Do you have a sweet tooth? There are lots of physiological reasons that we might crave sugar. When patients come in asking about curbing their sugar cravings, the first goal is to understand why they might be experiencing cravings in the first place.
How much sugar are you eating daily?
Many people are consuming more than 3x the American Heart Association and World Health Organization’s daily recommendation of a maximum of 25g of added sugar daily.
Where is sugar hiding?
– Barbecue sauce and dressings – 2 tbsp of a popular barbecue sauce has 11g of sugar
– Protein bars – one bar can have 22g of sugar
– Too much fruit, including in “healthy” smoothie – one banana has about 17g sugar
– Juicing and juice cleanses – one juice can have 30g of sugar or more
Here are 3 ways to curb your sugar cravings:
Reason #1: Low energy levels
When we’re tired, our bodies seek out ways of boosting energy. The fastest way to make energy is by using sugar circulating in the blood stream (glucose), and the fastest way to get them there is by eating simple sugars. This is why at 3 pm when we’re running low on energy, we often crave a sweet treat.
Solution #1: Understand why you’re tired and fix it.
This often means improving your sleep quality and or sleep quantity. It also means investigating other common underlying causes of fatigue, like dehydration (so simple, but so true!), nutrient deficiencies, or having an under-active thyroid.
Reason #2: Emotional eating and boredom
When we eat sugar, our brain releases a hormone called dopamine, which is our reward hormone. Research shows that over time this response becomes diminished, so that we need more and more sugar to get the same dopamine “feel good” response.
Another source of emotional eating is often because treats were used to reward us as children (or bribe us…), or are associated with happy memories, like getting ice cream after winning your soccer game. We often seek out sweets as a way to comfort or reward ourselves as part of this learned behaviour from a young age.
Solution #2: Mindfulness
The key lies in recognizing these patterns so that they no longer have a hold over us. For the person who eats for comfort, it might be recognizing that and then engaging in positive self-talk, or finding another activity to release dopamine like going for a walk or hugging your partner/child/pet. For the person who reaches for sugar out of habit or boredom, try using a smaller bowl and eat one bite at a time, trying to savour each bite, and see how you feel.
Reason #3: Blood sugar crashes
When we eat simple carbohydrates (foods that are easily broken down into sugars), our bodies digest them quickly and then dump a large amount of glucose (sugar) into the system all at once. This causes a spike in blood sugar, and a subsequent release of insulin to help metabolize the circulating sugars. When the dust settles, we get a blood sugar crash and our bodies crave sugar again to boost these low blood sugar levels. The higher the high, the lower the low, and the stronger the craving after each crash.
Solution #3: Balance blood sugar
My mantra for keeping blood sugar stable is: fat, fibre, and protein with every meal and every snack. These three macronutrients are harder for the body to break down, so they slow down what’s called our “gastric emptying time”. This means that instead of a quick spike and subsequent crash, it’s a slow-release of fuel into the blood stream, with a lower insulin release, and slower utilization of circulating fuel. This prevents the crash from happening, and we avoid the subsequent sugar craving all together.
About Dr Hilary Chambers:
Dr. Hilary Chambers, ND is a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor who graduated with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine after receiving her Honours Bachelor of Science in Physiology at Western University.
Dr. Chambers has a clinical focus in treating digestive health, including IBS, bloating, and heartburn, and autoimmune conditions, including Crohn’s, colitis, and eczema.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, she uses evidence-based, natural therapies to treat the underlying cause of each patient’s individual health concerns. Dr. Chambers spends time with each patient to actively and openly listen to their story and develops a successful treatment plan that fits into their daily lives, and ensures her patients understand how and why their treatment works.
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