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Sugar cravings can see you reaching for a mid-morning muffin, a 3 pm biscuit or an evening square or two of chocolate (or the whole block!).
Don’t get me wrong, life is full of simple pleasures, and food is more than just nutrients – there are social and cultural connections to food as well. And there is room for everything, in balance, in a healthy diet. But when sugar cravings get out of control, it can be to the detriment of our health. High intakes of sugar can lead to weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Sugar cravings can be caused by a variety of things, and it’s important to know what is driving the craving so we can address the root cause. This may include:
Our blood glucose levels increase in response to the carbohydrates in the food that we eat. To stop our blood glucose levels from getting too high, insulin is released. When we go too long without eating, our blood glucose levels continue to drop and we need food to bring them back up again. Simple carbohydrates like sugar, are the quickest way to bring blood glucose levels up, so we tend to crave sugar when our blood glucose levels have dropped.
There are a few nutritional deficiencies that have been associated with sugar cravings. An iron deficiency will leave you feeling fatigued and low on energy, so you might find yourself reaching for a sugary snack to bring your energy levels back up.
Other nutritional deficiencies such as zinc, chromium, B vitamins or magnesium can also present as sugar cravings too.
Our brain uses half of our daily carbohydrate requirements – and sugar (or glucose) is its most important fuel. When we experience stress, the brain requires more energy, causing us to reach for that sugary snack!
Having an imbalance in our gut bacteria (or microbiome) can lead us to crave particular foods. Particular strains of bacteria have been associated with overeating and craving sugar. Whereas other strains can reduce these cravings. Antibiotics, stress, infections, inflammation, diet, medications, and hygiene can affect the gut microbiome.
You might find you crave sugar during different stages of the menstrual cycle. This is caused by changes in levels of estrogen and progesterone, particularly before your period. If you find yourself reaching for a block of chocolate or a packet of lollies before or during your period, this may be a symptom of PMS and a hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficiency.
Our bodies need a variety of nutrients to do everything it needs to do. Craving something sweet after a meal can be a sign of not having enough carbohydrates in your meal so make sure you keep an eye on how you feel after eating and adjust accordingly. If you’re really wanting something, peanut butter on apple slices is a great option!
If we’re feeling tired, we’re more likely to want something sweet to feel good again. Making sure you’re getting enough, good quality sleep so that you’re waking feeling refreshed. Turning screens off at least half an hour before bed, going to bed at a consistent time, getting some exercise in and avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime can make it easier to say no to sugar the next day.
How we address sugar cravings depends on the source. But here are my top 5 tips for reducing sugar cravings:
If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.