Cravings for sweets aren't always a bad thing. It's true that often when we are craving sweets it is because of some other need that is going unfulfilled; many needs both emotional and physical will present themselves as a craving for sugar when really it is that we are lonely, or restless, or bored, or tired, or over-caffeinated, or dehydrated, or have eaten too much protein or fat and are trying to balance it out. All of these needs can be perceived as a strong desire for sweets. Unfortunately, many people respond to such cravings by going for processed, refined sugars and sweet foods, which act like a drug in the body by making the body want more while also straining the body's resources even further and resulting in more cravings, thus becoming a viscous cycle. This is why it seems impossible to avoid the candy bowl or the cookie plate once you've caved in and had a nibble.
However, it is natural for our bodies and palates to seek out sweetness in foods, so it's good to satisfy that desire- but it is important to do so with natural, wholesome, unrefined foods. Wholesome sweet foods benefit the liver as well as the spleen-pancreas, while also giving us a sense of satisfaction and well being: the "sweetness of life". They key is to pay attention to quality and amount. Some often overlooked healthy sources of sweetness are sweet vegetables such as sweet potatoes, sweet squashes like kabocha (green pumpkin), acorn, butternut and pumpkin, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips and beets, as well as a plethora of fruits. At this time of year, avoid tropical fruits that can be too sugary and cooling for our winter systems- instead opt for fruits such as pears, peaches, apples, berries, cherries, and melons, which are lower on the glycemic index (meaning they cause less of a surge in your blood sugar) and can be grown in locales most similar to where we live.
Aside from fruits and veggies, experiment with making life sweet using all natural, wholesome sweeteners such as pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup (a little-known but wonderful and healthful condiment), barley malt syrup, honey or agave nectar. Try drizzling one of these sweeteners over toasted nuts mixed with raisins, or heat up some leftover brown rice or other grain and add a sprinkling of nuts, a shake of cinnamon, and a drizzle of one of these delicious sweeteners for a warming, substantial sweet snack.
Also, rather than thinking of desire for sweets as something only satiated by snacks and desserts, bring sweetness into your main course meals. "Sweet" is one of the tastes our bodies are programmed to want naturally, so when we include the sweet taste IN our meal, we are less inclined to go for dessert or sweet snacks later. For example, tonight I will be making aduki beans (small, red beans that lend themselves well to sweet flavor) cooked together with chunks of sweet, tender acorn squash and sweetened with a little bit of pure maple syrup, served over a bed of quinoa with sauteed garlic green beans on the side. After a meal as sweet as that, who needs dessert?
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