Ask a Dietitian – Cravings, Yogurt, and Cholesterol in Alcohol

by Nate Widom

This article has been reviewed by Jeannie Versagli, RD, LDN. Jeannie is a Registered Dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a national professional organization, and is licensed in nutrition with the State of Delaware.

If you’ve got a question, chances are someone else is wondering, too. We asked HAC members to submit their nutrition questions to one of our staff dietitians, Jeannie Versagli. Here are her responses:

What are the best ways to curb sugar cravings?

Throughout the day, it’s common for many of us to yearn for a treat that will initially increase our energy and bring satisfaction to our taste buds. But for those who crave a sweet snack, Jeannie’s advice to avoid sugary cravings is simple—eat healthy!

Jeannie says three things to seek are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. In an adequate amount, these nutrients will be the key to keeping you away from the pantry.

“Protein will keep you fuller, and it stays with you longer,” Jeannie mentions. “When it comes to carbohydrates, it’s really important to take in whole grains—fiber is your friend! It’s gonna make you feel full, so you won’t have the need so much to crave that sugar.”

Jeannie describes that quick sugary snacks lead to a “slippery slope.” “It sends you down the wrong path. You eat the sugar, crash, and you’re gonna be hungry again,” she describes. If you need a quick snack to tide you over, be selective. Snacks high in sugar will bring you up and then crash you down. Next thing you know, you will crave another sugary food once more. Therefore, it’s crucial to plan out your meals and not skip any of them. Cravings can be hard to overcome in the short-term, but the longer you can sustain a healthy diet, the fewer cravings you’ll experience over time.

However, for some, there is more to sugar cravings than nutrition alone. Stress plays a significant role in why many people crave sugar. While it isn’t directly related to nutrition, many people are “anxiety eaters” and crave sugary foods when stressed. According to the American Psychological Association, more fat even gets stored in the body when someone is stressed!1 For these folks, Jeannie mentions that it’s critical to be mindful of their eating habits and seek out other alternatives such as exercise.

Also, it’s important to mention that after a meal, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your gut that you’re full. Simply put, waiting 20 minutes or more after a meal is best before grabbing any extra food.

There are a confusing array of yogurts on the market. What brand/type is the best?

Anyone shopping in a major supermarket has seen the hundreds of yogurts available covering different brands, flavors, and tastes. Thankfully, there are ways to quickly narrow down the healthiest types to buy.

“The first thing I would tell a consumer is you wanna focus on a Greek yogurt, it’s a higher amount of protein,” Jeannie explains. “It has a good source of carbohydrates, and then it will have some fat depending on if you get low-fat or full-fat.”

However, Jeannie stresses that the healthiest yogurts are the plain ones. While fruit yogurts contain fruit, most of the time, they also include added sugar and flavoring. Suppose you do not like the taste of plain yogurt. In that case, Jeannie recommends topping your yogurt with fresh fruit or finding a container that includes a natural sweetener as an ingredient, like stevia. Also, you can consider trying full-fat yogurt.

If you don’t like the taste of plain low-fat Greek yogurt, Jeannie also encourages you to try a full-fat kind since fat is a flavor enhancer. Greek yogurts have healthy bacteria which are also found in fermented foods like kombucha, refrigerated (and non-pasteurized) pickles, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and apple cider vinegar.

Since yogurts are well known for their healthy bacteria and live cultures, selecting a yogurt that labels them is best. Look for a seal on the package that says “Live & Active Cultures (LAC).” This means that the yogurt is approved by the International Dairy Foods Association as having at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt once it is manufactured. Frozen yogurts with this seal will have at least 10 million cultures per gram.2 According to Jeannie, many yogurts are pasteurized, so manufacturers will reintroduce healthy cultures into the product. Therefore, while not regulated by the USDA, looking for this label is suggested.

Don’t forget your kefir!

There is a similar product to Greek yogurt that Jeannie says should be on your radar. Kefir is a fermented dairy product, and while comparable in taste to Greek yogurt, it’s more liquid-like and drinkable.

It contains 61 different types of beneficial microbes, far more than yogurt. Jeannie recommends kefir for those looking to get the most significant number of healthy bacteria. “Kefir would be my first choice,” Jeannie informs. “You can use it in a smoothie, you can use it as a dip, you can use it as dressing.” Compared to other forms of dairy, yogurt and kefir are often easier for people who are lactose intolerant or have other digestive disorders to break down, too.

Does alcohol significantly raise one’s cholesterol?

The short answer to this question is that if you drink responsibly, alcohol won’t negatively affect your cholesterol. “If you drink alcohol in excess, it increases your LDL and total cholesterol,” says Jeannie. “If you’re a light drinker and stay within the recommendations, you’ll improve your HDL levels.” It’s important to note that LDL is considered bad cholesterol, and HDL is considered good cholesterol.

Certain alcoholic drinks can actually provide benefits to your health. According to Jeannie, red wine (in moderation) is part of the healthy Mediterranean diet and is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. It also aids your blood vessels and keeps them flexible. Beers are high in B vitamins and contain some protein but should also be consumed sparingly. Jeannie recommends avoiding spirits and cordials because of the drinks’ low nutritional value.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guide for Americans states that, “2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.”3

Submit your nutrition questions HERE for a chance to have them answered in a future issue of Enhance Magazine.

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