Sugar cravings are a problem for a lot of people. Consuming too much sugar for too long inevitably leads to serious health implications over time. Diseases like type II diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome are all a result of eating too much sugar for too long. It's not surprising to learn that sugar is highly addictive when you see the increased rates of obesity and type II diabetes, in both adults and children. In addition, type II diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in Australia, even more so than cardiovascular disease and cancer. Not to mention that sugar is highly inflammatory and feeds bad bacteria, causing poor gut health. This can then go on to cause hormonal issues, cardiovascular disease, poor immunity, candida overgrowth and the list goes on.
The World Health Organisation strongly recommends to reduce sugar to less than 10% of total energy intake, but preferably to below 5%.
The Science Behind Type II Diabetes
When you eat sugar, the body releases the hormone insulin to help take insulin from the blood to cells for energy. Insulin sends signals to the liver, muscles and fat to take in glucose (sugar) from the blood. If glucose isn't needed at that time for energy, it's stored either as fat or in the liver as glycogen. Eventually, if the diet is too high in sugar, the body begins producing too much insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to the pancreatic cells that produce insulin beginning to burn out from being overused resulting in type II diabetes.
My Top 8 Tips for Reducing Sugar Cravings
There are many reasons why sugar cravings occur, including magnesium deficiency, fatigue, adrenal exhaustion (read: stress), hormonal changes as well as bacterial or candida overgrowth. Luckily, sugar cravings can be easily reversed. See below for my top tips for reducing sugar cravings.
Magnesium helps to moderate blood sugar levels and improve your bodies response to insulin. Magnesium deficiency is highly common as our soils are depleted in this important mineral. This means that even if you are eating a varied diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds it is nearly impossible to get enough magnesium from our food. If you are magnesium deficient, a magnesium supplement can help to control your sugar cravings. Make sure when choosing a magnesium supplement that you choose the right form. I highly recommend diglycinate or glycinate forms for their excellent absorption.
TWO: Get a Good Nights Sleep
Sleep deprivation leads to the body and mind becoming fatigued. When we don't get enough sleep, our body tries to find energy from another source, usually this source is sugar. Essentially, this is your body trying to eat its self awake. In addition, sleep deprivation leads to an increase in the hormone Grehlin. An increase in Grehlin, increases our desire for simple carbohydrates and sugar. In addition, a poor nights sleep also affects the levels of Leptin in our body, a hormone that helps us to regulate the amount we eat. Getting a good nights sleep is imperative to staying on top of sugar cravings.
THREE: Eat More Protein and Good Fat
Protein and fat reduce the glycemic index of a meal. This means that they slow the release of energy from the food that you eat, having a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are low, we tend to crave high sugar snacks and treat. High protein snacks like nuts, protein balls, a tin of salmon, a boiled egg or some hummus and carrot sticks are great to have on hand for when a sugar craving occurs.
FOUR: Snack Between Meals
Don't underestimate the power of a healthy snack. Snacking between meals helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. This will mean that you are not starving and ready to eat a whole candy shop come dinner time.
FIVE: Beware of Hidden Sugars
Eating too much sugar and craving sugar go hand in hand. Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is the number one way to help to stop this cycle of eating. Refined sugars are present in foods that we least expect. Salad dressings, tomato sauce/ketchup, bbq sauce, frozen meals, stir fry and curry sauces, packaged snacks (both sweet and savoury) are rife with added sugars. Always check the ingredients of packaged foods before popping them in the trolley and remember that even many savoury packaged foods will contain added sugar.
SIX: Cut Out Sugary Drinks and Treats
Soft drinks as well as many chocolates and candy bars are very high in refined sugar and should be avoided. This doesn't mean that you have to go without. There is always a healthy alternative. I highly recommend making your own treats so that you know exactly what is in it. My Sweet Potato Brownies, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Balls or Pantry Slice are a great place to start. Drinking kombucha rather then soft drink means you get a delicious fizzy drink but it is actually beneficial for gut health. There are so many delicious raw and organic chocolates on the market that have zero refined sugars. Look for healthy alternatives that mean you don't have to feel that you're missing out.
Juice and juice concentrate are also extremely high in sugar. Although it is naturally occurring, it is still metabolised the same way by the body. I recommend to make your own juice or to buy freshly made juice that contains more vegetables than fruit.
SEVEN: Take a Probiotic
Poor gut health and overgrowth of harmful bacteria and/or candida can lead to sugar cravings. Harmful bacteria are clever little things, as much as I hate to admit it. For them to keep expanding their community and thriving, they need food in the form of sugar. The bacteria then trick your body into thinking it needs more sugar. Taking a probiotic will help to reduce harmful bacteria and promote good gut health, therefore helping to reduce sugar cravings.
EIGHT: Stress Less
Easy to say and hard to do I know. But adrenal exhaustion and fatigue has a lot to answer for when looking at sugar cravings. Your adrenal glands that sit atop of the kidneys, produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released when the body is under stress and increases energy and focus. When the body does this in short bursts (for example, if you need to outrun a wild dog) a little cortisol and adrenalin pumping through your veins ain't so bad. But when it is releasing cortisol day in day out in the event of chronic stress, it leads to the adrenal glands becoming fatigued and eventually burning out. When you the adrenals become fatigued, they struggle to release enough cortisol. This leads to you feeling depleted and likely even depressed. Your body starts to crave pick-me-ups like sugar and caffeine to get you through the day.
There are many things you can do to help reverse adrenal fatigue. Slowing down and finding time to relax is very important, as is removing alcohol, caffeine and sugar from the diet. Taking a herbal adaptogen formula can help your body to adjust to stressful situations and to cope with stress more effectively. If you feel that you are adrenally fatigued I do highly recommend to see a Nutritionist or Naturopath to seek individualised treatment.
So in short, there are many factors that come into play when it comes to sugar cravings. Getting enough sleep and rest is important, as is reducing sugar in the diet, getting on top of deficiencies and reducing stress. In addition, as ever, gut health plays an important role in our health as a whole. Sugar really has so many negative effects throughout our body, particularly when eating too much over a long period of time. The best thing you can do for your health today is to reduce your sugar intake, swap refined sugars for natural, wholefood alternatives and eat an abundance of vegetables.
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