Craving something sweet?
Are your sugar cravings getting the better of you? Are your good intentions dashed by that bar of chocolate or piece of cake? Read more to find out why you might be getting these cravings and what to do about it.
Why do we crave sugar?
Sweet foods act on the reward centres of our brain by stimulating the release of certain ‘happy’ chemicals. Therefore, they have a positive impact on our mood, but unfortunately this is only in the short-term. The more sugar we eat, the more we want.
Causes of sugar cravings
There are a number of possible factors which can affect our blood sugar balance and cause us to crave sugar.
Eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates
When you eat sugar, sugary foods, or white refined carbohydrates this causes a rise in blood sugar. The body reacts by producing the hormone insulin. This helps move the sugar from the blood into the cells and converts any excess into fat in order to lower your blood sugar levels. However, this subsequent drop in blood sugar levels an make you crave more sugar and the whole cycle starts again.
Similarly stimulants such as caffeine can also result in rises in blood sugar and subsequent drops which cause cravings for sugar.
Not enough protein
One dietary culprit of blood sugar cravings is a lack of protein. Proteins, as well as fats, help slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream. If you don’t eat enough protein, blood sugar can rise and fall too quickly. When your blood sugar drops too low, this causes you to crave sugar.
Lack of sleep
As little as one poor night’s sleep can affect your brain function and cause you to crave sugary and refined carbohydrates the following day.
Lack of nutrients
A lack of certain nutrients can results in sugar cravings as various nutrients are involved in the control of blood sugar. In particular, chromium plays a very important role, along with various other nutrients including magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins.
Your body reacts to stress by producing cortisol. This releases more sugar into the bloodstream, increasing your blood sugar levels. This surge in blood sugar is then followed by a drop, which leads to sugar cravings.
Yeast overgrowth/dysbiosis/certain bacteria
An imbalance in our gut flora called dysbiosis can lead to blood sugar cravings. When there is an imbalance in our gut bacteria it can result in overgrowth of certain less desirable bacteria and yeasts. Such bacteria and yeasts need a high sugar environment to thrive and therefore this makes us crave sugar.
To help beat your cravings
· Avoid sugar, white refined carbohydrates and caffeine all of which can result in surges in your blood sugar levels.
· Eat little and often including a little protein with every meal and snack to help balance your blood sugar levels.
· Manage stress through exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, counselling or yoga. Consider having an adrenal stress test to investigate your cortisol levels.
· Eat a balanced diet including plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains to ensure that you obtain a full range of nutrients.
· Manage your digestive health to ensure you have a healthy gut flora and where needed seek help to reduce undesirable bacteria and yeasts.
· Get plenty of sleep. Most of us need 7-8 hours.
· Take a supplement, including chromium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect all the time, you can have an occasional treat and not feel guilty about it! As long as you stick to the above recommendations most of the time, you can control your blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.
Dr Sharon Pitt is a registered nutritionist at Nutrition First, with 18 years’ experience.
Nutrition First is a small and personal nutrition consultancy providing expert nutrition advice, based on sound scientific evidence.
At Nutrition First we see patients with a whole range of conditions at all stages of life, as well as helping those who simply wish to maintain and optimise their health. Contact us at Nutrition First to see how we can help you.