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Healthier Sugar Substitutes

It goes without saying that sugar is bad for you. It’s not only high in calories which can lead to weight gain, high cholesterol and heart disease, but it can also cause tooth decay and cavities, which can result in you requiring dental work such as fillings or even root canals. Furthermore, sugar can also be problematic if you have certain pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes – and those are just some of the reasons why it’s recommended you stay away from sugar and make better food choices.

If you’re craving something sweet, then there are healthier alternatives you can try…

For example, if you prefer drinking soda, swap it for water mixed with lemon and lime or your favourite berries. Eliminating soda from your diet and switching it up with flavoured water not only decreases sugar from your diet, but still gives you that sweet taste you’re craving. The same goes for certain foods you eat – such as cakes, cookies and other baked goods. Fresh fruit not only makes a sweet after-meal dessert, but it’s also much healthier than eating those aforementioned unhealthy foods. In addition, fruit isn’t something that has to be limited to just one meal – it can be incorporated into your breakfast, lunch, dinner – and even makes for a great snack. Fruits are some of the healthiest foods you can eat as they are rich in antioxidants and high in essential nutrients such as vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, calcium, fibre, and more. Among some of the healthiest fruits you can include in your diet are apples, oranges, strawberries, peaches, melon, blackberries, blueberries, grapefruit, pineapple, pomegranate – and, surprisingly, avocado. It is important to note that many of these fruits (and some not mentioned) do contain sugar, though the sugars found in fruits are natural.

There are also various sugar alternatives on the market which have increased in popularity over the years. For example, artificial sweeteners. Sold under many different brand names, artificial sweeteners are something people turn to as they virtually have no calories, nor do they contribute to tooth decay or raise blood sugar levels. Many artificial sweeteners are also safe to use in things like coffee and tea, as well as baking, though you may need to make some modifications to your recipes as artificial sweeteners often taste much sweeter than sugar does. Just like you would with anything else you eat, it’s also important that artificial sweeteners are used in moderation, as it is possible for them to come with potential side-effects – and you may even find yourself craving sweet things more frequently.

Honey is also something that people will often use as an alternative to sugar, but it actually has a higher calorie count than sugar. Just one tablespoon of honey contains approximately 64 calories, while one tablespoon of sugar is approximately 49 calories. It also has the same effects that sugar would, such as impacting blood sugar levels, which can be problematic if you are diabetic. Aside from consumption, however, honey has been long-used as a natural remedy for many different ailments. Swallowing a spoonful of honey has been known to soothe a sore throat and ease a cough, and has also been used for wound healing purposes. When consumed in moderation, honey can have both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects.

To make sure you’re reducing sugar from your diet, always make sure you’re purchasing sugar-free products (yogurt, for example) and unsweetened versions of things like nut butters and applesauce, as well as snacking on healthier foods (such as trail mix or raw fruits and vegetables instead of candy.

Protecting Your Skin from the Sun

In any given year, an estimated 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada. By the end of 2022, it is estimated that 9,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with skin cancer; while an estimated 1,200 will die from it. (Click here for more skin cancer statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society.) Now that summer is here, it’s especially important for the public to be educated on the risks associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

There are four different types of skin cancer that you can be diagnosed with:

• Actinic Keratosis (AK)
• Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
• Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
• Malignant Melanoma

Actinic Keratosis is caused by chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as sunlight. Areas of the body most commonly affected by AK include the scalp, face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands and back. AK is more common in adults over the age of 45 as well as those who are fair skinned or have light hair, freckles, and burn easily. You are also more likely to develop AK if you’ve had frequent exposure to sun throughout your early life. Some health researchers also suggest that Actinic keratosis is an early form of Squamous cell carcinoma, which is why it’s so crucial to seek treatment as early as possible. Those with AK will often notice scaly, plaque-like patches that are approximately 1 to 3 mm in diameter and they may range in colour from brown to red.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is considered to be the most common form of skin cancer as it accounts for 90% of cases that are diagnosed. It begins at the outer layer of skin, also known as the epidermis, and is caused by frequent/long-term exposure to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light, such as tanning beds. Common areas of the body affected by BCC include the scalp, face, ears, neck, back and shoulders. Other contributing factors include genetics, vaccinations, and even tattoos. While Basal Cell Carcinoma generally affects individuals over the age of 40, anyone can be diagnosed. You’re also at a higher risk of developing BCC if you are on long-term immunosuppressive drugs or have a suppressed immune system due to illness. One of the most common, earliest signs of Basal Cell Carcinoma are non-healing sores – particularly if they bleed or ooze for three weeks or more. The sores may be painful or itch, while other times may give the patient no discomfort. Skin lesions that appear shiny or bumpy are also indicators of BCC.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer after Basal Cell Carcinoma. It also occurs after overexposure to sunlight – either from the sun’s UV rays or tanning beds, but can also develop as a result of burns, scars, sores, as well as exposure to certain chemicals. Chronic skin inflammation and other medical conditions known to suppress the immune system can also encourage the development of Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Like other forms of skin cancer, SCC also occurs on areas of the body that have experienced prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays. Telltale signs of sun damage include wrinkling of the skin, pigment changes, and loss of elasticity. If you develop wart-like growths, growths that get larger over time, persistent scaly red patches, or have open sores, these could all be warning signs of Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Malignant Melanoma is considered the most serious form of skin cancer, as well as the most deadly. It causes more than 900 deaths in Canada each year. However, the good news is that with early detection, it can be cured. In order to determine the presence of Malignant Melanoma, you need to know the warning signs. It can start as what appears to be a new mole or freckles on the outer surface of the skin. Malignant Melanoma can also cause pre-existing moles or spots on the skin to change in appearance – such as shape or colour. Malignant Melanoma can develop over weeks or months, or can be a more slow-growing cancer over several years.

As mentioned, in order to prevent skin cancer, the first thing you should do is take precautions to keep your skin protected from ultraviolet rays. While you might not think a little bit of exposure to ultraviolet rays is dangerous, it may actually be more harmful than one realizes. If you’re going to be exposed to sunlight, I suggest using an SPF 15 or 30. An SPF 15 sunscreen will block as much as 93% of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 blocks as much as 97%. The higher the SPF, the better protected your skin will be. It’s also important to avoid use of tanning beds, as even the UV exposure from tanning beds can do serious damage to not just the skin, but to the eyes as well. Along with wearing sunscreen, you should also keep your scalp protected by wearing large-brimmed hats, and keep your eyes protected by wearing sunglasses. If you notice any abnormalities with your skin, you should always report those changes to your family doctor or dermatologist right away.

Heat Stroke Prevention

During extreme heat events or heat waves, your health can be at risk and you may develop what’s known as heat stroke, which can potentially be fatal.

Heat stroke, which is most common during the summer months, is when your body begins to overheat and reaches a temperature of 40°C or higher. It occurs as a result of being exposed to high temperatures (including physical exertion in high temperatures) for a prolonged period of time. While heat stroke more commonly affects individuals who are older (those over the age of 50, for example), it can also affect younger people, including babies – and even the healthiest of people, such as athletes. Heat stroke is something that should be taken seriously, as if it is not, it can do serious damage to the brain and other internal organs. Below is some information on heat stroke, including the signs and symptoms you should watch for, as well as what important preventative measures you can take to avoid developing heat stroke all together, and what to do in the event that you or someone you know does happen to develop heat stroke.

Preparing for extreme heat/weather is one of the best ways to prevent heat stroke. This means paying close attention to local weather forecasts (including forecasts of regions you might be travelling to) so that you know when you should take extra precautions to keep yourself protected.

As mentioned, you also need to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms that are associated with heat stroke, which can include the following:

• Severe, throbbing headache
• Dizziness and/or light-headedness
• Red, hot and/or dry skin
• Lack of sweating (despite heat)
• Muscle cramps and/or weakness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Rapid heartbeat
• Rapid and/or shallow breathing
• Confusion and/or disorientation
• Seizures
• Loss of consciousness

If you develop any of the aforementioned symptoms or see someone who may be exhibiting signs of heat stroke, it is important to immediately move to a cool area and drink water. You can also cool down by applying a cool cloth/compress (such as an ice pack) to the skin. If the person has lost consciousness, you should call 911 immediately.

As mentioned, drinking water is also important – not just after you’re already exhibiting signs of heat stroke, but prior to developing any signs, as water helps to keep the body hydrated and regulate its temperature. You should also drink water before, during and after any kind of physical activity. To make water taste more appealing, you can add a small amount of flavouring to it; many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, also have a high water content and can be another great way to increase your water intake if you don’t happen to have drinking water readily available.

Of course warmer weather means wanting to spend more time outdoors, but this, too, can lead to heat stroke, so always make sure you’re keeping your body protected by wearing loose-fitting clothing, a hat, and taking breaks from the sun by moving to cool, shaded or air-conditioned areas. For some people, spending time outdoors in extreme heat can be too much – but so can spending time indoors, especially if you live in a warm apartment building or don’t have air conditioning. If this is the case, having an oscillating fan can be helpful. You can also block direct sunlight by keeping blinds and curtains closed, while having windows open at night once temperatures begin to cool down

Other heat-related illnesses include things like heat rash (in which your hands, ankles and/or feet become swollen), heat cramps (in which you develop muscle cramping), heat rash, and heat exhaustion.

The Sugar Epidemic: Sugar History

The history of sugar dates back quite some time ago, with the extraction of sugar cane juice from the sugarcane plant and the plant’s domestication in India and Southeast Asia around 4,000 BC. This was followed by the manufacturing of cane sugar granules in Indian in the early centuries AD, leading to the spread of cultivation and manufacturing of cane sugar, as well as development of beet sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Interestingly, when sugar was first introduced in the 16th century, it was actually known as a spice, and was only made available to wealthy elites along with other exotic spices such as ginger, cinnamon and saffron – with Naples (Italy) consuming as much as 1,500 tons of sugar each year. Since then, sugar has come a long way and is an ingredient that is now used in various types of food and beverages around the globe. Aside from sweetening things we eat and drink, sugar is also often used as a preservative to stop food from spoiling, in addition to preserving colour and texture, and also inhibits microbial activity which can extend the expiration date of canned goods.

If you find yourself craving sugar, there are many reasons why that can be. For example, if you eat too many processed carbohydrates and don’t have enough healthy fat or protein in your diet. Many sugar cravings will also stem from a blood sugar imbalance. For example, when you ingest sugar, your blood sugar will spike. As a result of this spike, your body will release insulin to bring it back down to a safer level. However, as often happens, if the insulin that your body releases happens to bring your blood sugar level down too low, will then begin to crave sweet foods, and those foods will ultimately cause it to rise again, which can turn into a vicious cycle.

Our basic biology and DNA can also play a role when it comes to craving sugar. Scientific evidence has shown that children have a much stronger preference for sugar compared to adults – meaning that kids may have a “hardwired” sweet tooth. One study conducted by researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia also found that there was also a correlation between preference for sweets in children, along with evidence that children are more sensitive to things that are bitter in taste. Unlike adults, who tend to find things that are overly sugary to be unpleasant, children live in a different sensory world – and their dislike for sweets doesn’t tend to start to decrease until late adolescence.

Sugar is a bona fide addiction as confirmed by research from the scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse – MOT MAG, ‘The “Added Sugar Pandemic” – Pure, White and Deadly

When you crave something sweet, your brain can also play a major role. For example, the horseshoe-shaped hippocampus, which is located in your temporal lobe, is responsible for short and long-term memories. When you eat something sweet, the hippocampus enables you to remember the taste of it – and is then responsible for forming habits, both good and bad – such as having the urge to snack, or picking up that sweet treat. Once you give in to a sugar craving and it enters the bloodstream, your dopamine levels rise. This sets off the brain’s pleasure centre, similar to the same feeling you would get if you were addicted to caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, or alcohol.

Related Article: ‘The Sugar Pandemic: Sugar Addiction’

How Food Can Impact Weight

Losing weight is something that many people struggle with. In order to know why weight loss can be difficult, it’s also important to know the way in which things have changed over the years – particularly with our food habits.

In the 1970s, for example, meals were often prepared and cooked at home, while supermarkets sold foods that were mostly whole and natural, and very little foods that were processed. People were also a lot more active, had more jobs that were labor-intensive, didn’t eat or drink as much socially, and consumed smaller portion sizes – in comparison to now, where many people will buy their foods outside of home (such as at fast food restaurants), and as many as 80% of the foods sold in supermarkets are highly professed with things like added sugar, salt and other chemicals that are considered unhealthy. People also live more sedentary lifestyles, with more desk jobs existing, as well as more social eating and drinking, and consumption of larger portion sizes.

When you hear the word “calories” your mind most likely automatically thinks of gaining weight. However, it’s important to note that not all calories are bad or equal. In fact, the body needs a certain number of calories in order to thrive and properly function. A small apple, for example, can contain approximately 50 calories – but also contains fibre, which digests slowly, causes your energy to release slower, doesn’t spike blood sugar, contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and folic acid, as well as has other antioxidant benefits and contains water. On the other hand, a can of soda gets you calories but not in a healthy way. It also contains no fibre, so your body will digest it immediately, it absorbs straight to the liver (which stores straight to fat), doesn’t contain any vitamins or minerals, and contains large amounts of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.

Unhealthy eating will cause you to gain large amounts of fat, resulting in you becoming overweight or obese, and can cause other problems with your health such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more. When you make healthier food choices, you’re not only giving your body the right kind of fuel that it needs, but you’re also boosting energy levels in the process as well as reducing your risk of disease and will find it easier to control and maintain your weight.

It’s also important to know the difference between being overweight and obese. When you are overweight, it means you’re having too much of something – such as too much processed food, too much alcohol, and too many calories in addition to little or no exercise, while being obese means you are eating things in excess. Whether you are overweight or obese, you are at an increased risk of things like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes. You can make changes to your lifestyle, however by reducing and outright eliminating processed foods from your diet and being aware of portion control, making sure you’re eating three healthy well-balanced meals per day, and getting regular exercise starting at least 2 to 4 times per week and slowly increasing your amount of daily activity.

When it comes to portion control, remember, it’s not about counting calories. Instead, it’s about making sure you’re eating the right amount of foods during your meals. For example, you need at least 1 portion of protein (such as chicken), 1 portion of a starch carbohydrate (such as wholegrain rice or quinoa), 2 to 3 portions of fruits and/or vegetables (such as apples, berries and broccoli), and healthy fats (such as omega 3’s and 6’s which are found in fish, nuts and seeds, as well as water with every meal.

How the Environment Can Impact Your Health

Pollution is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to our environment. As humans, we’re actually responsible for most of the pollution that gets released into the environment. What we don’t realize, however, is that breathing in all that pollution can actually have a detrimental impact on our health.

Air pollution can be classified into two types: Visible or invisible. Things like smoke, dust and haze are considered “visible” pollutants and can oftentimes be smelled, while other pollutants like carbon monoxide are considered “invisible” as they are without color and odour. Another common example of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels. For example, oil, coal, as well as gasoline to provide us with electricity and power our homes and vehicles. Pollution can also be caused by agricultural activities, exhaust from factories, mining operations, and even household products like cleaners and paint supplies. Whether you spend your time indoors or outdoors, you can be affected by air pollution.

Pollutants can be inhaled into the lungs as well as cross into the blood stream which can have an effect on your respiratory system as well as have an impact on other organs in your body. For example, if you have pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory problems, you may notice an aggravation of those illnesses. High levels of air pollution can also cause added stress to the heart and lungs, thus forcing the body to work harder to supply itself with oxygen. Things like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema can also occur as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution – and in some cases even cancer. You are at an increased risk of developing health problems as a direct result of air pollution if, as mentioned, you can certain pre-existing conditions, are pregnant, under the age of 14, are elderly, or work outdoors. It isn’t just humans who are impacted, either, as pollutants can also be harmful to plants and animals.

With summer now here, this means so is fire season. In recent years, wildfires have devastated parts of British Columbia like never seen before, and it’s important to know about the effects that smoke inhalation can have on your health as well as to make sure you take necessary precautions to protect yourself. You can find helpful emergency preparedness tips relating to forest fires and your health via HealthLink BC.

It’s also important to pay close attention to the air quality index, either by watching local weather reports or by visiting the Government of British Columbia’s Air Quality website. For a list of active forest fires across the province, click here.

Before-and-After Workout Tips

When it comes to physical activity, what you do before and after working out is important – from pre-workout stretching, to the type of food you consume. Below are some of the most crucial pre and post-workout tips to help you get the most out of your exercise routine.

 

Food & Drink

Having a healthy diet and consuming proper foods and beverages can improve your health in a number of different way – such as reduce the risk of diabetes, improve cholesterol levels, and help you lose weight… but did you know that what you eat and drink can also make a difference when it comes to your workout routine? Particularly if you’re wanting to increase your energy levels.

If you’re going to be engaging in high-impact exercise or training sessions, you’ll want to avoid consuming foods that are considered heavy or may take longer to break down in the stomach. Of course the obvious foods that you should stay away from include any foods that are fried or fatty, carbonated beverages, artificially flavoured drinks (as they often contain lots of sugar), as well as foods that are spicy. Foods that are high in fibre, while considered healthy, should also be avoided right before working out, as should nuts as they tend to have a higher fat content which means they can take longer for your stomach to digest. If you do want to have a light snack, health professionals recommend eating a banana at least 60 minutes prior to your workout. A banana provides your body with some of the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy, such as potassium, manganese, and carbohydrates – which improve endurance, help with muscle function, as well as help with bone development and wound healing. Following your workout, opt for a low-protein snack.

It’s also important to stay hydrated. When we workout and sweat, our bodies lose water, so it’s always a good idea to have some H2O on hand – and drinking water also benefits your health in many other ways, too, which you can read more about here.

Stretching

People often choose to stretch before working out, which is fine, but it’s also a good idea to stretch after your workout, too. Stretching can help increase your range of motion and decrease any muscle/joint discomfort you might be feeling. It also helps to bring your body back down to a cool, resting position. Here you will find a list of different and easy post-workout stretches to try. For increased soreness or any inflammation, I also recommend taking cooler showers or using cold packs (sometimes alternating with heat) to help expedite the healing process.

How the Brain Changes as We Age

As our bodies develop, so do our brains. We adapt, we learn, we make memories, and become smarter. However, just as your body eventually changes over time, the brain goes through changes as well. The brain’s aging process begins in your late twenties, which results in neurons being lost. By the time you reach your sixties, the brain begins to shrink – and while this might sound startling, it’s a natural process that happens to everyone.

When we are born, we’re born with the following: Billions of neurons, reflexes, and basic survival skills. As we grow up, those neurons get bigger and work harder, and also aide in everything from our eyesight to our hearing. By the time you reach 2 years of age, your brain will already have reached nearly 80% of its adult size. During early childhood, the brain is about 85% developed. You’ll have learned intellect, motor and social skills, and will have adopted you own personality. The brain’s use for language is also strengthened during this period. By adolescence, brain activity increases in the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling cognitive skills such as problem solving, emotional expressions, our ability to judge, as well as memory. It’s essentially what allows us to communicate. Once you reach your early twenties, the frontal lobe finishes developing and the brain has reached its peak performance. In your late twenties to early thirties, the brain begins to go through even more changes. For example, the myelin begins to degrade, which means the receptors in your brain don’t fire off as quickly, and you start to lose speed of thought and reasoning skills. It may also take longer for you to memorize things, such as words or names of people.

Once you reach your sixties (or older), the brain will have significantly shrunk in size. While it sounds scary, this happens to everyone as a result of aging. However, one of the biggest risks associated with aging and the brain is Alzheimer’s disease. There are certain risk factors that can contribute to the likelihood of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, lack of physical activity, alcohol use and depression. These are known as modifiable risk factors, meaning you have the ability to change them and decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

To improve and maintain your brain health, it’s important to live a healthy lifestyle. Quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, and eating healthy foods are the three most important factors when it comes to having a healthy brain. In addition, you should also try to challenge your brain as much as possible; for example, by trying something new like learning another language or reading a book you haven’t read before. It’s also important to reduce your stress level, which can be done through things like physical activity and meditation.

You also need to take steps to protect your brain – especially when playing sports. Concussions are one of the most common brain injuries that one can suffer from – particularly if you play contact sports (i.e., football.) If you or someone you know plays contact sports, it’s recommended that a helmet be worn at all time. Concussions can also happen as a result of a blow to the head, or from a fall (and subsequently banging your head on something.) For more information on brain injury prevention, click here.

How to Soothe an Upset Stomach

If you suffer from a sensitive or upset stomach, finding relief can sometimes be difficult. There could also be a number of reasons as to why you have an upset stomach. It could be due to pregnancy, overeating, food poisoning, alcohol consumption, or you could have the stomach flu; after all, it is flu season. (Click here to find out more about flu season and how to protect yourself.) It’s also not uncommon for certain medications to cause stomach upset, especially antibiotics. For the stomach-sensitive person, doctors and pharmacists will often recommend taking antibiotics with a small amount of food or a probiotic, such as yogurt. Although oral probiotics in pill form tend to be better. They can especially be helpful in reducing the good bacteria in the gut that often gets lost after being on a week-long course of antibiotics.

To avoid further stomach upset, the last thing you should do is sit down to a gourmet meal. However, there are certain stomach-soothing foods that might actually help you feel better.

Ginger is one of the best herbs (also considered a spice) to use if you’re dealing with an upset stomach, nausea or vomiting. The best way to use it is by putting a small amount in a cup of boiled hot water. For some, ginger can be quite a strong flavour, so you can try to make it by adding in some lemon or honey. Alternatively, you can also purchase tea that contains ginger at almost all grocery or health food stores. In addition to soothing the stomach, ginger can also give your immune system a boost, so it may be something you’ll want to incorporate into your diet regularly! You can find plenty of ginger-based recipes on places like Pinterest, or by doing a simple Google search.

Fruits like bananas and papayas are also great if you have an upset stomach. Bananas are easy to digest and they’re also a good source of calcium which is something your body loses as a result of vomiting or diarrhea; while papayas also help the digestive process due to them being rich in proteolytic enzymes. Papayas can also improve the stomach’s acidic environment.

As mentioned, yogurt can be good to eat when you’re taking an antibiotic, but it can also be good to reduce nausea and stomach upset even when antibiotics aren’t the cause. This is because active cultures found in yogurt help to restore the good bacteria in your gut, and it can also help with digestion. To get the most benefits from yogurt, it’s good to make sure that the yogurt you’re eating is plain. If you find plain yogurt sour, try sweetening it with a spoonful or two of honey.

While starchy foods like potatoes, rice, bread and saltine crackers aren’t foods that Dr. Ghahary or other health experts, such as dietitians and nutritionists, would typically recommend as a part of a normal diet (due to the fact that they can cause weight gain and lead to other health problems if consumed regularly), they can be good for decreasing nausea and upset stomach as they aren’t hard on the digestive system. They can also absorb any excess fluid and help relieve diarrhea.

Aside from food, you can also find relief by using a heating pad or electric blanket – particularly if your upset stomach also comes with cramps. Many people will find the warmth soothing, and it can also help to relax the muscles. Just don’t leave a heating pad on your skin too long, as it could cause damage or burns if too hot.

If your stomach upset persists or if you have stomach pain that lasts longer than 48 hours, it would be a good idea to see a doctor as prolonged problems could be an indicator that something else is going on with your health – including potential food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (also known as IBS), or Crohn’s disease.

Fighting Food Cravings

Fact: When we feel hungry, we eat.

Also fact: We eat when we aren’t necessarily hungry but have certain cravings for foods, like salty potato chips or sugary sweets such as chocolate, cakes, and candy; and sometimes these temptations can be hard to resist. However, these food cravings are often an indicator that our bodies are missing something.

Below are some of the most common reasons as to why we might experience food cravings, and what you can do to crush them and ultimately replace certain unhealthy foods with ones that are better for you.

LACK OF WATER: Also known as dehydration, this can often manifest itself as hunger. Common reasons as to why one might become dehydrated include sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, frequent urination, burns, as well as diabetes. Symptoms of dehydration often include increased thirst, darker urine as well as decreased urine production, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, and, as mentioned, hunger. Therefore, if you do become dehydrated, instead of reaching for something to eat you should first increase your fluid intake with a glass of H2O. Not only will water rehydrate you and help you curb cravings, but it has many other health benefits too.

HORMONES: During a woman’s menstrual cycle, it’s not uncommon to develop cravings – especially for things like chocolate or salty foods. This is because during your period, your body is going through physiological changes and your hormones become temporarily out of whack. While cravings related to hormones are out of your control, you can still opt for healthier food options. Alternatively, some women may notice a decrease in their appetite during their period, though this can sometimes be blamed on other symptoms related to menstruation such as nausea, bloating, fatigue, constipation and/or diarrhea.

EMOTIONS: Hormones can certainly send your emotions spiralling, but we can also feel emotional for a multitude of other reasons. This can come from being in an unhappy relationship, feeling uninspired, lacking spirituality, feeling lonely, disappointed, or even stressed. All of these can lead to what’s known as “emotional eating.” When your emotions are at an all-time high, stop and ask yourself why instead of using food as a crutch. If you’re having trouble with mental health, such as feeling anxious, depressed, or suicidal, never feel ashamed to reach out for help.

NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES: When the body is deficient in certain nutrients, it sometimes tries to make up for that lack of nutrients by making us crave other unhealthy foods, such as sugar and caffeine – or, if you’re not getting enough minerals, salty foods. In order to fully function, the body needs a variety of macro and micronutrients.

To find out whether or not things like nutritional deficiencies, hormones, and other health factors are contributing to your cravings, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your family physician. There are also other things you can do to keep those cravings at bay. Firstly, you need to be mindful of the foods you eat. Mindful eating can help you distinguish the difference between cravings and actual hunger, and teaches you awareness about your eating habits. It’s also not a good idea to let yourself get to the point where you are starving, or skip out on meals, as this will only increase your hunger and cravings. Always make sure you eat three healthy, well-balanced meals each day and have healthy snacks on hand. Eating more protein at breakfast time can also significantly reduce your cravings. Another great way to curb them is through meal prep. Spontaneity is one of the biggest reasons why people indulge in foods they shouldn’t, so by planning meals ahead of time you’re able to make healthier choices and will be less likely to experience cravings. When you do find yourself craving a certain food, try to distance yourself from it by finding a distraction. A distraction can be anything from going for a walk, talking a shower, or reading a book; anything that takes your mind off of the foods you know you shouldn’t be eating.