Welcome to Part 3 of 9 reasons you crave sugar. Part 1 explored how a lack of sleep, stress and blood sugar imbalances made it difficult to resist sweet temptations. Part 2 took a quick peek into the complex world of neurology and hormones. In Part 3 we’ll look at specific nutrients, the role of your gut bugs and the difference between mindful and emotional eating.
7. Nutrient deficiencies causing sugar cravings
Sugar cravings can be due to a lack of nutrients in your diet to support glucose metabolism and energy production. Insulin is required for glucose to get into your cells, so if your insulin is not optimal, your cells think they are starving and send signals that increase your appetite.
Key nutrients to reduce sugar cravings
Magnesium regulates blood glucose, energy production, and the neurotransmitter dopamine. Low levels of magnesium are often associated with chocolate cravings. When you are stressed your body excretes more magnesium, so dietary sources may not be sufficient.
Chromium helps bring glucose into your cells, and lack of this mineral can cause sugar cravings and high blood glucose. Food sources of chromium include molasses, Brewer’s yeast, asparagus, whole grains, and meat.
Vanadium is a trace mineral found in black pepper, corn, linseeds, parsley and seafood. It supports insulin production and helps muscles use glucose for energy.
Zinc is required for the formation and storage of insulin in the pancreas. Zinc also regulates the release of amylin, a protein secreted by the pancreas that slows the absorption of carbohydrates to help your blood sugar to remain stable.
- Eat a healthy diet containing a wide variety of whole foods to ensure you are getting sufficient amounts of these vital minerals.
- Address any digestive problems that may decrease your ability to absorb these nutrients.
- Supplementation may also be of benefit if your diet is poor or you are under a lot of stress.
8. Dysbiosis causing sugar cravings
It’s well established that your diet affects the microbes in your gut, but research suggests the microbes in your digestive system may also influence what you eat.
Balance your gut bugs
Think of the microbial population as a vegetable garden full of diverse plants. Some are beneficial (vegetables) providing food for us and we need lots of them. Others should only be around in small amounts (weeds) and will be detrimental displacing the vegetables (good bacteria) if they get out of control. If the weeds overtake the vegetables in your gut, you get an imbalance. This dysbiosis contributes to many health conditions. Antibiotic use, poor diet and a compromised immune system (often due to stress) are common reasons why you “gut garden” gets choked with weeds, and your vegetables aren’t healthy and nourishing.
These weeds thrive on glucose – the most well-known one is the fungus Candida albicans. Candida needs sugar to grow, and if there is a large population of candida or other sugar-loving microbes, this can cause sugar cravings. The bugs are determining your food preferences, so they get an easy source of what they need to prosper.
The gut-brain connection
Another reason that dysbiosis in your gut microbiome can cause sugar cravings is linked back to the discussion in Part 2 about the role of serotonin. The digestive tract is where a lot of serotonin is produced. Your gut microbes stimulate serotonin formation, so you want to have plenty of the good bugs around for this. Research in mice who had reduced gut bacteria found they produced 60% less serotonin than those with a healthy microbiome.
- Eat a healthy diet with at least 30g of fibre in it per day. Fruits and vegetables in their natural forms are winners here.
- Avoid overly processed or junk food. Two days eating junk food reduces the diversity of your gut bacteria.
- Only use antibiotics when they are essential; if you do need to use them consider my post-antibiotic repair protocol.
- Eliminate the use of antibacterial sprays and hand washes. Unless you’re a surgeon, plain soap and water will do just fine.
- Avoid eating meat from intensively farmed animals fed antibiotics.
- Try to drink filtered water. Chlorine, while providing us with clean and safe water, does interfere with your microbiome.
- Avoid eating food sprayed with pesticides and thoroughly wash any that has to remove residue.
- Optimize your digestive health. If you think you may have an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, I strongly urge you to get a stool/fecal test. That way you isolate the offending microbe and can target your treatment. I don’t recommend the self-prescribed use of herbal antimicrobials as these are quite powerful and can be detrimental if not used under the supervision of a qualified health professional. If you want to investigate testing, please contact me.
9. Emotional eating
Do you turn to food for comfort or reward rather than because you are physically hungry? Perhaps you’re watching TV and munch your way through a bag of potato chips, or you had a fight with your boss at work and head to a café with your friend to down the biggest slice of cheesecake you can find. Food as reward or solace is socially conditioned – a bag of lollies for doing well at school or crying into a tub of chocolate ice cream after a relationship break up. We kind of think it’s the done thing. The trouble is while eating at these times might make you feel temporarily good all too often you end up with a wave of guilt and remorse afterward.
- Learn to differentiate between physical hunger (comes on gradually and you’ll eat all types of food, after eating you feel satisfied) versus emotional hunger (comes on suddenly, you crave a particular kind of food and after eating you feel regret or guilt)
- Recognise your triggers: boredom, anxiety, stress, anger
- Address the underlying cause of the emotional eating and try to either resolve it or develop alternative coping strategies.
- Practice mindful eating (eat slowly, chew food thoroughly and don’t eat while doing other tasks and learn to listen to your body’s signals of fullness)
- Create non-food rewards for yourself
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve gained some useful information to crush your sugar cravings. I’d love to hear what has worked for you so please leave me a comment below.
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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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