Sugar and spice, and all things nice? While sugar is fine in moderation, many people have a sweet tooth that is causing more harm than good. When you think of comfort food, what comes to mind? Oftentimes, people associate a warm, spicy cinnamon roll or a nice chunk of apple pie with comfort. This may come as no surprise, as sugar releases significant amounts of dopamine when it is consumed. This is similar to the way the brain reacts to many addictive drugs.
When people eat sugary foods, the brain releases dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which is the part of the brain associated with motivation and reward. So, the brain actually rewards you for eating sugar. When you eat too much sugar, the brain becomes used to that surge of dopamine and becomes dependent on it.
This is when cravings set in and a sugar tolerance is developed. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and dependency on sugar. When so much of the grocery store is loaded with high-calorie, high-processed, sugary foods, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid it. 1
Where Do Spices Come In?
An excess of sugar in the diet can lead to a wide range of health problems, from dental issues to diabetes, to increased risk of heart disease. For many, this is enough of a reason to try to cut unnecessary sugar out of the diet. Luckily, you can get a similar euphoric feeling when eating spicy foods, especially those that contain hot peppers.
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When you eat a spicy dish, the capsaicinoids—the source of the painful burning sensation—send one message to the taste buds: hot. The signal that is sent to the brain is that the tongue is actually being burnt.
Why would you want to seek out a burning sensation? When the body senses pain signals, it releases endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural way of relieving pain. When these endorphins are released, dopamine is also released. Instead of fighting off the “pain” of spicy food, you actually receive a feeling of euphoria.2
Because of the brain’s release of dopamine, it’s no wonder that humans are so fascinated with sugar and spice. If you find that you’ve become a bit too dependent on that euphoric feeling that sugar gives you, try using spices to counteract your dependancy.
Curbing Sugar Cravings with Spices
You don’t need to cut all sugar out of your life for good, but it will greatly benefit your health if you cut down on unnecessary sugars. Spices can lend an interesting burst of flavor to any dessert, but many who are addicted to sugary foods may find them a bit bitter. In order to curb your sugar cravings, try adding spices that are known for their ability to do so.
Begin replacing part of the sugar in a recipe with a combination of spices that complement the dessert. Slowly but surely, you can remove excess sugar from your diet.
Cinnamon is a delicious, warming spice that is often added to desserts, smoothies, tea, and roasted vegetables. You can also sprinkle cinnamon on yogurt, apple slices, or a bowl of cereal. Cinnamon has also been used medicinally for thousands of years due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
A 2008 study published in The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that cinnamon actually helps control blood glucose levels, which can reduce sugar cravings. This can help minimize insulin spikes after a meal, which often lead to more sugar cravings. 3
Fenugreek has a sweet, nutty flavor that is reminiscent of burnt sugar or maple syrup. The seeds can be found whole or ground and are often used in curries. While too much fenugreek can cause a dish to become bitter, using it in moderation can help curb sugar cravings. In Ayurvedic medicine, fenugreek is used to support digestion.
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, researchers found that fenugreek actually delayed the onset of diabetes in subjects that had been diagnosed with prediabetes. Those who were given fenugreek also experienced lower levels of glucose and cholesterol. 4
The scent of cloves reminds many of the holidays, as this spice is used in a wide variety of holiday drinks and desserts. Cloves are a sweet, warming spice that are used medicinally for their ability to aid digestion and regulate blood sugar.
One study examined the effects of clove capsules on participants with type 2 diabetes. After 30 days, those who had been taking the clove supplement showed significantly lower serum glucose, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels. 5
While sugar is fine in moderation, the addition of spices in the diet can help curb excess sugar cravings and reduce the risk of developing diabetes and other health problems. The next time you’re searching for a burst of dopamine, try biting into a hot pepper instead.
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