4 Causes of Sugar Cravings
Despite the hundreds of articles, blog posts, podcasts, and books dedicated to encouraging people to cut back their sugar intake, it remains one of the most common nutrition concerns. The tips and tricks to helping people kick their sugar habits are plenty, however, these same tips and tricks are often putting a bandaid on the greater problem. You can use all of the fruit, dates, and maple syrup you like, but if the sugar cravings do not go away, you are not solving the problem. In order to kick (or at least reduce) our sugar habit, we must identify WHY we are craving sugar in the first place! Here are 4 of the top common causes of sugar cravings.
Common Causes of Sugar Cravings
If you are asking yourself: “why do I crave sugar?” you are certainly not alone! Sugar cravings are one of the most, if not the most, common cravings. Fortunately, if you understand why sugar cravings occur in the first place, there are plenty of ways that you can help to mitigate them in the first place. Here are 4 causes of sugar cravings and what you can do about them.
Dehydration is probably the most common cause of sugar cravings. Lack of water consumption is often mistaken for sugar cravings and hunger pains. That afternoon pick me up so many people crave in the form of a granola bar, cookie, latte, or sweet treat is often a signal of dehydration, not a need for sugar. A lack of fluid intake can make it more difficult for the body to metabolize glycogen (stored glucose) for energy, so our bodies crave sugar to provide us with a quick source of energy when we actually just need to drink a little more water.
What To Do: The first step is to bring awareness to the situation. Have you had water today? Are you thirsty? Reach for your water before you reach for that donut, and aim to drink half of your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water per day.
I can’t talk about sugar cravings without talking about stress. Stress is linked to sugar cravings in two ways; emotional cues and physical cues. From an emotional perspective, sugar is a comfort food that provides a temporary escape from a stressful situation. From a physical perspective, the consumption of sugar increases our dopamine levels, the body’s happy neurotransmitter, giving us a temporary boost in pleasure. However, because this experience is very short-lived, our body begins to crave sugar again shortly thereafter creating a vicious cycle – stress causes sugar cravings, consumption of sugar causes stress, and stress causes more sugar cravings.
What To Do: Think about your primary sources of stress. Work? Home? Financial? Too busy? Too tired? Too much exercise? Too little exercise? The more you can identify the source of your stress, the more you can identify the trigger of your sugar cravings. If you must opt for a natural source of sugar like fruit, that way at least you will get a little nutritional value along the way.
3. Excess Carbohydrates
Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates can lead to sugar cravings. Carbohydrates can be broken down into three categories; fibrous complex, starchy complex, and simple. Fibrous complex carbohydrates include most vegetables and are likely not a trigger to sugar cravings because they contain so little sugar themselves. Starchy complex carbohydrates include foods like potatoes, grains, lentils, and beans, while simple carbohydrates include foods like fruits and refined forms like sugar, candy, or soda. Although it might be easy to understand why refined simple carbohydrates may cause sugar cravings, many don’t realize that the overconsumption of carbohydrates, paired with the underconsumption of protein, can cause sugar cravings. Whenever we eat foods that contain complex carbohydrates, our bodies convert them into a simple sugar known as glucose, which is our primary source of energy. However, by consuming even complex carbohydrates in excess you are asking your body’s insulin to work overtime to store these sugars. Eventually, the body’s insulin becomes overworked and our body’s become insulin resistant, meaning glucose is not able to enter your cells and stays in your bloodstream. Eventually, your cells become starved for fuel, and even though you might be eating enough, your cells can’t access the fuel. So although a diet of granola for breakfast, a wrap for lunch, and gluten-free pasta for dinner might seem healthy, it’s simply too much carbohydrate for one day.
What To Do: Focus on adding more protein and fat to the diet, ensuring you have a source of protein at every meal, and limiting carbohydrate intake. Starting your day with 15-20 grams of protein and a serving of fat will help balance blood sugar, limit cravings during the day and promote higher energy levels.
4. Poor Digestion
News flash – your body is not a garbage disposal. Although many people tend to think they can eat whatever they want, and their digestive tract will sort the rest out, unfortunately, that is not the case. Our digestive system is a delicate ecosystem of flora, microorganisms, and bacteria. All-day long our body’s beneficial microbiome is fighting for space with bad bacteria invading the body, which are populated by a diet high in refined foods, processed foods, sugar, and alcohol. A lack of beneficial bacteria can allow for an overgrowth of yeast in the intestinal tract which literally lives and thrives on sugar. What this means is that your sugar cravings might be coming from an overgrowth of bad bacteria, and every time you consume more sugar you are feeding their party in your digestive tract.
What To Do: Focus on limiting the foods that might be feeding your harmful microbiome, and focus on adding more fermented foods to your diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, plain yogourt, and kefir are rich in probiotics which help to support the body’s beneficial bacteria, as well as fiber-rich foods like onion, garlic, leeks, and artichokes which are rich in prebiotics, and act as food for probiotics.