Based on the number of candy bar commercials that exploit apparently undefeatable sugar cravings that can only be alleviated with the help of a candy bar… sugar cravings seem to be a big problem. After all, you aren’t yourself if you don’t eat a packaged candy bar.
Sugar cravings can certainly be a problem, and many people struggle with them. With a modern lifestyle that often includes processed foods, irregular sleep schedules, artificial light and lack of movement, hormone imbalance is a growing problem and cravings are a growing symptom.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
There are many reasons we crave sugar. Humans are somewhat wired to crave sugar and carbohydrates from birth for a good reason. Breastmilk is naturally sweet and has important carbohydrates that not only feed the baby, but feed the baby’s gut bacteria as well.
The carbohydrates in breast milk stimulate the release of serotonin, endorphins, and promote relaxation. These are all important reactions in babies and contribute to the bonding process between mother and child. Of course, breastmilk also contains necessary proteins and fats that baby needs for growth, but the sweet taste is prominent.
Later in life, this natural desire for sweet foods continues and the body still gets this physiological sense of reward from eating sweets. In times when food was scarce or immediate energy was needed, these cravings were life saving. Today, where there are 90 types of candy bars and 40 kinds of soda at every checkout counter, they can do more harm than good.
Habitual consumption of sugar and excess carbohydrates can perpetuate this craving cycle, and statistically, habitual sugar consumption is exactly what many of us do. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day in the form of foods, drinks and sweets (according to the American Heart Association).
Of course, occasional indulgence in a high quality and nutrient dense treat, is perfectly fine unless there is another health issue, but everyday sugar consumption and cravings are a big struggle for many people.
If you struggle with cravings, these are a few things that I’ve found helpful for beating sugar cravings naturally.
- Protein and Good Fats
Sometimes, sugar cravings may be from something as simple as consuming too many processed carbohydrates on a regular basis and not getting enough protein and fats.
Carbohydrates provide a quick and easy source of energy for the body, and they certainly have their place, but when a person gets in a habit of carbohydrate consumption, the result can be blood sugar fluctuations that lead to cravings.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which I already mentioned are vital for proper neurotransmitter production, an important component in balancing hormones and avoiding sugar cravings. Beneficial fats are a source of energy for the body and help increase satiety and ward off immature feelings of hunger.
Over the long-term, consuming enough beneficial fats and proteins (along with lots of vegetables) is an important step to providing the body the essential fatty acids, amino acids and micronutrients it needs to remain in balance and not crave foods unnecessarily.
- Eat When Hungry
And plan before you are…
Times of intense hunger are not times to make level-headed decisions about the best foods to eat. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In this case, that means planning (and even pre-making if needed) healthy meals so you’ll have them on hand when you get hungry.
Like I mentioned above, eating enough nutrient rich foods like proteins, healthy fats and vegetables will help stop extreme hunger and blood sugar swings. This makes it easier to choose healthy options as sugar cravings are more likely to occur when a person gets extremely hungry (especially when this hunger is combined with stress or lack of sleep).
- Get Moving
Exercise releases some of the same endorphins that sugary foods release and can be a great substitute when done consistently.
You don’t have to go running or do anything incredibly intense to get the benefits. Even just a brisk walk or a few minutes of intervals with a jump rope or just your body weight can be enough to get the endorphins moving and dodge the sugar cravings.
My favorite exercise these days is a walk or jog with my dog, or a quick kickball game outside with the kids, but there are endless options. Planning exercise is also a great way to beat the sugar habit long term, especially if you can train your body to love the endorphins from exercise as much as those from sugar.
- Get Some Sleep
It is no secret that sleep is important. Sleep deficiency has been linked to just about every chronic health problem and the list keeps growing. In fact, not getting enough sleep can:
Increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer
And the risk of high blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes
Increase the risk of obesity and hormone problems
From a sugar perspective, sleep is vital for balancing blood sugar and maintaining the correct levels of the hormones that manage insulin. In fact, just one night of impaired sleep can leave a person with the blood sugar levels of a pre-diabetic. Not the best idea for someone trying to master sugar cravings.
For this, and a million other reasons, make sleep a priority. It is one of the few silver bullets in health and it is totally free!