good nutrition and proper rest play an important role in maintaining adequate milk supply. But the author neglects to mention that the most important factor in boosting milk supply is nursing on demand, which usually means often. Again, where is the analysis of traditional practices such as attachment parenting, baby-wearing and co-sleeping, which all encourage frequent nursing?

It isn’t that I think everyone should go the attachment parenting way. Parents are perfectly within their right to offer pacifiers and insist that the baby should sleep in their own room from day one. But if we’re talking about optimizing the chances of successful breastfeeding, people should make their choices with open eyes.

How about this: “If you have any qualms or fears about not having enough milk, assemble the ingredients for homemade formula…” not “check if you really have cause for concern”; not “contact a lactation consultant and/or a La Leche League representative”, not “nurse more often.” Prepare to give formula!! According to the author, “having the supplies on hand can be enough to give you the peace of mind that allows your milk to keep flowing”. Well, you know what? This very strongly reminds me of the well-meaning doctors and nurses who tried to persuade us to keep a can of formula at home, “just in case”. Does having formula around help to keep the milk flowing? I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that.

 Supplementing may be necessary sometimes, but it is just about one of the most critical steps towards diminishing milk supply.

And this: “Lack of adequate milk supply sometimes does occur, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases.”  Yes, sometimes during a growth spurt it may seem as though the milk supply is inadequate. However, by nursing more often, eating well and resting, milk supply can usually be increased. Mother and baby are hormonally tuned in to one another. Infant suckling stimulates milk supply. Lack of adequate supply doesn’t just “occur” (it’s maddening that a serious author implies that a basic bodily function like lactation just stops or decreases out of the blue). It has reasons which can often be traced to things like abrupt night weaning, introduction of solids, spending time away from your baby, giving a pacifier, a new pregnancy, etc.

I’m not saying that mothers who couldn’t breastfeed, for whatever reason, should feel guilty. But I do think that authors should feel guilty if their advice might have undermined breastfeeding for thousands of women.

My final conclusion? Eat the apple and spit out the seeds. “Nourishing Traditions” is a fascinating book with lots of insightful material and valuable advice, and it is kept at a place of honor on my shelf and often referred to. However, on this matter of breastfeeding I quite plainly disagree with a lot of what the author has to say.