From beautifully braided challah to bagels and savory kugels, there’s no denying that traditional Jewish dishes are both delicious and full of flavor. Unfortunately, many of those delicious dishes are also packed with carbohydrates, low in nutrients and not exactly great for your overall health.
A diet high in refined carbs (from sources like challah and kugel) can have some serious consequences on key health indicators, starting with your waistline. Unlike “good carbs” (like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and bananas), refined carbs are low in fiber —a key nutrient that slows the absorption of sugar and keeps you feeling full. This means that filling up on unhealthy carbs can cause blood sugar levels to spike and crash, leave you feeling even hungrier and less satisfied than before, and lead to cravings for even more unhealthy foods.
Loading up on the refined carbs may also take a toll on the health of your heart and brain. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that a higher intake of carbohydrates was associated with a significantly higher risk of coronary heart disease, while another study in 2017 showed that higher sugar consumption was linked to poorer cognitive performance in older adults.
However, ditching the high-carb Jewish treats — or even limiting your intake to the holidays — is no easy task. This is because eating foods high in carbs and sugars triggers the release of a chemical called dopamine, which controls the reward center in your brain. When you start indulging in lots of carb-filled treats, your dopamine receptors start to down-regulate, forcing you to eat even more carbs to get that same sense of pleasure.
Beating a carb addiction is definitely challenging, but it’s far from impossible. By making a few simple switches to your diet and lifestyle, you can cut down on carbs and start making significant strides in your overall health.
Here are a few tips on how to fight cravings and make cutting back on unhealthy carbs as painless as possible:
Eat More Fiber
Adding more fiber to your diet is one of the best ways to side-step cravings. Fiber moves through your gastrointestinal tract undigested, keeping blood sugar levels steady and promoting satiety to keep your appetite in check. One study by the University of Toronto showed that upping fiber intake was able to blunt appetite, reduce food intake, and even stabilize blood sugar.
There are tons of high-fiber foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet to help fight off food cravings during Passover and all year long. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds are just a few of the nutritious (and delicious) fiber-rich options available that you can add to your meals and snacks throughout the day.
Increase Your Protein Intake
Like fiber, protein plays a central role in appetite and cravings control. Protein has been shown to effectively reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger, and it can also help regulate blood sugar levels, which can minimize cravings and reduce symptoms of low blood sugar like fatigue, shakiness and excessive hunger.
Try adding a good source of protein into each meal and including a few high-protein snacks in your day as well. A few examples of healthy, protein-rich foods include grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, organic chicken, eggs, tempeh and lentils.
Consume Heart-Healthy Fats
With the surge in popularity of the ketogenic diet lately, there’s been plenty of emerging research showing that increasing your intake of heart-healthy fats can have a powerful impact on your health. Besides increasing longevity and reducing the risk of chronic disease, getting in your daily dose of healthy fats can also help kick your carb addiction to the curb. This is because fat is absorbed and digested very slowly, which helps promote satiety and fullness to keep your appetite under control.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should trade in your bagels for high-fat potato chips and French fries. Instead, be sure to opt for better choices like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds to get in a healthy fat fix.
Get Plenty of Sleep
While it may be easier said than done, squeezing in even a few extra hours per sleep each night could make a world of difference when it comes to cutting cravings. Research shows that sleep deprivation can seriously sabotage attempts at healthy eating, with some studies showing that even missing a few hours of sleep can kick up appetite and increase caloric intake by 22 percent.
Although sleep requirements can vary based on many different factors, a good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night to reduce cravings and start your day off on the right foot.
Focus on Gut Health
Your gut is comprised of trillions of beneficial bacteria that have a direct effect on health and disease. Studies show that it may also influence appetite and cravings; one animal study in Scientific Reports found that supplementing with probiotics to improve gut health also suppressed appetite and lowered blood sugar levels.
Cutting out processed junk and cleaning up your diet can have a major impact on the health of your gut. Minimizing stress levels, getting in plenty of physical activity, and eating more fermented foods are other effective ways to help optimize gut health.