Why do we get sugar cravings?

There are many reasons why we can get sugar cravings. It is pretty natural to feel this every now and then. Sometimes it isn't always a bad thing, it's your body's way of telling you may be needing food or certain nutrients or perhaps more sleep. However, consistently indulging in refined carbohydrates (biscuits, confectionery, white bread, pastries), can lead to more addictive behaviors, which can cause many health complications including mood swings, high and low energy peaks, digestive complaints, emotional addiction, weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes.

Sugar and refined carbs have addictive qualities and create a viscous cycle. In a nutshell: you try it, it tastes good, the high doses of sugar secrete dopamine (neurotransmitter- which lights up the brain and can lead to increased addiction), then mass insulin is released to help bring down blood sugar levels. High insulin can cause fat storage and body can 'crave' that lost sugar high. Rapid low blood sugar levels causes increased appetite and thus the cycle can be repeated leaving you craving more and feeling fatigued or moody. 

A couple of common reasons for sugar cravings may include:
  • Ever felt moody but not necessarily hungry? Perhaps when you have got so busy that you have skipped lunch and then come afternoon you just want to devour a muffin or chocolate bar just because you need something? This can be because blood sugar levels have dropped to a point where your body wants something quick and fast to lift it back up again. For some, eating regularly throughout the day to help maintain blood sugar levels, mood and energy is a good start or at least 3 main meals. 

  • Stress- Stress can often lead us to be compulsive, act irrationally, seek a boost for mental performance and often sugar or sweetness is a way of stress relief, comfort or reward. Stress will engage the 'animal part of the brain' called amygdala which leads us to more impulsive behaviour and irrational thinking, hence all that will power gets shut down when you are in a state of stress. Best to deal with stress with healthy behaviors such as deep breathing, going for a walk, exercise or having a healthy snack. 

  • Emotional addiction- sometimes we aren't actually craving sugar but its the reward system we love or perhaps we use food or refined foods to cover an underlying issue we aren't happy with. Have other ways of 'treating yourself' like a massage. 

  • Lack of micro-nutrients such as iron, magnesium, chromium, B12 to name a few. Low iron or B12 are important for cognitive performance and energy, if you are lacking in mental and physical performance we tend to want sugar for a boost. Magnesium is also important for over 300 roles in the body including neurotransmitters that can help with stress and optimize cellular energy. A diet high in magnesium from leafy greens, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, dairy and quality proteins can help with sugar cravings. 

  • Not eating enough protein during the day (recommended protein intake is between 15--30% of our daily intake depending on individual activity and age needs). This can be plant based (tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, grains) or animal based (fish, eggs, cheese, meat), with many of the nutrients listed above come from protein sources. Plus protein has a satiety effect so you are less likely to hungry after a meal with enough protein. 

  • Healthy Gut- What you eat either feeds beneficial bacteria or harmful bacteria. There are trillions of bacteria living in our digestive system (and body) and they have a major role in our mood and how we metabolize food as well as our overall wellbeing. Excess refined sugars can cause bloating, excess gas or irregular bowel movements to name a few. Serotonin, our 'happy hormone/ neurotransmitter' which also has an important role in regulating sleep cycles, nerve transmission and is thought to help regulate appetite and emotions, most of it is found the gut! So to help improve serotonin levels, eat REAL FOOD with an abundance of fresh foods including vegetables. 

  • Too little sleep- well we all know that if you aren't getting enough sleep, emotional control and fatigue sets in and this can cause sugar or carb cravings. Best to optimize the amount of sleep to 7-8 hours or the quality of sleep. 

A couple of tips to help reduce or divert a sugar craving:
1. Start the day with a good breakfast, make sure you are nice and content and feeling satisfied. Some of the best breakfasts could be as listed in the nutrition plan; porridge, chia pudding, smoothie, fruit and nuts or an eggs dish.
2. Drink enough water, most people don't and therefore dehydration can give you the same effect hunger plus when you are feeling tired that's when the sugar 'pick me up' thoughts to creep in. 
3. Avoid too much coffee, caffeine stimulates adrenalin production and can also cause the cravings for sugar. 
4. Get 7-8hrs sleep. Without enough sleep comes poor mental and physical performance and therefore cravings for pick me ups.
5. Go for a walk or practice deep breathing if feeling overwhelmed. 
6. Make your own healthy treat instead of buying it from a cafe. Or have a piece of fruit
7.Try to eat more savoury foods if you are craving sugar like pistachio nuts, nuts, tamari almonds, olives, sundried tomatoes, hummus, pesto, hummus or guacamole with sliced veges, boiled eggs, chicken pieces.

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