Tell me if this sounds familiar: You had a good lunch, maybe a sandwich or a salad, at noon and you felt satisfied. Well, you were for about an hour, but then around 2 p.m. you find yourself craving something else. It’s too early in the afternoon for a coffee break, but that bowl of Snickers and bag of Skittles you stuck in your drawer yesterday start calling your name.
You just need a little pick me up. You convince yourself you will be able to work better if you have a little sugar. A little sugar never hurt anybody right (well, except those kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)? So you break down, have a little snack, and it works! For 20 minutes you feel like you have the energy to run the company and do a SoulCycle session at the same time. Then comes the crash.
It suddenly becomes too tiring to hold your head up. The words on the computer go out of focus. Your phone at the corner of your desk seems miles away. You went from feeling like Superman to Dorothy in that poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz. You get a little bit of energy back eventually, but you feel pretty groggy the rest of the afternoon. What just happened?!
You were just the victim of a classic afternoon sugar crash, except you victimized yourself. Registered Dietician Annie Herzog broke down why we feel like Superman around cryptonite after we have a little sugar:
When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, our bodies release the hormone insulin to pull sugar out of the bloodstream and onto our cells. This is a good thing. However, when the carbs we eat are in the form of simple sugars and highly processed, we digest them very quickly and they enter the blood rapidly. This causes a huge insulin release, because glucose (sugar) in the blood at very high levels is toxic and the body is trying to lower the levels as quickly as possible. Hence the sugar “rush” and then subsequent “crash”. After insulin takes all that glucose out of the blood, we are left with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and feel hungry and tired. And so the cycle continues.
This happens to the best of us. My previous office had a vending machine with Skittles in it. That was a problem for me to say the least. I would remember how lousy I felt when I came down off my sugar high and yet everyday I would buy a pack. If you looked up sugar crash in the dictionary, there would literally be a picture of me with my head on my desk next to it.
So should I just eat carrots instead? Herzog says it isn’t so much about eating the right snacks, but by eating right throughout the day.
“This keeps blood sugar stable because carbs are absorbed slowly and insulin is released more gradually. The foods that slow digestion and absorption are fats, protein, and high-fiber complex carbs. Someone eating a combination of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs from unprocessed foods for meals and snacks should not have that afternoon slump.”
Herzog suggests the following diet tips for having a crash-free day.
Try mixing up your breakfast routine with eggs and whole wheat toast, oatmeal and fruit with greek yogurt, or a banana and peanut butter.
Put down the Chipotle burrito and enjoy a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread with an apple or a spinach salad with walnuts, chicken breast, veggies and balsamic vinaigrette instead.
Greek yogurt with almond slivers, apple and peanut butter, cheese and whole grain crackers, veggie sticks with hummus, whole grain cereal with blueberries and milk, or a handful of mixed nuts are all healthy, and delicious, alternatives to a pack of Skittles.
Herzog also gave us her list of foods to stay away from. This is going to be tough for me.
The No-No List
Processed foods are a no-no because they give you a lot of unneccessary chemicals. This includes, protein bars, shakes and energy drinks. To my surprise, this also includes candy even if it is in the shape of fruit! ”You can trick your body for a while into thinking it’s getting what it needs to stay alert, but eventually the crash comes and it sucks. Nothing can replace real nutrition from REAL food,” said Herzog.