Bread, doughnuts, dessert and pasta, pasta, pasta! This may as well be our mantra during winter when hunger strikes. We long for a big bowl of noodles for every meal, but rarely are active enough - especially in winter - to adequately burn off the carbs before they turn into fat.
Studies have shown that the desire for carbohydrates and the levels of serotonin activity in the brain are intimately related. Many individuals also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which means they might become more depressed in the winter; depression, consequently, has been shown to cause an increase of the desire for comfort foods in affected individuals due to the aforementioned decrease in serotonin levels. On top of it all, the lack of light during the winter months may also contribute to the body's urge to consume more carb-heavy calories. With all of these chemical, physiological and psychological factors contributing to winter carb cravings, how do we maintain a healthy diet?
Find low-carb substitutes for your favorite foods
Craving carbs? The Internet is packed with great recipes for low-carb versions of comfort foods. Or, try one of these simple, quick low-carb options instead.
- Pass on the mash - potatoes, that is. Steam some fresh cauliflower, puree it with some milk or half-and-half and a little butter, and you've got a worthy substitute for mashed potatoes with way less carbs.
- Instead of pancakes for breakfast on a cold winter morning, try this meal instead: mix together some organic oatmeal and cottage cheese to create a tasty and low-carb pancake mix substitute. Throw in two eggs, and a dash of vanilla extract, nutmeg and cinnamon, and you have a great and healthy pancake substitute.
- Some low-GI and low-carb fruits can be effective in taking the edge off of a carb-craving attack. Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples and peaches, are all great options. Try combining them with a dollop of low-sugar whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon, and you have a delicious but low-carb dessert or snack.
Get seven hours of quality sleep
Scientific studies have shown that sleep deprivation (typically, less than seven hours per night for most healthy individuals) can contribute to a craving for sugary foods and carbohydrates. Don't think you can get more than seven hours in? Instead of staying awake to watch one more episode or staring at your phone for an hour after you get in bed, turn off the TV, set the phone aside and snuggle down under the covers with a book. You'll get better quality sleep and also probably fall asleep faster. If your schedule allows, feel free to take a short nap during the day to recharge. The more energy you have naturally the less likely you'll go into crave mode.
Take a glutamine supplement
Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid which can be used as a power source by your brain. Consequently, taking a glutamine supplement or eating low-carb foods such as beef, chicken, fish, spinach and parsley will increase the levels of glutamine in your brain and help eliminate your body's craving for carbohydrates. But remember - always consult with your doctor before incorporating any dietary supplement into your daily diet.
Ensure you have adequate B vitamin intake
Another supplement to consider are B vitamins. Various B vitamins play a vital role in breaking down carbohydrates. Each of the vitamins in the B vitamin family have a role to play in this process. For instance, Vitamin B1 is specifically geared towards converting carbohydrates to simple sugars, while niacin and riboflavin allow your body to more effectively harness the energy gained from the metabolization of carbohydrate foods.
Don't forget the psychological aspect
When it comes down to it, that carb craving mostly all in your head. We do need to eat for energy throughout the day, but if we're eating a healthy, balanced diet, we should have all we need without the giant bowls of pasta or the big breakfast pancakes, waffles and French toast. So follow the above tips to curb carb cravings and stay the course in maintaining your healthy diet even through the winter. And then don't forget to focus on the long-term goal: improving and maintaining your health. Keeping the big picture in mind will help you surmount any challenge, including those pesky food temptations.