It seems that sugar has gotten quite a bad rep recently. Not all sugars are created equal. Some sugars are actually beneficial and necessary, while others are best to stay away from. From diabetes, weight loss, candida, to cancer; most people may benefit from decreasing sugar consumption. The question now is why do we crave sugar?
Why we crave sugar:
1. Your brain needs sugar
The brain's main source of energy is glucose (sugar). The brain is rich in nerve cells. It has the most demanding task of thinking, memory, and regulating our body. When there isn't enough fuel for the brain, the brains chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) aren't produced and communication breaks down. Too little or too much of this energy source can be a damaging thing. Hypoglycemia (too little glucose in your blood stream) and Hyperglycemia (too much sugar) can both harm the body. Too much sugar, and the body can gain health issues such as depression, memory problems, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Too little sugar, and you may experience blurry vision, fast heartbeat, sudden mood changes, nervousness, unexplained fatigue; and in extreme cases develop hypoglycemic shock. So what is the solution? Balance.
2. Sugar activates dopamine release
The body recognizes sugar in a natural reward center, much like shopping, exercising, sexual behavior, eating, and gambling. The body also experiences a tolerance and withdrawal from sugar, as it does with other addictive behaviors.
3. Stress eating
This is something many of us do. When experiencing daily life stress (work, relationships, financial difficulty, etc), Carbohydrates / Sugars increase our feel good neurotrasmitters such as dopamine, endorphin, and serotonin. From this we easily feel a temporarily relief. This can become a habit and eventually an addictive behavior.
4. Gut bacteria
If you have an imbalance of gut bacteria, this can also increase your cravings for sugar. Certain bacteria and fungi grow and thrive on sugar. When their food supply is low, they send a signal through your nervous and endocrine system, telling your brain that it's lacking nutrition for the bacteria. The more you feed certain "bad bacteria", the more they thrive. This can be a vicious cycle, but worry not there is a solution. Eating pre-biotic and pro-biotic rich foods helps support a healthier balance of bacteria.
Prebiotic foods: chicory root, dandelion greens, jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, apples, cocoa, burdock root, flaxseeds, yacon root, jacama root, wheat bran, and seaweed.
Probiotic foods: kimchi, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, natto, green olives, pickles, miso, sourdough bread, beet kvass, and tempeh.
How we can invite more balance and combat sugar cravings:
1. Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables. Fruits contain a good mix of glucose and fructose, and is rich in fiber and antioxidants. It does far more for the health of your body than processed food would.
2. Avoid is a strong word; but for the time being, decrease your simple sugar intake to a treat once a week. Foods that are processed for you will often have preservatives, less nutrition content, and a higher sugar and salt content.
3. Drink more water: drinking between 1/3 to 1/2 your weight in ounces can help in countless of ways!
4. Like eating out? Don't worry, there are better options for that too! Try Organic, farm-to-table, and fresh cooked options! You'll find that if you ask locals or google in advance, every major city has it's own collection of quality restaurants and eateries. Choose plenty of vegetable options to go with your choice of protein. Go light on the after-meal deserts. The desert can also be shared and more people get to enjoy and share the experience!
5. Cooking at home: this can make a world of difference! You have complete control and a freedom to choose whatever you like to cook! Fancy or simple: you get to choose! Even things as simple as quinoa with rice and kale can be made in as simple as 30 min! In a rush? Dont worry, cook in a crockpot over night; or simply smoothie and take with you wherever you go! Make sure to select vegetables (Kale, celery, spinach...your choice of green) with your choice of fresh or frozen fruit, and protein (variety of nuts) to put in your smoothie. The protein will keep you full longer; and will slow down the onset of hungry cravings.
6. Keeping a colorful pantry (naturally colorful from the variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains) can supply you with micro-nutrients that can also help curb your sugar cravings.
7. Stay active! Sometimes something as simple as going for a nice walk, with a bottle of water in your hand can do wonders for you. Something that your brain might have registered as hunger; might have been stress or anxiety that can be helped tremendously with a healthy walk in nature.
This information is not for diagnostic purposes and is not meant to be taken as treatment. Please consult a Naturopathic doctor, Dietitian, or Nutritionist for a specific diet for you.