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Indulge in Healthy Desserts While Nourishing Your Digestive System

Planning ahead for your sweet cravings before starting an elimination diet can help alleviate feelings of deprivation and even satisfy your brain’s reward system.

Believe it or not, you don’t have to give up all the delicious treats on your journey to better gut health, despite the common fear of sacrificing sweets that often holds people back from making dietary changes.

If the idea of going without sweets has been a barrier for you, experts suggest having a strategy in place for managing your sweet tooth can serve as motivation to prioritize your nutritional well-being.

“You can’t deprive yourself or you’ll go berserk. There’s a lot you can do,” shared Donna Schwenk, author and creator of Cultured Food Life. Ms. Schwenk offers recipes, including desserts and sweet drinks, in her membership group and various cookbooks.

Rest assured, if cutting out sugar completely seems daunting, there are alternatives to consider. Strategies include staying mindful of hunger levels, opting for fruit instead of processed snacks, swapping ingredients in recipes, and integrating fermented foods into your diet.

The Allure of Sugar

Sugar forms a strong connection with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates when our brain perceives a reward. While dopamine triggers feelings of happiness, it is also associated with addictive behaviors like those observed in gambling and substance abuse.

“Sugar is both toxic and abused, similar to alcohol, and should be treated as a dangerous drug,” noted neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig in a 2017 article published in MetroDoctors. “Indeed, sugar meets all public health criteria for regulation.”

However, another reason behind our sugar cravings is the body’s need for a quick energy boost, as explained by Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. The brain may prioritize sugar consumption when faced with low energy levels as it perceives sugar as a rapid energy source.

Yet, these cravings and associations can be altered through changes in our dietary habits, particularly our sugar intake. It’s crucial to recognize the conditioning we’ve undergone to crave sugar due to its prevalent inclusion in processed foods.

“They know that sugar and caffeine are addictive,” Dr. Surampudi remarked about the food industry’s deliberate strategies. “They do this on purpose.”

If you find yourself skipping meals and craving sugar due to low energy, Dr. Surampudi suggests consuming smaller meals throughout the day to stabilize blood sugar levels and avoid desperate sugar cravings.

Lowering sugar consumption can positively impact overall health, starting with the gut. Excessive sugar intake can compromise the intestinal barrier’s integrity, leading to increased gut permeability and microbial imbalance, which can significantly affect immunity.

According to a 2021 study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, sugar consumption has been linked to various health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular problems, metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, kidney dysfunction, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, among others.

Reflecting on her own experience, twenty years ago, Ms. Schwenk was prediabetic following a challenging pregnancy, which prompted her to prioritize her health. Her personal struggle, coupled with her sister’s Type 1 diabetes, encouraged her to take control of her blood sugar levels through diet and exercise.

Fortunately, finding balance and addressing sugar-related symptoms doesn’t mean completely forgoing indulgent treats. Ms. Schwenk offered some helpful tips on ingredient swaps that are gentle on the gut and overall health:

  • Use yogurt blended with frozen fruit as a homemade “ice cream”
  • Swap regular whole wheat flour with einkorn flour in recipes
  • Opt for natural sweeteners like dates, allulose, coconut sugar, or monk fruit instead of sugar
  • Choose chocolate chips sweetened with dates available in stores and online

In closing, it’s essential to enjoy sweet treats mindfully and strive for a balanced approach to nutrition. By making conscious choices and incorporating gut-friendly ingredients, you can satisfy your sweet tooth while supporting your overall well-being.

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