Sugar Addiction: Why Do I Crave Sugar?

why do i crave sugar

Sugar, alongside spice, supposedly makes up all things nice.

That may explain why the average American consumes upward of forty teaspoons of sugar daily – considerably higher than the recommended intake of thirteen.

With added sugar prominent in almost every favorite convenience snack and beverage, in addition to the number of theoretically healthy foods that contain naturally-occurring sweeteners such as fruit, it’s hardly surprising that the World Health Organization felt compelled to plead with us all to reduce our intake.

7 teaspoons for adults a day...

spoonful of sugar

National dietary guidelines recommend what we should be putting into our bodies, and it’s advisable to stick within these suggestions for the sake of averting health concerns in the long-term.

The recommended daily allowance of “free sugar” (found in cakes, pastries, drinks, syrups and even honey) is still high at around 7 teaspoons for adults, with less for toddlers and children.

A silent assassin on our organs...​

Sugar, in particular, may be delicious, but it can act as a silent assassin on our organs, particularly our hearts, as well as providing links to diabetes and arguably even cancer, which say nothing of associated dental trauma.

Every time we consume sugar, it's akin to exposing ourselves to alcohol

alcohol and sugar

Every time we consume sugar, it’s akin to exposing ourselves to alcohol – right down to the fabled ’sugar crash’, which can be every bit as debilitating as the morning after a night of heavy drinking.

Like alcohol, sugar directly impacts upon the human liver. Added sugars contain sizable amounts of fructose, which the liver sometimes struggles to break down , turning this fructose into excess fat.

Sugar contains no nutrients, protein, healthy fat or enzymes​

Considering that sugar contains no nutrients, protein, healthy fat or enzymes, that’s a lot to put your body through without any kind of reward, other than that sweet taste on your lips.

So, if sugar is so determined to mercilessly pummel our bodies, why do we hanker after it so much?

Why Do We Crave Sugar?

The short answer is because sugar consumption creates artificial dopamine in our brains, sending us a message that the sweet food or drink that we are consuming is a pleasurable experience.

kid enjoying cake

Naturally, this makes us crave a repeat of that high, and sugar remains one of the most addictive substances in the natural world. Your body and mind may even tell you that you have “withdrawal symptoms”.

​Sugar is one of the MOST addictive substances in the world

If that sounds like a simple case of mind over matter, however, there are further biological studies that suggest that our bodies physically crave sugar when deprived.

The human appetite is controlled by the hypothalamus, which also hosts the hormone glucokinase.

The hormone Glucokinase sends messages to consume more and more sweet treats

Glucokinase measures the amount of glucose in our liver and brain, and seeing as the brain depends on glucose more than any other fuel to function optimally, it’s no surprise that it sends messages to consume more and more sweet treats, especially as the body burns glucose – much like the aforementioned fructose – faster than the speed of light.

Young people are increasingly susceptible to overexposure to this, as sports drinks – sugar water by any other name – become increasingly popular.

Like any addictive substance, early exposure can lead to a struggle in later life.

Type Of Food

Cravings can also occur for other chemical reasons relating to what type of food you have just eaten.

Pasta can be a MONSTER in terms of craving sugar afterwards​

eating pasta

Pasta can be a monster in terms of craving sugar after you have eaten it, due to the amount of heavy starch you consume – remember most pasta does not contain either fiber or protein, and possibly lacks in healthy fats if you choose the wrong sauce to accompany it!

The calories in the meal are rapidly absorbed, leaving a feeling of hunger pangs, which ultimately result in a sugar craving. These cravings are reflected in other starchy foods such as potatoes.

Prepackaged and processed goods are another big ‘X’ in the box. The bulk of them include salt in large quantities – and we mean LARGE.

Therefore...

...the saltier the dish is, the more you crave sugar.

pretzels salty snack

It is a chemical fact. Eating naturally salty foods lessens the problem, so it is OK to have the odd piece of cheese or something like a few olives, but don’t overdo it.

Forget artificial sweeteners...​

artifical sweetener

Artificial sweeteners are a big ‘no-no’, they merely trick you into thinking that you are fuelling your body, but that fix is only momentary.

Vanilla or spiced tea anyone?

One quick and nourishing way to curb your cravings is to have a bona fide sweet tea, without added sugars only natural sugars, such as a vanilla tea or a spiced fruit tea.

They tend to have zero or very few calories and no artificial sweeteners. But remember to check the box and look at the ingredients label.

Go for whole foods​

fruits and nuts

Whole foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains are the safest food groups to digest that contain the ‘good’ sugars.

Essentially, if you don’t consume enough whole food calories, you will struggle to break the evil cycle, and you will go ransacking the cupboards and fridge for something sweet – inevitably you will reach for a chocolate bar or the equivalent sugary fix.

Our bodies are designed to seek out nutritious foods and a deficit in sugar will cause the dreaded cravings.

raiding fridge

The cravings result in the average person seeking less nutritious foods and anything for a quick fix, which as we know, has no long term benefit.

It is far better to have some healthy, nutritional snack between main meals as these will curb cravings and keep your blood sugar levels stable.

A handful of nuts or a wholewheat cracker with cheese will certainly do you no harm, and help towards fending off the sugar ogre.

Excess Stress

stressed out

Cravings can also be the result of excess stress or anxiety and results in ‘emotional eating’. If you watch many US movies, you will see that the heartbroken girl will sit on the couch in her pyjamas, usually with a large tub of ice cream and a spoon, watching a sad romcom!

Get the picture? It is also called ‘comfort eating’.

eating ice cream comfort eating

Regularly performed late at night or the small hours of the morning, the sugar will have nowhere to go but into your system unless you exercise straight after – this will almost definitely not be on your agenda at 2am in the morning!

Even a stressful day at work can result in diving for the sugar at lunchtime to ease the pain – go for a walk, it is all but guaranteed that the cravings will diminish and you will feel better for it in mind and body.

Certain Mineral Deficiencies Can Cause Sugar Cravings

Scientists have also determined that deficiency in certain minerals can also cause sugar cravings. There are five main culprits:

  • Carbon – present in sugar
  • Sulfur - decreases levels of toxins in the body
  • Chromium - helps to balance blood sugar levels
  • Phosphorus - our cells use this to produce energy
  • Tryptophan - active agent in converting to serotonin
  • Magnesium - particularly denotes a chocolate craving.

​There can be a magnesium deficiency if you undergo excess stress or anxiety.

When suffering under these conditions, the body dispels magnesium at the speed of light, which will cause an imbalance, and even more worrying, constrict the heart function.

The deficiency can also cause hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Refined sugar also causes the kidneys to excrete more magnesium than necessary. Plus if you are eating a lot of it, you will likely suffer from lower levels of minerals and vitamins in the body because it has no nutritional goodness.

Once again, these minerals can be found in high quality whole foods, that will supply you with enough of most of them to keep your body in top condition, and help you overcome cravings through mineral deficiency.

Supplementation MAY be needed

supplement for sugar cravings

Magnesium, however, is an outlier to this. It is believed that most of us cannot get enough magnesium from diet alone and we need to supplement.

You should still try to include it in your diet though and this article on foods that are high in magnesium may help.

Mineral drops can also be a great way to get in any mineral deficiencies you may have. Mineral drops along with magnesium were the key to stop my own sugar cravings.

mineral drops for deficiency

Many medical professionals believe that sugar cravings can point to an undiagnosed bodily function such as thyroidism or failing adrenal glands. Here are four reasons why dysfunctional organs may result in sugar cravings.

Thyroid Problems

You may have aches and pains and even headaches, you may be gaining weight and feeling tired all the time.

You seem to crave sugar all day long. You could have an underactive thyroid, particularly if the only thing that motivates you is downing copious amounts of coffee.

Beware, caffeine will exacerbate sugar cravings.

Excess Adrenaline

Do you feel irritable, stressed, perhaps a bit thirsty all the time and even slightly dizzy?

Adrenal glands kick into action when you are stressed, and should be dispensing the ‘stress hormones’ to relieve the pressure.

When these glands get sluggish and not performing at the correct rate, your body will crave sugar for energy.

Grabbing the nearest sugar treat, will only result in a rapid ‘comedown’ after consumption, increasing anxiety and stress.

Yeast Infection

If you have had a yeast infection, and been on antibiotics for a period of time you may have triggered an overgrowth of bad bacteria, as yeast over-population feeds on sugar.

This causes a vicious circle as eating sugar will only make the yeast multiply and even worse cravings occur. Cutting back on all forms of sugar is the only answer.

Menopause and Pre-Menstrual Tension

Both of these can cause sugar cravings, and unfortunately satisfying them will only result in excess tiredness, bad mood swings and sheer misery, due the drop in hormone levels.

The body reacts by trying to raise serotonin levels, which can cause the desire for sugar. A regular daily dose of Vitamin B6 should help.

Dangers Of Too Much Sugar

woman eating marhsmallows

Many medical experts believe that a multitude of diseases and health hazards are caused by sugar, some of which are still under scientific study.

Hidden perils in t consuming too much sugar

Apart from causing weight gain, and even obesity, there are hidden perils in that consuming too much sugar can equate to contracting the ‘silent killer’ – diabetes.

Many people do not even know they have it, until blood tests reveal this lifestyle disease, and it can be too late to do anything about it.

Tooth decay​

There is of course, the addition of tooth decay. The longer sugar stays in your mouth, the more likely resultant decay will occur.

The best way to reduce tooth decay is by sticking to whole fruits, not juices or blended varieties.

Sugars found naturally in a piece of fruit are far healthier for you, as sugars are not released as they are in anything juiced or blended.

Equally so, dried fruits can have the same problem, and whilst a lesser evil, they tend to remain on or in between teeth until the next clean. However fruit should still be limited still for tooth health.

Sugar accelerates the aging process​

Sugar will also accelerate the aging process, sad to say. Your immune system will be affected which may increase inflammation in the body and feed any bad bacteria in the digestive system and gut. It can also affect brain function, as our brains are fuelled by glucose, but too much sugar will be akin to an electricity overload, and normal function can be severely disrupted. Anxiety and depression could kick in.

Read Food Labels

If you are buying goods in the supermarket, try to read the labels before purchase, as these should display all the relevant nutritional facts, including sugar content. New labels with better nutrition guidance are being introduced in 2017 according to the FDA.

These labels will reveal more accurate information, such as what are natural sugars and what are added sugars, as opposed to simply showing ‘total sugars’, which in all honesty, is totally useless information.

Current labels showing ‘total sugars’ are not even remotely helpful. Labels showing ‘Carbohydrates’ (of which sugars) are better, but the new labelling is going to give you the real picture of what you are putting into your body.

Currently, in the UK, labels are much easier and far more accurate to read, and show color-coding to depict the level of sugar contained in the product. Red is high, amber is medium, and green is low, so at a glance you know that something may be good or bad for you and at what level the sugar content is. Far more helpful than having to totally ‘digest’ the contents before putting it into your shopping trolley!

More Tips For Reducing Sugar Cravings

There are many other ways that you can reduce sugar cravings, all of which are extremely healthy. Here are a few dietary suggestions that you may not have thought of.

  • Drink more water - The necessity to consume eight glasses per day may have been exposed as a myth but often when your brain is telling you that you are craving sugar you may, infact just be dehydrated.  Many people confuse hunger for being thirsty and the same happens with cravings too.  Sip on water first!
  • Substitute big or unhealthy breakfasts with 'green drinks".​ Spinach or kale mixed with some fresh berries will provide you with something sweet, but also help to curb an unhealthy desire for sugar.
  • As well as green smoothies, try to incorporate some sea vegetables into your diet, such as seaweed, nori, nulse, agar and sea kelp – they are known to balance blood sugar levels. Sea vegetables are packed full of essential minerals.
  • Try some fermented foods such as coconut kefir, which are known to be effective in eliminating sugar cravings.
  • Equally so, ready made fermented probiotic drinks such as Jun Tea or Kombucha tea will diminish the need for sugar and help lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • ​Changing your diet to low burning foods or protein based foods. This should help reduce cravings and assist in losing weight. This is why eating plans such as the Atkins and Paleo diets are increasingly popular.
  • Exercise! It isn't just about diet. Those pleasure hormones, also known as serotonin, can be acquired naturally through exercise. This can help improve for general mental well being.

​Sugar can be difficult for many people to control. We hope this article gives you a better understanding of your question "Why Do I Crave Sugar?" and gives you some tips on how to stop sugar cravings or reduce them enough to quit sugar.

Kelly
 

Kelly C is the Editor of Hard Boiled Body. She is passionate about health, well being, running and minimalist. As a competitive runner, she has insight into the struggles of balancing work-outs with good nutrition and injury prevention. She has also had her fair share of weight problems, particularly revolving around cravings and binge eating, which she is able to give her insight and experiences on overcoming.

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