Sugar Cravings, I have to talk about them because we have all been there!
No matter how hard we try to ‘pretend’ we don’t want sugar it sneaks up on us before we know it a tin of Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies have disappeared and we’re elbow deep in a tub of Ed’s Ice-cream. Am I lying? (I don’t think so, we’ve all done it)
The problem with sugar is that it is so hard to moderate. The more you have of it, the more you want.
What is it about sugar (and carbohydrates) that make it so addicting?
Sugar is most certainly addictive and unfortunately, it’s everywhere! In our face at the coffee shop, in our homes, and even hidden in a lot of processed foods that we may not even realize contain sugar. Multiple studies have been done connecting sugar to an increase in dopamine release (the pleasure neurotransmitter in the brain) and a heightened sense of satisfaction. When these sugar stores are depleted we instantly crave that high.
There could be several reasons for experiencing these sugar cravings such as food allergies, adrenal fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, bacterial overgrowth, stress/emotional eating and habitual eating etc. BUT to avoid this blog becoming an entire book we are going to keep it to a general why and a more specific section on what we can do about it.
Carbohydrates in general, have had their fair share of scrutiny over the past decade. Are they good or bad? How much do I eat? When do I eat them? I get asked these questions all the time and it is a very complicated answer. I believe in an individualized approach but as an overriding theme, I have noticed that as a society we rely too heavily on carbohydrates as our primary energy source. The high consumption rate can lead to cravings which in turn creates an unhealthy imbalance in blood sugar leading to many health issues.
However, not ALL carbohydrates should be treated equally:
Simple sugars are one – two sugar molecules bound together, they are quick and easy to break apart meaning they get digested quickly and enter our bloodstream rapidly. They provide short term energy that quickly fades. Examples of simple sugars include white bread, white pasta, pastries, candies, cookies etc.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are three plus carbohydrates bound together. (sometimes as many as 1000) They take longer to break apart and release slowly into the bloodstream, this steady state absorption allows for consistent energy.
Benefits of complex carbohydrates:
- Energy source for our muscles and fuel for our brain.
- Help to regulate protein and fat metabolism.
- Loaded with fiber which is necessary for healthy digestion.
- Helps with detoxification from the combination of vitamins, minerals and fiber content.
Top sources of Complex Carbohydrates: Vegetables, Oats, Whole grains: Brown rice, Millet, Spelt, Kamut, Buckwheat, Sorghum etc.
Let’s talk about two important hormones that relate to the release of sugar into our bloodstream: Insulin and Glucagon.
All sugar ingested (regardless of form) are broken down into glucose (the simplest form of usable sugar). Insulin helps to guide the glucose from our bloodstream and into our tissues where it can be stored for later use or burned as fuel. A high consumption rate of simple sugars will increase the glucose within the bloodstream and trigger additional insulin release. Our muscle tissue then decides to utilize the glucose, immediately shuttling it to the brain or storing it in the muscle or liver for later use. The last option, which we are often most concerned about is the storage of glucose as adipose tissue, fat. This is our last resort and our body will try to utilize one of the previous options before settling of fat storage.
What about its counterpart? Glucagon. Glucagon, like insulin, is secreted by the pancreas but instead of responding to carbohydrate intake, glucagon is secreted when the body detects protein and will help to metabolize the glucose within the body. Complex carbohydrates contain significantly more protein than simple sugars and will trigger a Glucagon release that will aid in avoiding fat storage. By adding in protein rich foods (fish, chicken, eggs, beans etc.) and you will improve your chances of burning fat rather than storing it.
Now that you know a little bit about the science let’s get into the stuff you really care about: How we can decrease our sugar cravings.
As I mentioned before sugar cravings are individualized but that doesn’t mean there aren’t general dietary solutions that will help you balance blood sugar levels.
1. Stay hydrated. When we are thirsty and dehydrated our bodies can actually think that we want sugar when really we just need some good old fashion H20.
2. Eating primarily complex carbohydrates and avoiding simple sugars will greatly reduce cravings, cool it on the cookies.
3. Eating protein with every meal. As described earlier, protein is very important in slowing down the release of sugar.
4. Eating fermented foods. These help to improve your digestive efficiency, ensuring you are absorbing and assimilating the nutrients in the food. Our bad gut bacteria will try to monopolize our intestinal ecosystem and because it prefers to feed off of sugar it will create cravings. Fermented foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, yogurt etc.
5. Avoid processed foods and eat a whole foods diet (meaning eat from nature and avoid any packaged foods). Processed foods are filled with more salt, more sugar, and more fat.
6. Satisfy your sweet tooth naturally with fruit or something similar to the Maca Macaroons below. Dates are also very high in fiber and can help to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Maca will decrease sugar and carb cravings by boosting serotonin levels (the happy feel-good hormone), it also has “bedroom qualities’ as an added bonus.
7. Eat smaller meals with more frequency will help in avoiding cravings. I’m sure you have heard this before but it really does make a difference. Multiple small exposures help to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
1. Stress is directly related to increased cortisol (stress hormone) which in turn increases blood sugar. If we can decrease and minimize our stress it will do wonders for our body. Check out my 2-part blog on ways to decrease stress through lifestyle and nutrition.
2. Exercise helps to boost serotonin levels (the happy hormone) while decreasing sugar cravings.
3. Notice what triggers your cravings and come up with a new habit strategy for avoidance: For example, you are home alone at night and the chocolate bar in the cupboard is calling your name. Instead of eating it get up and go outside for a walk, call a friend or dive into a DIY project where you can distract yourself from the sweets.
When we have cravings it is typically the result of a nutrient deficiency in our diet. The more often you consume sugary simple sugars, the more likely you are to be deficient in nutrients. I want to mention a couple really important nutrients for helping to decrease sugar cravings.
- Magnesium (my
favouritemineral) – We often experience strong sugar cravings related to chocolate which ties directly into Magnesium. It is involved in glucose metabolism as well as the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Increasing magnesium will help in reducing sugar cravings. Food sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, beans, almonds, and whole grains (brown rice) etc.
- Chromium- Vital for blood sugar balance, Chromium helps to bring glucose into our cells for use later. Without chromium, the insulin action is blocked and the level of glucose inside the bloodstream rises. Chromium can become depleted if we consume too many refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, and baked goods). Foods high in chromium: Cinnamon (tip if you drink coffee sprinkle cinnamon each morning), whole grains, oats, onions, broccoli
- Zinc – Although Zinc is very important for the immune system, it also is a component of over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body. Zinc is involved in all aspects of insulin metabolism. Foods high in zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- B-vitamins – Their strong relationship in coping with stress is very valuable. When we are highly stressed our B vitamins deplete quickly and leave us searching for the “feel good” boost. Increase serotonin levels = sugar cravings. Foods high in B-vitamins: dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, bananas, avocados, whole grains, yogurt, and eggs.
There you have it a few easy ways do decrease sugar cravings. I hope it was helpful and as always don’t hesitate to ask me for more information.
RECIPE: Maca Macaroons
- 1 cup sliced raw almonds
- 2 tbsp. raw maca powder (optional)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ cup soft pitted dates (soak before if too hard)
- 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
- 1 ½ tbsp. pure maple syrup
- 3-4 tbsp. natural raw cacao powder
- Dash of Sea Salt
In a food processor add almonds, dates, vanilla, salt, maple syrup, maca, and flax. Blend until close to dough-like. Add coconut and pulse until fully mixed. Test the macaroons to see it the dough sticks together. If it doesn’t add a couple tbsp. of water and pulse again until desired texture. Using a small scoop that is 1-2 inches scoop out balls and place on a plate, Add 2- 3 tbsp. raw cacao powder to food processor and pulse until completely mixed. Roll the mix into 1-2 inch balls. Store in
– Sylvie (OG Lifestyles)