Ask someone if the they regularly crave sugar, and they will likely answer, "Yes".
Over the last five years a plethora of research has been published on the negative impacts that the over-consumption of sugar can have on our bodies. Sure, this research is helpful in pin-pointing exactly what sugar does in the body, however, what it doesn't do is explain WHY we crave sugar, and WHAT to do about it.
Knowing WHY you crave sugar, despite the fact that we know it can harm our bodies, will help us to find the solution in preventing the cravings.
If you experience constant (daily/hourly) sugar cravings here are some of the culprits:
1. Lack of sleep
Sleep is super important in the blood sugar balancing act. When people are sleep deprived, they typically feel low energy. The feelings of fatigue and low motivation from lack of sleep, tend to push people toward eating sugary foods so that they can experience the infamous "sugar high".
Oddly enough, this becomes a vicious cycle. Why?
Well, when we are sleep deprived, our bodies don't control insulin as well. Insulin is the key that unlocks your cells so that sugar in the blood stream can be delivered into the cell to make energy (ATP). If the key is missing, then the lock on the cell can't be opened and sugar will stay in the blood stream. And, let me tell you, sugar in the blood stream does no good. In fact, sugar in the blood stream (high blood glucose) can be dangerous.
But, it also makes your cells "feel" low energy because they can't get any sugar to make into fuel.
What happens when the cells can't get sugar from the blood stream, and therefore can't make energy? Yes, you guessed it; what happens is that you crave more sugar. The body misinterprets the lack of sugar in the cell as a lack of sugar in the body. So, even though there is sugar in the blood stream, you crave more sugar (because your cells need it but it's stuck in your blood stream). Then you eat more sugar, and the whole cycle starts over.
Sleep is sugar's worst enemy. Sleep sleep sleep!
2. You are not eating enough protein
Protein increases leptin. Leptin is a chemical that tells your brain you are full. Leptin is your friend. Protein and leptin are friends too. Eat 15 to 40 grams of protein per meal and snack.
Eating protein also decreases ghrelin. Ghrelin is a chemical that makes you feel hungry and crave more sugar.
Moreover, protein helps to balance out blood sugar levels. It slows the release of sugar into the blood. For more on protein and why you should eat it read this.
3. You have overgrowth of Candida, a type of yeast, or you have been exposed to mycotoxins
This will be a blog post in itself due to the many opinions, recent research, and overwhelming commonality of candida overgrowth resulting in bloating, yeast infections, UTIs, anxiety, skin rashes, extreme sugar and alcohol cravings, amongst many other symptoms. However, it is well known that everyone has yeast in their gut, along with bacteria. Fact.
What can go wrong (so to speak) is when the ratio of yeasts to bacteria become imbalanced and the yeast aggressively colonize the gut, over-populating the bacteria. Yeast thrive off of sugar (think of how yeast are used to ferment sugars into alcohol), and can chemically cause you to "crave" sugar. That's all for now, but it's good to realize that sugar cravings are not always caused by the same thing, and that just because you crave sugar you are "weak" or unhealthy. Just like our feelings are chemicals, so are our cravings... or in this case, the yeast's "cravings".
4. You are not eating enough nutrient-dense food / drinking enough water
When we eat, we feed our cells. Food contains more than macronutrient energy, it's also filled with minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, fiber, probiotics, prebiotics, so on and so forth. If you find yourself craving sugar, it may be your body's way of trying to get you to eat more nutrient-dense foods.
In addition, when we don't hydrate well, our (very intelligent) bodies prompt us to eat in hopes that is can extract some water from the food we choose. Unfortunately at this point, most people feel ultra hungry and reach for convenient, processed, high sugar foods. Drink more water; you will not regret it.
5. Boredom and Need for Pleasure.
Self explanatory, right? But in all seriousness, when you crave sugar and you know you are not actually hungry, take a second to assess why. Are you looking for those "feel good chemicals"? Are you depressed? Are you sitting in front of the TV or computer? Are you celebrating? Are you depriving yourself of sexual pleasure or in-body-expereinces?
Taking a moment to reflect on WHY you want sugar when you are not actually hungry can be life changing. Truly.
6. Your Adrenal Glands are on the brink of fatigue. Or, are already in adrenal exhaustion.
Adrenal glands help to modulate stress in the body. If your stress hormones (cortisol particularly) is through the roof, your may reach for that easy sugar source. Adrenal health is of the utmost importance, especially for all of you high-performers.
Read more on adrenal health here
7 Other reasons... Yes, there are thousands of reasons you may crave sugar when you're not actually hungry. However, if we dove into all of them here, this would be an on-going post. Maybe it should be. So, to be continued.
Maybe you notice you crave sugar at certain times, such as during or pre-menstruation (females) or right before bed. Share your experience here, and tell me what answers you want to see in the next blog post!