[size=+2]Are You a Carbohydrate Junkie? [/size] In the popular diet-book arena, carbohydrates are getting a bad reputation. All health professionals would agree that empty calorie, sugar-laden foods and drinks do not offer nutritional value, and unfortunately replace healthier foods. Yet, is it fair to berate ourselves when we enjoy a chocolate dessert at a friend's birthday party, or to feel guilty for sneaking sweets in a late night kitchen raid? Can we be addicted to sweets? Since we must eat food, and our bodies convert 50 percent to 60 percent of our food to sugar, it is biologically normal to want and to eat carbohydrates. The Mind-Mood-Food Connection A strong desire for sweets may very well be in our heads. Serotonin is a brain chemical that makes you feel relaxed, less anxious and stressed; reduces pain; improves your mood; calms you; and even makes you sleepy. It is suspected that people who crave carbohydrates have lower serotonin levels, which increases cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. As serotonin levels increase, the cravings decrease. Endorphins may also play a role in our need for carbohydrates. Sugar affects the release of these powerful chemicals, which ease stress and discomfort. Sarah Leibowitz, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Rockefeller University in New York City, suspects that endorphins imbalances underlie obesity and eating disorders. Obese people seem to be more sensitive to endorphins' appetite-stimulating effects than lean people. How to Manage Cravings Food-mood researchers agree that carbohydrate cravers cannot "will" away their need for carbohydrates. Abstinence may actually increase the cravings and lead to binge eating, since the body is biologically designed to keep its brain chemicals, hormones and peptides in balance. Elizabeth Somers, author of "Food and Mood," suggests some guidelines for controlling carbohydrate cravings and feeling good. Eat small meals and snacks that include carbohydrates, such as whole grain starches, vegetables and legumes, throughout the day to keep neuropeptides and serotonin within the normal range. Don't skip breakfast, since it will increase cravings mid-morning. Include a whole grain, a fruit and a protein at breakfast. Plan snacks that have limited calories but some carbohydrate. Exercise to reduce your appetite and naturally increase endorphins. Learn to eat in response to hunger, not emotions. Don't "diet," but gradually get control over your cravings by eating sensible food on a regular schedule. Satisfy chocolate cravings with a small amount of chocolate. If you find it hard to "just say no" to a milk shake or a toasted bagel, even when you are not hungry, your brain chemistry may need an adjustment. Put the guilt aside and take a closer look at your emotional state and your diet. By paying more attention to your self-comforting habits, you may be able to escape the hold that sweets and carbohydrates have on you.