Why do we crave sugar? Is it the influence of all the advertising of sugary goodies? Could it be a bad reward mechanism, perhaps one that started in childhood? Do food manufacturers deliberately design their products to be addictive or do their products really just taste so good (without the alternative motive of addiction) that you simply cannot live if you don’t have more? Or, are sugar cravings just a natural thing? All is not lost, we have the ability to curb those sugar cravings. I am going to tell you why you have those cravings and exactly what you can do to kick’em to the curb.
When I first thought about writing this article the title that came to mind was along the lines of “The Sugar Industry is Killing You”, but then I thought the real issue is our own decision to eat sugar. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Yes, sugary food is promoted everywhere we look, but like everything else in life, I think our decisions are our own. However, when I considered the theory of sugar addition I started thinking that this does not apply to everyone and simply maintaining control to just say no can be very difficult for many people.
I think it’s important to know what may conjure up a sugar craving and how it can affect you before going into what you can do about it. So let’s first discuss what is involved in sugar cravings….
Glucose is the main source of energy for your body. Though your body can make alterations to get fuel from another energy source (e.g. ketosis), in general, glucose is the first substance it looks for to burn as fuel. It’s a good thing then that glucose is usually in ample supply. However, it’s a bad thing that you can easily consume too much glucose to the point of developing an addiction.
Fructose is found in fruit. Fruit in whole form still contains fiber and micronutrients. Sugar from fruit is better than eating refined carbs or table sugar because it provides you with beneficial fiber, vitamins, and important antioxidants. However having just the juice of a fruit spikes your blood sugar levels.
Sugar (Sucrose) is a simple carbohydrate that contains glucose + fructose. It is mainly made from sugar beets or sugar cane. During the processing of sugar beets and sugar cane to make table sugar all nutrients are stripped away leaving behind sweet tasting crystals that are empty nutrient devoid calories.
The human body is designed to process natural and whole foods. When these foods are altered the body tries to compensate for the missing pieces. When you eat sugar your body can lose vitamin B, iron, calcium, and phosphorous because it pulls these micronutrients from our bones and body tissues (Demineralization) if these substances are not available from other food we are eating with the sugar. It does this for two reasons (1) to seek nutritional balance (2) to alkalinize the body from the acidifying effect of sugar.
Leptin is a hormone that tells us when we are satiated and should stop eating. Increased consumption of sugar makes you produce too much leptin and your body eventually becomes resistant to it. When this happens your brain doesn’t receive the signal that you are full and therefore instead signals that you are still hungry triggering food and/sugar cravings.
Dopamine gives the signal of pleasure. When you consume glucose dopamine is released and the reward center of your brain lights up. For some people increased amounts of glucose blunts dopamine receptors so when you eat sugar it no longer feels as satiating as you expect and you end up craving more.
Some Side Effects of Excessive Sugar Consumption
Is this really a beautiful cupcake? After all, it may just be killing you.
- Excessive sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
- High sugar consumption is linked to reduced intelligence.
Patrick Holford in his book,The Optimal Nutrition Bible, states…”A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates reduces intelligence. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the higher the intake of refined carbohydrates, the lower the IQ. In fact, the difference between the high-sugar consumers and low-sugar consumers was a staggering 25 points!”
- Sugar has an acidifying effect on the body leading to demineralization.
- Consistently eating lots of sugar can cause fatty liver.
- The most obvious side effect of excessive sugar consumption is of course weight gain.
8 Ways to Curb Sugar Cravings
Yes you see it, you know it will taste good, your brains cells start dancing in anticipation of a sugary delight. Guess what, you have the ability to just say no. Don’t say it’s not easy because it can be. You just have to start telling yourself that is. Eventually, your dancing brain cells will get the point and settle down. The craving will pass but you must make the decision to help it pass. But, if just saying no isn’t working, here’s what you can do…
Get in those zZZs
Studies show that sleep deprivation is associated with an increase in sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Some people have issues falling asleep and others have issues staying asleep. I’ve had both and still do sometimes so every bit of information about sleep attracts me like a magnet.
So, what is enough sleep? I recently listened to a podcast on sleep that said most people require about 7.5 hours of sleep. The suggestion was to go to bed 7.5 hours from the time you need to wake up and if you wake up about 5 minutes before your alarm goes off then you’re getting enough sleep. If you don’t wake up 5 minutes before then try going to bed 30 minutes earlier and keep adding 30 minute increments until you reach the 5 minutes mark.
Now if you are at all like me and your eyes pop open around the same awful I haven’t gotten enough sleep time, regardless of the time you go to sleep, try supplements. Magnesium works best for me. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and also reduces cortisol which can keep you up thinking all night.
Another very helpful supplement is Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is a traditional medicine used in Ayurvedic healing. It’s very effective in helping with general rejuvenation, improving memory and sleep.
Add Protein and Healthy Fats to Breakfast
Ever get hungry and hour or two after breakfast? The sugar craving can kick in big time here. This happens because carbohydrates, especially those refined carbs devoid of fiber spike blood sugar levels. This then tells your pancreas to release insulin to deal with all that sugar. The excess insulin induces a sharp drop in sugar levels and then your body says “hold on, I need energy now, give me sugar”. Eat a breakfast combination that includes protein and healthy fats. Both protein and healthy fats deliver more satiation than eating a breakfast consisting of only carbohydrates. The protein and fat will also help to lower the glycemic index of the meal which in turn reduces your insulin response. Satiation and controlled insulin response will curb your cravings for sugar and refined carbs. This of course will work for lunch and dinner too.
Research supports the theory of regular exercise having positive effects on curbing sugar cravings.
Eat More Protein
A common cause of sugar cravings is insufficient protein intake. It’s a signal that says you’re not nutritionally balanced and the craving is the trigger to go find balance. This can also happen if you consume too much protein as your body will become too acidic.
Drink Mineralized Water
Dehydraion, which can cause mineral deficiencies, is another common trigger for sugar cravings. Your body needs certain minerals to help metabolize food. When these minerals are unavailable a signal is sent to find them triggering a food and/sugar craving. Drink mineralized water not only to stay hydrated but to also add back in missing minerals.
Gradually reduce your sugar intake to dimish your sweet tooth. For example, if you normally add 2 tsps of sugar to your coffee reduce it to 1.5 and keep reducing to maybe even 0 tsps. You will get used to how it tastes and the original 2 tsps will become too sweet. Eventually you’ll develop a distaste for foods with a lot of sugar.
Not only does smoking pose serious health risks to you and the people who are unfortunate to absorb your smoke through their lungs and their skin, it can also make you fat. Research shows a link between food cravings, including sweets, and nicotine dependence.
Don’t Buy It, Can’t Eat It
If it’s not available, you can’t eat it. If you don’t have sugary foods or other unhealthy foods in your home you can’t eat them so simply stop buying them. This includes not buying the 20 packs of mini treats. You know the ones where you tell yourself you’ll only eat one pack every now and then but end up eating 3 or maybe even 10 because they’re so good and you’ll just have one more. I’ve done this. I’m one of those all in or all out people which basically means when it comes to sugary food if it’s available I will eat it all.
You won’t be able to quickly reach for something sweet when the craving comes and the craving will eventually pass.
BTW, as a little side note….Women experience stronger sugar cravings then men do when they are stressed.
Also, don’t be fooled by “Sugar Free” labels!
|Sugar-free: free of sugar, no sugar, 0 sugar, zero sugar, without sugar, contains no sugar, sugarless||Contains < 0.5 g sugars per reference amount and “free of energy” (< 5 cal per reference amount).|
|Reduced in sugar: reduced sugar, sugar-reduced, less sugar, lower sugar, lower in sugar||Compared to a similar reference food, contains > 25% less sugars and > 5 g less sugars/reference amount.|
|Lower in sugar: less sugar, lower sugar||Compared to a reference food of the same food group, contains > 25% less sugars and > 5 g less sugars/reference amount.|
|No added sugar: no sugar added, without added sugar||Contains no added sugars, no ingredients containing added sugars or ingredients that contain sugars that substitute for added sugars.|
|Unsweetened||Meets requirements for “no added sugar” and contains no sweeteners.|
Be on the lookout for other names used for sugar – glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, dextrose, starch, corn syrup, fruit juice, raw sugar, and honey.
I think we all have the ability to just say no to a sugar craving. However, although we all have that ability to say no, some of us find it more difficult than others and there are many reactions in our bodies to support why this happens; they can hinder our ability to just say no. The way our brain reacts to sugar is the main one.
If you continue giving in to your sugar cravings things can spiral out of control to the point of obesity and other major health risks. So, if you are finding it difficult to shake your sugar cravings try some of the strategies I’ve listed. Try one at a time or all at the same time. All are beneficial to your health so I would do all of them even if I don’t have sugar cravings.
Live healthy, be happy!