Does munching sugary snacks often just make you crave more sugary snacks?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. Eating lots of simple carbohydrates can quickly satisfy your hunger and give you a short-term energy boost, but then quickly leave you hungry again, craving more.
The sugar-brain connection
Sugar has been shown to have an effect on the brain similar to that of an addictive drug. In fact, quickly removing it from your diet may cause very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as depression, fatigue, headaches and even muscle aches.
Why do we crave sweet things?
There are many reasons why we crave sweet things.
- The feel-good factor
Sugar stimulates the release of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us; so it creates a “natural high”.
- Blood sugar imbalance
Many sugar cravings stem from a blood sugar imbalance. The key to balancing blood sugar is to eat foods that prevent too much insulin from being released, as well as eating small frequent meals / snacks that will prevent blood sugar drops when you skip a meal.
- Effect of stress
Some sugar cravings emanate from your brain. Stress, for example, causes the hormone cortisol to flood your body, releasing glucose from your liver. This in turn raises your blood sugar. Fluctuations in blood sugar can cause sugar cravings.
- Lack of sleep
Poor sleep can also trigger overeating and sugar cravings, as your body may seek energy to combat your fatigue.
- Magnesium deficiency
Some researchers have found that, if you’re craving chocolate, it could mean your body is lacking magnesium!
Tips to help you successfully kick the sugar habit
Quitting sugar is not easy. And what may work for one person, may not work for another.
- It is best to plan your meals / snacks in advance to prevent dips in blood sugar.
- Start with a nutritious, high-protein breakfast, as it will reduce food and sugar cravings.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You may add lemon, berries, cucumber or mint to your water to make it more flavourful.
- Protein and fat are fundamental to kicking a sugar habit. Unlike sugar, protein and healthy fats provide slow and steady forms of energy. In the absence of finding sugar for fuel, the body will turn to fats. Eating plenty of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil can therefore help your body adjust to getting its energy elsewhere. Furthermore, protein helps you feel satiated. Many of the amino acids in protein also help build certain brain chemicals — such as dopamine — which makes us feel good, balanced and energised.
- Dietary fibre is another important nutrient. It slows digestion and stabilises blood sugar. High-fiber foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and spinach make you feel full longer than many quickly digested foods such as cereal or simple carbohydrates.
- To satisfy your sugar cravings in a more healthy way, consider eating fruit or vegetables such as berries, carrots or beetroot. The sugar in berries are released more slowly than those of other fruits.
- Smoothies are also an excellent sweet treat. If made without added sugars and with plenty of fiber, it will satisfy without causing a blood sugar surge.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, which have been shown to increase sugar cravings.
- Eat something sour when you want something sweet. The sour flavour can stimulate the taste buds and distract you from the sugar craving.
- Turmeric and ginger also help to balance your blood sugar. Consume them freely.
- Some people find it useful to go cold turkey. But be warned that cutting out all simple sugars may be very challenging during the first 48 to 72 hours.
- Get up and go – walk away when a sugar craving hits. Find something else to do or go for a walk so that you can take your mind off the sweet food that you are craving.
By Elmarie Jensen: Why do we crave sugar, and tips to beat the habit