This quick guide to the benefits of low-carbohydrate eating and the cravings that can accompany a reduced sugar intake comes from the Defeat Diabetes app.
Fast food doesn't necessarily have to be junk food. Here are a few general rules you can apply to almost any fast-food outlet.
Stick to meat, cheese, and vegetables: Try to avoid breads, sauces and condiments.
Go for grilled, not fried: A number of fast-food restaurants now offer grilled, broiled or roasted chicken and beef options. Add a side of vegetables and you've got yourself a relatively healthy fast-food meal.
Limit the chips: Hot chips are full of starch and cooked in seed oils - not a good combination! Studies show that eating fries may trigger cravings for more.
Avoid the bun: Some places let you order a burger wrapped in lettuce leaves, or you can always remove the bun and eat the insides with a fork. Keep your burger simple, with meat, lettuce and tomato. Feeling hungry? Add some extra protein by opting for extra cheese or a double patty.
Choose salad: Salads remain some of the best low-carb items on fast-food menus. Opt for simpler salads that include meat, such as grilled chicken plus lettuce, tomato and cucumber, and ask for the dressing on the side. Avoid extras like creamy sauces, croutons, and tortilla strips. Pick a low-sugar salad dressing like oil and vinegar. You can also opt for no salad dressing if there are no healthy options.
Keep away from breadcrumbs: Chicken wings and other fried items will typically have a coating of wheat flour-based breadcrumbs. If you can, try to order your food with no breadcrumbs. Many chicken restaurants offer naked (traditional) chicken wings as an option. If you have no other choice, try to peel off the crumbs.
Watch the sauces and dressings: They are usually filled with sugar, so avoid sweet-tasting sauces and opt for fattier salad dressings. Sometimes you can't avoid either - in some places they'll squirt tomato or barbecue sauce on automatically - so ask for no sauce or sauce on the side. Tzatziki, babaganoush, unsweetened chilli sauce such as sriracha, and tahini can be great options for healthier sauces.
Drink water: Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices and flavoured milks.
Choose breakfast carefully: Most breakfast items from fast-food outlets are loaded with carbs - toasties, pancakes, muffins, bagels, waffles and biscuits. Some fast-food outlets will have an option with eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes.
Hunger represents the urge to eat food and is largely driven by our bodies' need for energy or nutrients. Unfortunately, when we eat the wrong foods, we often experience hunger when we already have a surplus of energy. This is largely due to the action of the hormone insulin. By eating the correct foods, insulin levels can be reduced, assisting us in losing weight without hunger.
Some patients are concerned about the lack of hunger on a low-carbohydrate diet. This is normal and skipping meals will enhance your weight loss. On the other hand, eating when you are not hungry means limits the amount of stored fat your body can burn. Don't make the mistake of "eating by the clock". If you are not hungry, do not eat.
Hunger vs cravings: One problem many people have is not being able to distinguish between true hunger and cravings for sweet foods. When we eat sweet-tasting foods our brain releases a chemical called dopamine, activating neural reward pathways. Dopamine is involved in all forms of addiction and contributes to the urge to eat even when we are not hungry. Knowing this, modern food scientists produce food as desirable as possible by having their ratios of sugar, fat and salt precisely crafted for maximal palatability (and addiction). This is said to be the "bliss point", and is why modern processed foods can be hard to resist.
Managing cravings: Unfortunately, giving in to these cravings only reinforces our addiction. To identify cravings try the "cheese test". If you think you are hungry, ask yourself if you would eat cheese, or another non-sweet low carbohydrate food. If you are just craving, and not truly hungry, you are likely to say no. You then know you are likely to be suffering a craving. If you'd happily eat the cheese, then allow yourself to consume some healthy, low-carbohydrate food. This way you will find your cravings progressively reduce over time.
Sleep: Sleep deprivation can contribute significantly to cravings by altering levels of two key hormones which regulate hunger (leptin and ghrelin), worsening insulin resistance and impairing willpower. Studies show that those who get less than eight hours sleep per night are far more likely to binge on processed foods.
ACM, publisher of this masthead, is partnering with Defeat Diabetes to offer readers a free three-month trial of the Defeat Diabetes app.
Scan the QR code in your favourite ACM newspaper for more details.