Why do we crave sugar?
Like any other bad habit, sugar comes with some side effects. Once you give into a bad habit, you raise the dopamine levels in your brain, satisfying that urge. Sugar does the same –– it gives you short-term happiness. When it fades, your, body craves that quick fix. If you stop feeding into your sugar cravings, it can result in symptoms like fatigue, depression, headaches, and muscle aches. No wonder it’s so hard to quit consuming sugar! Your brain only has so much willpower, especially when it tastes so good.
How do you fight this craving?
Well first, you may want to try listening to your cravings and find the root of the cause. Your craving for sugar could be for a few different reasons: your diet, sleep, mental health, and habits. Now let’s take a look at how these impact your cravings.
Your body needs the right amount of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Not eating enough of them can trigger your desire for sugary foods. Proteins and fats slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream, so if your body does not have enough, your blood sugar fluctuates at an abnormal rate. At that point your start craving sugar for quick energy. A similar thing happens when you eat too many carbs, as well as not enough. Simple carbs enter your bloodstream much quicker leaving you unsatisfied and more inclined to crave sugary foods.
Lack of sleep can make you crave sugar. People are more likely to crave foods high in sugar and calories after 8:00 pm. And the less sleep you get, the more likely your cravings will continue on to the next day. A study showed that those who were deprived of sleep craved junk food of 600+ calories more than those who got good quality sleep. According to Stephanie Greer, a doctoral student in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, “the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to the selection of more unhealthy foods and, ultimately, higher rates of obesity.”
We tend to eat our favorite sugary food when we are feeling stressed, depressed or anxious as a survival mechanism. When you consume sugar, your serotonin levels boost –– a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, memory, and social behavior –– providing temporary happiness. This then fuels your cravings making you continuously needing that quick fix. Researchers found that those going through depression had higher levels of sugar than those who weren’t. In negative mental states, relying on your sugary guilty pleasures to make you happy is often the easiest route.
Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason, it’s simply just a bad habit. You may just love sweets. Or you can’t hold back on overeating your grandma’s famous cookies. Or Cap'n Crunch cereal brings back childhood memories.
After you’ve found the root cause of your cravings, you can make an effort to make some lifestyle changes. You can start trying to curve your cravings by outsmarting your habits. Here are some ways to minimize those sugar cravings:
Eat a wholesome, high protein breakfast.
Use healthier sweeteners like stevia, honey, and agave.
Eat more fruit.
Incorporate veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and pumpkin into your diet.
Drink plenty of water. Add lemon or berries to make it more flavorful.
Plan your meals ahead of time. You’re less likely to settle or turn to for sugary foods when you meal prep.
Incorporate more proteins and healthy fats into your diet. Nuts and hard-boiled eggs great snacks that are high in protein and healthy fat.
Exercise. This will naturally boost your serotonin levels.
If you’re having a hard time sleeping, try melatonin –– a natural pill to help you sleep better.
Ultimately, everyone has cravings. We’re not recommending you take sugar out of your diet completely, but to consume as little as possible. Unless sugar is a health issue for you, it's okay to consume it in moderation. Luckily, more and more food brands are going the “healthy” route nowadays. You can find many delicious sugar-free foods at your local grocery store. Stores like WholeFoods and Sprouts are commonly known to have a wider variety of healthy options. So when you crave something sugary and unhealthy, try an apple or sugar-free cookie instead.