Welcome to part 2 of – 9 reasons you crave sugar. In Part 1 we looked at how a lack of sleep, stress and blood sugar imbalance impacted on how easily you could resist sweet temptations. In this article, we take a quick peek into the complex world of neurology and hormones.
4. The sugar “hit” that makes you happy…for a short while
When you eat sugar, the sweet taste buds on your tongue send a signal to a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens or “pleasure centre.” This triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and you feel happy. Your brain likes to feel “rewarded, ” and it sends signals for more of the stuff that triggered the reaction and a craving results.
Evolutionary speaking we are wired to get pleasure from sweet tasting foods. These foods were hard to come by, and they provided a lot of energy. Culturally we are also conditioned to “reward” ourselves with sweet things. Consider other non-food options as a reward for yourself. If you know your cravings come on in the afternoon or after dinner, have a strategy to defeat them with healthy snack options available such as vegetable sticks and hummus, a handful of nuts or yogurt with cinnamon and berries.
5. Hormonal sugar cravings
The hormone estrogen and the neurotransmitter serotonin are best friends. They copy what the other one is doing. When estrogen drops suddenly such as after ovulation (premenstrual) or declines during peri-menopause the subsequent reduction in serotonin sends a signal to the brain for sugar. Having some sugar or carbohydrates releases stored serotonin.
It is natural to have some dip in hormones, but if you are getting severe cravings and mood swings it might be a good idea to look at ways to balance your hormones. To make serotonin the brain needs the amino acid tryptophan. Amino acids are found in protein so make sure you are eating a small amount of animal or plant protein with each meal. Specific foods high in tryptophan are turkey, cottage cheese, and avocado.
6.Dehydration – mistaken sugar cravings
Sometimes our thirst signal gets confused with hunger signal. You might not need more energy. You may just need to top up your fluid levels.
Drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes to see if you are still hungry. Ensure you remain properly hydrated as appropriate for the weather and your activity level. As a base level, I recommend 30mL fluid per kilo of body weight per day. Eg: a 60kg person with low levels of activity needs about 1.8litres of fluid per day. This fluid doesn’t all have to come from water. If you eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables, you’ll get up to 500mL of fluid from them depending on your choices. The only things that don’t count towards this are caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Coming up in Part 3 we’ll look at the role of gut bacteria and vitamin and mineral deficiencies and the role of the food component we love to hate, gluten.
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Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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