A large percentage of us can admit to sugar cravings. In fact, you may be hard pressed to identify someone who does not like the taste of sugar. Sugar can be detrimental to weight loss efforts, as the body stores excess sugar as fat. Experiencing sugar cravings does not mean that one is weak-willed or it’s “all in their head”. There are actual biological reasons for craving sugar.
Many times people crave the foods that are actually harmful to their body. And sugar is definitely detrimental. It is pro-inflammatory in the body, weakens the immune system, contributes to weight gain and tooth decay, acidifies the body, depletes nutrients, and increases the risk of cancer, just to name a few.
So what is sugar? Sugar is the generic name for sweet, simple carbohydrates. Examples are fructose (in fruits), lactose (in milk), sucrose (in maple syrup, sugar cane, and sugar beets) and sucrose (table sugar). When we ingest starches and sugars, our body converts them into glucose, our blood sugar. This is either utilized by our body for energy or stored as fat.
Diabetics have elevated blood glucose levels because their bodies cannot metabolize sugar properly. The most common type of diabetes that is growing in epidemic proportions is type 2, and in many cases it is completely preventable through diet, exercise, and weight loss. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 23.6 million Americans have diabetes and nearly 1/4 of them do not know they have the disease. Eating lots of sugary foods along with carrying extra pounds can put you more at risk for developing diabetes.
When you experience sugar cravings, there can be several things at play. One is low levels of serotonin. Carbohydrates such as breads and pastas and sugary foods are a quick source of serotonin, our “feel good” chemical messenger in the body. This is why sugar can be so addicting – it can help us temporarily feel better. But very shortly the body uses up the serotonin and we experience the blood sugar “crash” and lower serotonin state, and the cycle repeats itself. Adrenal fatigue can be another cause of food cravings. Chronic stress, illness, poor nutrition, and medications can increase the work load of our adrenal glands contributing to a state of feeling “tired but wired” and wanting a quick energy fix.
These imbalances can be corrected! Proper nutrition can go a long way to supplying the body with the nutrients it needs to produce adequate amounts of serotonin, cortisol, and other chemical messengers. In addition, types of food such as protein do not cause the increased elevation in blood sugars that carbohydrates do, so you are less likely to experience the dip that can promote cravings and hunger. Chromium is a mineral that can help stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings. Other vitamins and minerals, amino acids, and herbs for the adrenals can be utilized as appropriate to help bring the body back in balance as well.
Sugar is hidden in the vast majority of processed foods. For example, the next time you reach for that bottle of low-fat dressing, soda pop, or can of tomato sauce, take a peek at the label. Watch out for ingredients ending in “ose” as it signifies the food contains sugar. The closer the word is to the top of the list of ingredients, the more sugar the product contains relative to the other ingredients. One can of regular soda can contain nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar. That’s almost the entire daily “recommended” amount of sugar in one item!
So if you would like to stop the sugar cravings and lose weight, switch to a whole foods diet with abundant amounts of vegetables and lean protein such as fish or chicken, and moderate amounts of carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and fruit. Eat smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day and make sure you eat breakfast. Consider a multivitamin and source of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil to help insure you are getting optimal nutrition. Commit to regular exercise. If this does not do the trick, seek the advice of a health professional who can help identify probable imbalances and correct them. So rather than blame yourself the next time you experience a craving, take it as a sign that your body is letting you know that it is probably not getting what it needs to be optimally healthy.