By Ashlea Hartz, N.C., RYT, CORE Nutritionist
Walk in to any company breakroom and it may be almost impossible to resist the display of donuts, bagels and muffins staring you in the face. What might seem like a harmless sweet treat, can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and overall health. Due to the excess calories many people now consume from highly processed food products, 70 percent of Americans are overweight or one in two Americans has pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.(2)
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, mostly hidden. – Dr. Mark Hyman
While many people try to use willpower to overcome constant cravings for sugar, these urges might be symptoms of a deeper problem that needs first be addressed in order to break free.
Sugar cravings are often the number one obstacle that many people face when it comes to adapting a healthy diet. The amount of sugar a person has in the diet is now believed to greatly increase their risk for serious illness including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
In order to reduce your sugar intake, it is important to learn what drives the body to desire sugar in the first place. Here are some of the most common cause of sugar cravings that you might not be aware of and need your attention.
Skipping Meals, Low Blood Sugar:
The most common cause for sugar cravings is the body needing more fuel. When you eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood and then is transported to the cells where it is used for energy. When we go too long without eating, our cells become starved for fuel and the brain sends out a signal that we need to consume more carbohydrates. Unfortunately today when we should reach for a carrot or a peach, we grab more processed foods such as a soda or candy bar. These foods loaded with an excess of refined sugar then overload the body causing a roller coaster ride of blood sugar highs and lows that just keep the cycle going.
The stress response is controlled by the hormones cortisol and epinephrine (also called adrenalin) which are released by the adrenal glands. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, we pump out cortisol and stay on high alert, even when there isn’t imminent danger around the corner. Over time, this taxes your adrenals and creates serious hormonal imbalance, raising blood pressure and increased insulin levels. This triggers the cravings to consume more sugar so we are ready to run! Our natural response is an important survival strategy, but when the stress we perceive is a traffic jam or our daily job, our body is constantly asking for more and more sugar.
Not Eating Enough, Chronic Dieting:
Many people try to lose weight by cutting calories, but this often leaves the body starved for nutrients it needs like healthy fats and protein. One of the first signs of protein deficient is actually craving sweets and never feeling full, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet. This is because protein’s most critical functions include keeping your blood sugar steady. If your body doesn’t get enough protein, your glucose levels bouncing up and down, encouraging you to reach for a quick fix from candy or crackers.
Now after reading the first three causes, you will quickly see that all the refined sugar we consume due to these cravings can really start throw the body out of balance. Insulin is a hormone that facilitates the transport of blood sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into cells throughout the body for use as fuel. When we eat more simple sugars than the body can use it overwhelms our cells and they sometimes start start to shut their doors for good. This is called insulin resistance and is the precursor to diabetes. Because the cells are so overloaded with sugar for a period of time, they eventually burn out and no longer respond to the hormone insulin when it comes knocking. Insulin resistance then leads to the cells starving for sugar, because the sugar can’t get in.
When you have cells that are starving, you are going to crave sweets and carbs, that is a survival mechanism that lies deep in your body’s DNA, says Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D..
Yeast or Bacteria Overgrowth: Sometimes those sugar cravings can be so intense that you might think there is a monster in your belly. Well maybe there is, sort of. Our guts are filled with billions of microorganisms that make up the gut microbiome. The digestive track includes a variety of bacteria, yeasts, cells that line the intestinal wall, and cells that make up the immune system.(3) When the microbiome of your gut is in balance, good bacteria and beneficial yeast thrive. Some of these organism have a sweet tooth and feast on all the excess sugar we consume. They can even eat so much they start to grow too big to fast and just keep craving more and more sugar. Soon the body can become overgrown with yeast such as Candida or bacteria where it doesn’t belong (SIBO).
Is it Sugar Addiction?
– According to Dr. Mark Hyman, one reason it might be so hard to quit sugar is not the just the sweet taste, but the addictive properties of the sugar itself. Many studies have shown that the part of the brain known as the pleasure center “lights up” when you consume high amounts of sugar. That is why you think that cupcake makes you happy. A more recent study has also found that when a high glycemic food is consumed, the nucleus accumbens (a part of the brain known for it’s role in drug addiction) is lit up like a Christmas tree. Some doctors warn that sugar might be just as addictive as cocaine, and this widely used substance could be even more dangerous to the public health.
Sugar is a hot topic today and you can now see why cutting sugar from your diet is not as easy as it sounds. If you struggle with sugar cravings and are looking for answers, working closely with a nutrition professional can help you find the root cause and help you regain control of a healthy diet.
Check out these 7 Tips to Dramatically Decrease Your Sugar Cravings 👇