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Sugar cravings are like a sneaky, little devil on your shoulder, coaxing and convincing you to indulge in that delicious scoop of ice cream… or three. If you’re a sweets lover, like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In a world filled with refined sugar and processed foods, sugar cravings are inevitable. However, there are strategies you can put in place to help stop the sugar cravings once and for all.
The U.S is practically in a sugar pandemic of sorts. After all, the standard American diet was practically founded on sugar. Added sugars are in most processed foods, restaurant meals, and beverages like juice. To put it in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 25g and men less than 36g of sugar per day. And one can of coca cola has 39 grams! This is obviously not ideal for our health. However, there are a few tips and tricks on how to stop next sugar craving attack and keep you on track to reach your health goals.
Fundamentally, sugar is a form of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be broken down into two primary categories: simple and complex.
Simple carbs are composed of sugars with simple chemical structures composed of only one sugar (monosaccharides) or two sugars (disaccharides). They are digested and absorbed quickly in the bloodstream. They’re easily and quickly used for energy because of their simple structure, leading to a faster spike in blood sugar and insulin.
Alternatively, complex carbs have more complex chemical structures, with three or more sugars linked together (known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides). They contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and require more time to digest so blood sugar rises slowly. They provide the body with fuel and energy over several hours, as opposed to only ~30 minutes. These various forms of sugar will impact blood sugar levels differently, potentially leading to sugar cravings.
Before processed foods, complex carbohydrates with natural sugars like fruits offered quick energy. Now our bodies have become accustomed to the higher spike of energy that comes with processed and refined sugars. This means we crash faster and crave sugar in higher quantities and more often in order to bring our energy levels back up after a crash.
Physiologically, consuming sugar creates the same bodily response as taking a hit of cocaine. It might sound drastic, but it’s true. Sugar consumption triggers the reward system in our brain. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that mediates pleasure, and increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes our mood and is considered the “happy hormone.” This helps explain why sugar feels so good, and ultimately, can lead to addiction.
Unfortunately, in today’s hustle-and-bustle and highly digital world, it’s easy to fall prey to sugar cravings on a daily basis. Here’s how sugar cravings work: when sugar enters the bloodstream, it is absorbed very quickly. This process rapidly raises blood sugar and insulin. Without fiber, protein, or fat, the sugar does not leave you full or satisfied which means you crave an energy boost (AKA sugar) shortly after you eat. Ultimately, the dysregulated blood sugar signals to your body that it needs energy, and fast. Enter: ravenous sugar cravings.
Historically, before processed foods were invented, natural sources of carbohydrates, like fruit and honey, were beneficial sources of sugar. However, today, most sources of sugar come from refined sugars and processed foods. These artificial forms of sugar have detrimental effects on the gut microbiome and overall health.
First and foremost, refined forms of sugar lead to insulin resistance. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that tells cells to absorb blood sugar for energy. As cells absorb sugar, levels of sugar in the blood decrease. The pancreas then starts making glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to start releasing stored sugar. This ensures that our cells, especially brain cells, have a steady supply of blood sugar. When the body is chronically bombarded with excess amounts of sugar, the need to produce insulin is diminished. It causes blood sugar and insulin levels to stay super high for longer periods of time after eating. As a result, you’re left with insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
More so, excessive sugar consumption increases inflammation in the gut and promotes leaky junctions in the gut lining. Sugar feeds the yeast in your gut, which leads to candida overgrowth. Candida is a fungal infection caused by yeast. Because the yeast feeds on carbohydrates, your body doesn’t get the proper amount of energy from the sugar you eat and you end up craving it even more to overcompensate. Candida and yeast overgrowth also leads to leaky gut (intestinal permeability) which causes inflammation throughout the body. As you likely know, a “leaky gut” can have damaging impacts on overall health, including potential autoimmunity, hormonal imbalances, and chronic disease.
Not all sugar is “bad.” Natural sources of sugar can actually provide health benefits, in moderation. However, today, sugar is not only found in natural sources. There are countless different forms of refined and artificial sugar to look out for. Common sources of sugar, include:
For the sake of your health and well-being, it’s best to avoid these forms of sugar at all cost. Instead, opt for natural forms, like raw honey, fruit, coconut sugar, or maple syrup, in moderation.
For anyone who’s dealt with sugar cravings most of their life, it might feel impossible to overcome. That said, there are very strategic and effective ways on how to stop the sugar cravings and prevent them before they occur.
Always pair carbohydrates with fat and protein to steady blood sugar levels and keep your body energized and satisfied for 3-4 hours. Fat and protein stabilize blood sugar so you don’t experience an energy crash. This keeps you full for longer and keeps cravings at bay. If you’re hungry before the 3 hour mark, you’re likely not eating a balanced ratio of protein, carbs, and fat, or not enough all together.
Low-fructose fruits have a lesser effect on blood sugar, helping to stop the sugar cravings. Low-fructose fruits include: berries, oranges, kiwi, papaya, and pumpkin. As you add more naturally sweet foods to your diet, your body becomes accustomed to the slower release of blood sugar and doesn’t need to over produce insulin. Over time you experience less cravings
Added sugar heightens the flavor of foods. Adding fresh herbs and spices to your meals not only have a gut-healing effect, but they can also stop sugar cravings by better balancing blood sugar. Load up on fresh garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, turmeric, sea salt, cayenne pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, and ginger..
Unmanaged emotional and mental stress often leads to binge-eating and moments of “eating your feelings.” We seek a quick release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine or serotonin and sugar provides just this. Also when stressed, cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) levels spike. This sends sugars to your muscle cells to provide them with the energy to fight or run away (Hence: fight or flight). It’s important to uncover effective ways to manage your stress levels without the use of food (or any other substances).
Hunger, even in the form of sugar cravings, is often an early sign of dehydration. You mistake the body’s cues for energy as cravings for food rather than cravings for water. Staying hydrated keeps all bodily functions running smoothly, including blood sugar stabilization. Before giving into your sugar cravings, drink a full glass of filtered water. Add a sprinkle of sea salt or pink himalayan salt to increase water absorption in the body.
Complex carbs, as opposed to simple carbs, take longer for the body to digest and absorb. This longer digestion process naturally steadies blood sugar levels and prevents sugar cravings. Some good examples of complex carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, brown rice, and starchy vegetables.
Chronic gut imbalances, like leaky gut and candida overgrowth, are known to enhance sugar cravings. Because the bad bacteria and yeast in your gut microbiome is feasting on sugar, you end up craving more. When we heal the gut and repopulate good bacteria, your body is able to use sufficient energy from the sugars you do consume. You no longer crave more sugar in order to feed the bad bacteria and yeast. Work with a functional practitioner to address and treat any underlying gut issues.
If you’re thinking you have to avoid sugar forever because it’s the enemy, think again! Sugar can and should be enjoyed in moderation. The goal is to choose natural sweeteners from plants rather than the packaged and processed refined sugar products. You can read more and get the complete and detailed list of my top sugar alternatives for gut health and autoimmunity by visiting this article.
With a little strategy and awareness, it is possible to stop the sugar cravings for good. For personalized help getting to the root cause of your sugar addiction, I recommend working with a qualified nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner, like myself! To view my open programs and apply to work with me, visit my website, here. Additionally, I highly recommend looking into our Gut & Autoimmune Meal Plan Subscription, which is packed with balanced meals to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Bonus: it includes delicious desserts, too!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
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