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The reasons we crave sugar and 6 ways to get on top of your cravings

Let’s talk about: sugar cravings. We have all been there. That need for something sweet after a meal, that sudden urge for an evening chocolate fix or maybe it’s the 3pm biscuits on a hectic work day. Maybe it’s suddenly finding yourself at the bottom of a Ben and Jerry’s tub without remembering how you got there.



Know that you are not alone! Evolutionarily, these behaviours were part of our survival. We’d come across some sweet berries out in the wild, and our brains were programmed to gorge on them, in case it was a while before we found any again. The problem is, is that we are now faced with sugar in abundance, everywhere we look. And companies have cleverly marketed sweet treats in eye-catching colours, placing them right by the till, relying on them winning the fight with your last bit of willpower.


If you are feeling completely driven by your sugar cravings daily, and it is starting to impact your health, then there are small changes you can make that can make a big difference. Too much sugar is inflammatory for the body and over time can lead to metabolic issues and drive disease such as obesity, diabetes and neurological conditions. If you are currently feeling hooked on the sweet stuff, you may have already noticed symptoms related to lower mood, breakouts, poor sleep, increased anxiety or gut issues. Excess sugar consumption can also make us feel fatigued, restless and unable to concentrate, so having a healthy relationship with sugar will also cultivate a healthier relationship with your to-do list and your work productivity!

 

What we need to clear up is this that it is not just you having poor willpower that makes you give in to these cravings. Biologically, sugar is addictive; this is because it is the brain’s preferred source of fuel. If we need instant energy, sugar is the energy source that our bodies and brains can break down and utilise most efficiently, so essentially the body is trying to be resourceful. Furthermore, when we eat sugar we release the pleasure chemical dopamine in our brain, which is the hormone that just keeps us wanting more - so of course it’s hard to resist the Malteasers once the packet is open and those signals kick in. So first thing’s first, you having a sweet tooth is not just a measure of your weak willpower.


It is also important to remember that we don’t need to remove all sugar from our diet in order to be healthy. Your focus should be on reducing ultra-processed sugary snacks from your diet, but remembering that if 80% of the time you are choosing nourishing foods, it’s okay to have foods that are deemed a bit less healthy around 20% of the time. Life is also about enjoying the odd treat, and if your diet is predominantly made up of whole foods, your body can handle a little bit of sugar now and again. 


So what can we do to take the foot off the gas with the excess sugar consumption? Here are six ways to get on top of your cravings, so you can still enjoy your Easter chocolate, but in a mindful way. A healthy goal would be to be able to have the odd dessert when you want it, but to still stay in the driver’s seat of your health and make informed, healthy decisions that best serve your body and wellness long term.





Start the day with a savoury, nourishing breakfast


When we start the day with a sweet breakfast without much nutritional value, this can put the taste buds (and brain) onto a sugar-craving rollercoaster. If instead we choose more savoury, whole foods first thing this is going to help to keep the need for sugar at bay later in the day. Opt for egg-based breakfasts (or tofu scramble if you’re vegan) or some oily fish, and pair with some sourdough and some colourful veg. Have a look at my weekend shakshuka recipe here. 


Double down on protein


Protein is essential for balancing our blood sugar. It helps to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, so when you’re eating carbohydrates, always pair it with a protein source. When our blood sugar is more balanced, our cravings reduce as we aren’t getting those spikes and crashes in energy that get us feeling desperate for something sugary. I’m not talking about protein found in highly processed protein snacks. Whilst you can find some really clean protein powder and protein bar brands which can help to boost your levels, I’m talking here about focusing on good quality, whole food sources of protein. Think organic meat, wild caught fish, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and collagen powder. 


Swap your snacks: have healthy alternatives ready


The less we feed our body and brain processed snacks, the less we are going to crave them. The key is planning ahead and having healthy alternatives at the ready in the cupboard or fridge. Snacks that are sweetened with natural sugars like dates, honey or a little bit of maple syrup still provide nutritional benefits and you still feel like you’re getting your sweet fix! Try making your own protein bars, bliss balls or have chopped veggies ready with your favourite hummus. Here’s a recipe for some of my favourite homemade raspberry and cashew protein bars. Cinnamon, collagen and maca are all really helpful ingredients to add into your healthy baking for an extra blood sugar-balancing boost. 


Prioritise your sleep 


When we sleep poorly, we are far more likely to reach for sugary foods the next day to help us to make it through. The problem is that the increase in sugar can then impair our sleep the following night, so it can get us into a bit of a vicious cycle. One of the best ways to reduce the need for sugar in the day time is to start to prioritise your sleep routine in the evening. Turn your screens off at least an hour before sleep, try doing a wind down meditation on Insight Timer and consider supplementing with magnesium to really get the body prepared for a deep sleep.


Check out your gut health


Sugar consumption can actually be influenced hugely by the bacteria present in our gut. If we have imbalances in our gut microbiome and there is an overgrowth of unfavourable bacteria or yeasts, this can literally drive our behaviour to choose high-sugar foods, as the bacteria depend on it to survive. If you are experiencing strong sugar cravings alongside IBS type symptoms such as bloating or changeable bowel habits, getting your gut health tested and following a gut-healing protocol could be the game changer for you. 


Check for any underlying nutrient deficiencies


When we crave sugar, it can be that our bodies are actually deficient in a particular nutrient. The body is hungry for those nutrients, so it continues to send signals for more food, but maybe we continue to opt for sugary foods that don’t provide these nutrients, which only perpetuates your sugar consumption/craving cycle. For example, you might crave chocolate, but actually you are low in magnesium, which is found in high quantities in cacao, the raw whole food component of chocolate. So rather than needing more chocolate, the body is actually needing more magnesium, found in foods like fish, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Testing for nutrient deficiencies can help to discover which nutrients you may be deficient in, and correcting those deficiencies can be incredibly helpful for reducing your cravings. 


You can check out my Instagram reel here explaining some of these points in more detail here.


For personalised support with your cravings or for nutrition guidance to help rebalance your body and optimise your health, you can book in for a 1:1 Intro Call here to discuss my packages, or book in for a 1:1 Power Hour here


Written by Caroline Rose

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