Craving a daily doughnut? As the autumn days grow shorter, many people find themselves reaching more frequently for comfort foods such as pasta, cookies, bread, and crackers. These rapidly metabolized carbohydrates give us a quick “happy fix.” Unfortunately, they also lead to a subsequent drop in blood sugar that causes us to crave more carbs again, in a relatively short time.
Why do we crave carbs in autumn? Light from the sun causes the pineal gland in our brain to decrease its production of melatonin. Less light = more melatonin. Melatonin causes a drop in serotonin, our “feel good” hormone. When our serotonin levels drop, we compensate with carbohydrates, which increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. Unfortunately, we also experience a ‘rebound’ drop in serotonin levels once the “high” from these foods leaves our system.
To help curbing carb cravings as the darkness creeps in:
- Choose foods that are low on the “Glycemic Index” scale, such as whole grains, nuts, legumes (beans), vegetables and some fruits. These foods take longer to digest, which means that the body is able to avoid the rapid changes in blood sugar and serotonin levels.
- PLAN your meals each week. This makes it possible to incorporate foods that may require a slightly longer preparation time. Try steel cut oats instead of instant oats for breakfast, and brown Basmati rice instead of minute rice at dinner. Whole grains can easily be prepared on the weekend and refrigerated for use throughout the week.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand. Have a stash of mixed nuts, raisins and sunflower seeds at work and in your car.
If your carb cravings seem to be coupled with significant mood swings, depression or anxiety, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder–look for information on this in an upcoming piece.
In the meantime, step away from the donut and make a plate of Basmati brown rice. Your light-deprived brain, and your body, will thank you.