Is chromium the answer to your sugar cravings?


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


08 December 2017

What does chromium do for you?

Resisting sugar cravings can be difficult at the best of times but at this time of year particularly, you may struggle to turn away from temptation, especially as sugar treats seem to be everywhere and almost everyone seems to be encouraging you to partake in the festivities, from speciality hot chocolates to selection boxes.

However, while nutrients like magnesium and iron are very on trend at the moment, it looks like they could be getting some competition from chromium. This trace mineral may have slipped under your radar but recently it has gained a reputation when it comes to blood sugar and weight-loss. So just how justified is this new status and is it the answer to your sugar cravings?

When it comes to how chromium affects the body, scientists are still trying to unlock all of the mineral’s secrets and studies can be conflicting. What we do know if that chromium is needed for the metabolism of lipids and carbohydrates and this is believed to be because of its effect on insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps your body to utilise glucose (sugar) absorbed from carbohydrates. When you eat too much sugary foods it will inspire a release of insulin, which will attempt to move glucose from the bloodstream, preventing your blood glucose levels from climbing too high.

However, if your body is releasing insulin on a regular basis, you may become resistant to its impact, which is where diabetes comes into the picture. Once your blood sugar levels have spiked, there comes an inevitable crash, and this is when you start to crave sugar.

So how does chromium help? It’s been found in some cases that those with type-2 diabetes appeared to have lower blood levels of chromium and, while chromium deficiency is rare, it’s thought that around 90% of Americans could also have low levels of the mineral.1

Chromium is believed to enhance the action of insulin and reduce insulin resistance.  One study found that taking a chromium picolinate supplement managed to improve blood glucose control, with researchers stating that chromium could help to reduce cardiovascular disease and diabetes.2 

Chromium is even an active ingredient in Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF), a dietary component that increases the action of insulin. It is usually extracted from Brewer’s yeast and taken orally.3 It’s also believed that chromium can help with the synthesis of cholesterol, with researchers at the Department of Medical Education at Mercy Hospital and Medical Centre finding chromium supplementation may be linked to low levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).4

1http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chromium

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15208835

3http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/41390/InTech-Glucose_tolerance_factor_insulin_mimetic_and_potentiating_agent_a_source_for_a_novel_anti_diabetic_medication.pdf

4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1002252/

Should you be taking a chromium supplement?

This sound wonderful doesn’t it? A mineral that can help to regulate your blood sugar levels and combat your sugar cravings, but is it too good to be true?

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the research surrounding chromium is divisive, with some studies demonstrating positive results from chromium supplementation while others have not seen any noteworthy improvements at all.

One area that is perhaps getting the most attention is chromium relationship to weight loss, with one study finding that chromium supplements helped to modulate the food intake in overweight adult women.5 However, many scientists agree that there is no evidence to suggest that chromium alone is an effective weight-loss tool so don’t go trading in your super-green smoothies and gym sessions yet!

There’s also a risk that people are over-supplementing on chromium. Since chromium is a trace mineral it’s only needed by the body in small amounts – around 25-25mcg depending on your gender – and people are going out and buying supplements that contain over 1000mcg!

Most us will get all the chromium we need from our diets, although admittedly it is not often well absorbed from our food, and sometimes as a little as 0.4 – 2.5% of the chromium you eat is actually used by your body.6  It’s still possible to boost your intake naturally, though, and certain nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin C can help to improve your absorption.

If you are considering a chromium supplement, though, I would personally recommend Lambert’s Chromium Complex Tablets, which are available at Jan de Vries. Including a blend of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium, this particular supplement also offers 200ug of chromium picolinate, which is an easily absorbed form of the mineral. This product is suitable for vegetarians and should disintegrate in less than one hour!

5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18715218

6https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Chromium-HealthProfessional/

Where can I get chromium in my diet?

While supplements can be beneficial, I would always recommend trying to get what you need from your diet first. Below I’ve listed a few different food sources of chromium to get you started.

  • Wholegrains
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Orange juice
  • Lentils
  • Spices

Since B vitamins and vitamin C can also help to boost the absorbability of the chromium you’re ingesting, it might be worthwhile also trying to increase your intake of these essential vitamins too!

What else can I do to curb sugar cravings?

Okay, so apart from increasing your intake of chromium what else can you do? Well, while sugar might still be popular this season, there’s another seasonal food product that’s widely available at this time of year – cinnamon!

A warming and sweet super-spice, cinnamon is the perfect alternative to sugar. Studies have indicated that the spice can help to regulate blood sugar levels7  and supplemented cinnamon has even demonstrated the ability to lower unhealthy cholesterol by decreasing blood lipid levels!8 Even if you don’t want to supplement cinnamon, you can still add it to dishes instead of sugar, either sprinkled over your morning bowl of porridge or added to healthy energy balls.

Just make sure what you’re using is Ceylon cinnamon as this is the true form of cinnamon and considered to have the best health properties. Here are a few of my favourite cinnamon-based recipes to get you started!

Cinnamon and Chia Seed Energy Balls

Mega Cinnamonny Apricot Flapjacks

You could also try eating a high protein breakfast as one study recently demonstrated that eating breakfast can cut your sugar cravings by up to 300%!9 By high protein, we don’t mean something that’s infused with a powder; we mean good, natural sources of protein such as pulses, eggs, or nut-butters!

Surprisingly, getting a good night of sleep might also go a long way towards reducing your sugar cravings. As our sleep advisor Marianna notes in her article ‘Is your lack of sleep causing you to overeat?’ sleep deprivation can impact the hormones that are responsible for your appetite, making you crave more carbohydrate-rich, sugary foods during the day!

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