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Understanding your cravings

Peaches, nature's candy
Peaches, nature's candy
IIN

Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.
-Cicero

Deconstructing Cravings

The body is an amazing source of intelligence. It is always there for you, pumping blood, never skipping a heartbeat, digesting whatever food you put in it and maintaining homeostasis. Is this reliable, intelligent bio-computer making a mistake by craving ice cream or a hamburger or chocolate? Are cravings due to lack of will-power or discipline? Cravings are not a problem. They are critical pieces of information that tell you what your body needs.

The important thing is to understand why you crave what you crave. Perhaps your diet is too restrictive or devoid of essential nutrients. Perhaps you are living a lifestyle that is too boring or stressful. Your body tries to correct the imbalance by sending you a message: a craving. A craving for something sweet could mean you need more protein, more exercise, more water or more love in your life. The key to stopping the sugar craving is to understand and deliver what your body really needs.

No book or theory can tell you what to eat. Only awareness of your body and its needs can tell you. Of all the relationships in our lives, the one with our body is the most essential. It takes communication, love and time to cultivate a relationship with your body. As you learn to decipher and respond to your body's cravings, you will create a deep and lasting level of health and balance.  The next time you have a craving, treat it as a loving message from your body instead of a weakness.

Try these tips to respond to your body:

  • Have a glass of water and wait 10 minutes.
  • Eat a healthier version of what you crave. For example, if you crave sweets, try eating more fruit and sweet or root vegetables.
  • What is out of balance in your life? Is there something you need to express, or is something being repressed? What happened in your life just before you had this craving?
  • When you eat the food you are craving, enjoy it, taste it, savor it; notice its effect. Then you will become more aware and free to decide if you really want it next time.

Food Focus: Natural Sweeteners

Who among us doesn't love sweets? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. But when it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal. There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin and Splenda. Since refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals and fiber, they can spike blood sugar, which can often lead to cravings and mood and energy fluctuations. Instead, using naturally and minimally processed sweeteners can reduce cravings for sugary things.

Here are a few natural sweeteners to substitute in drinks, food and baking. Since they are all approximately 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar, you can use less. You can find them in most supermarkets or natural food stores. When replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners in a recipe, reduce the amounts of other liquids.

  • Raw Honey

Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners on the market. Honey will have a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some are very dark and intensely flavored. Wherever possible, choose raw honey, as it is unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.

  • Agave Nectar

Agave is made through the extraction and purification of the juice of the agave cactus. It does not stimulate insulin secretion as other sugars do, so it does not create a "sugar rush." It has a delightfully light and mild flavor.

  • Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.

Adapted from "The Cane Mutiny," New Age Magazine, March/April 1999.

Recipe of the Month: Maple Fruit Compote with Honey-Ginger Toasted Nuts

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 20 minutes
  • Serves: 4


Ingredients:

  • 2-3 apples
  • 2-3 peaches or pears
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup walnuts or nuts of your choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Directions:

  1. Wash, core and chop fruit into slices or chunks.
  2. Place in a large saucepan with 1/3 cup of water. Add the maple syrup and raisins.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add lemon juice and cinnamon. Cook for another 10 minutes, until soft.
  5. While fruit is cooking, place chopped nuts in a skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  6. Drizzle honey over the nuts and add ginger, but keep stirring since the honey can easily burn.
  7. Top warm fruit with toasted nuts and enjoy!

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