People today consume an astounding amount of sugar – nearly 300% of the recommended amount! Over the past few decades, added sugars in our food and drinks have been linked to drastic spikes in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. Other serious health issues linked with increased sugar consumption include: heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer, mood disorders like depression, and tooth decay.
It is all too easy to default to grabbing a sugar-laden drink or snack when the craving hits. Understanding the causes behind your sugar cravings can go a long way to helping you fight them, and we provide tips to help!
Dehydration. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger or food craving, which is essentially your body craving an energy source — and sugar provides a quick spike of energy (though no essential nutrients of any kind). This study showed that people responded inappropriately to hunger and thirst cues 62% of the time. For example, people were thirsty rather than hungry, but instead of drinking to satiate their craving, they ate.
Tip: Drink water whenever you get a sugar craving. It will likely help your sugar craving pass and/or curb your appetite, and will also help reduce your craving for other unhealthy beverages. Speaking of which, avoid drinking diet sodas – they are not a healthier alternative to regular sodas! Drinking diet sodas have been linked with increased appetite and weight gain, and (thanks to their high acidity) also carry virtually the same risk of tooth decay as regular sodas.
Nutritional Deficiencies. Because minerals help convert food into energy, deficiencies in essential minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium can lead to sugar cravings. Of particular note: nearly half of Americans may have a magnesium deficiency, which may also be linked to an increased risk of insomnia as well as increased stress, anxiety and depression – all additional potential causes for sugar cravings.
Tip: Make sure you are eating a balanced diet and getting enough essential nutrients –
add supplements if needed. However, if you experience chronic fatigue and strong sugar cravings, it’s time to visit your doctor – you may have a deeper health issue like a blood sugar imbalance.
Poor Diet. An unbalanced diet – and gut flora – can trigger sugar cravings. If a significant portion of your daily food intake is processed foods and carbohydrates rather than fiber, protein and healthy fats, you are likely to have an imbalance of microbes in the gut (gut dysbiosis), which can lead to sugar cravings.
Tip: Eat a balanced diet of a diverse range of unprocessed foods. Be sure to include lots of
vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans and fresh fruits, while limiting sugars and artificial. Probiotics and prebiotics can alter the balance of gut bacteria and decrease food cravings.
Lack of Sleep. Inadequate quantity and quality of sleep is linked with overeating. When our bodies are run down, we are likely to crave more calories and quick energy, and sugar is an easy (albeit nutritionally deficient) source.
Tip: Establish a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day.
Avoid taking daytime naps longer than 20 minutes.
Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol at least 3 hours before going to bed.
Exercise daily – but avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Cultivate a restful environment for your bedroom.
Put away your phone and other electronic devices an hour before bedtime.
Stress. Stress increases your body’s cortisol production – a hormone that stimulates the appetite and food cravings, especially sweet, salty and fatty foods.
Tip: Incorporate stress management techniques, such as:
Track and avoid detrimental stressors when possible. Explore healthy coping techniques for regular and unavoidable stressors, such as:
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises, and simple walks in nature.
Better quality sleep and a balanced diet.
Support system – meet and talk with friends and loved ones more often.
Exercise regularly – exercise aids in regulating stress and hormone levels in your body, and also aids in better quality sleep.
Manage your time and your devices.
Seek additional help, such as therapy.
Habit. Many people have a sugar habit without realizing it. Some studies have even suggested that sugar goes beyond habit and is truly addictive, due to the quick burst of energy and dopamine it gives the brain.
Tip: Start with recognizing when and how often you consume sweet things throughout a typical day, then actively work on replacing them with other foods and drinks. Examples:
Do you regularly have a bowl of ice cream after dinner? Substitute it with a bowl of fresh fruit.
How many sodas and other sweet drinks do you drink daily? Replace them with water - gradually if it is too difficult to do all at once.
Do most of your foods contain added sugar? Chances are that they do – check the nutrition label and ingredient list, and choose a healthier option if they contain added sugars.
Our increased sugar consumption over the past several decades is linked with the drastic increase in serious health issues like obesity and diabetes, as well as a plethora of other health issues like heart and lung diseases, mood disorders, and tooth decay. Fighting your sugar cravings might not always be simple, but take it day by day and you can do it. The benefits to your health and quality of life are well worth it!