Why Am I Craving Sugar All of a Sudden and Remedies
A strong desire to consume a particular type of food is called a food craving. It is very common for people to develop a craving for sugar in the form of chocolate, ice-cream, cake etc. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is recommended that added sugars and natural sugars should constitute only 5% (25g of sugar for a 2000 calorie diet) of an adult’s daily calorie intake.Due to our current lifestyle, the consumption of refined sugars in the form of sweets, chocolate, soda etc.has increased. Long-term consumption of large quantities of sugar is associated with an increased propensity for developing obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It’s therefore important to understand sugar craving, its contributing factors and effective methods to handle it.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
Mesolimbic Dopamine (DA) Pathway
Food craving and drug addiction both involve the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) pathway. The reinforcing behavior seen in food craving and drug addiction is due to the increase in DA in the limbic system in the brain. In modern times, there is an increased consumption of hyper-palatable foods which are rich in sugar, salt, fat, additives etc. People develop a craving for hyper-palatable foods. Consumption of these foods, for the purpose of satiating a craving rather than hunger, is because of their rewarding properties; an increased release of dopamine. Food craving has been found to be similar to drug abuse. The repeated increase in dopamine release due to the activation of the mesolimbic dopamine pathway modifies the neural circuits in the brain leading to loss of control over the amount of food consumed.Studies have shown that rats fed with foods rich in sugar exhibited compulsive eating behavior and characteristics of addiction to sugar which were similar to drug addiction.Similarly, in humans, consuming foods rich in sugar can lead to poor control over food intake.
Sugar consumption results in the release of serotonin, which is the feel-good neurotransmitter and beta-endorphin, which is a natural painkiller present in the body. The increase in production of these chemicals in the body can also contribute to an intense craving for sugar.
Why Do We Crave Sugar Suddenly?
- Pregnancy in females: According to a 2010 study published in the journal Appetite, pregnant females may crave sugar suddenly. Researchers found that females suffering from gestational diabetes developed more severe cravings for sugar, particularly during late pregnancy. The reason could be the changes in hormones related to pregnancy and gestational diabetes.
- Use of artificial sweetener: If you have recently started using artificial sweeteners, then you may develop sudden cravings for sugar. According to a 2010 review published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, although no sugar is present in artificial sweeteners, their sweet taste can encourage cravings and dependency on sugar. Some examples of artificial sweeteners that can result in cravings for sugar are sucralose and aspartame, also referred to as Splenda.
- Increased intake of protein: According to a 2012 study published in Eating and Weight Loss Disorder, eating a diet high in proteins may cause cravings for sugar. Researchers found that participants who followed a high protein diet – they were getting 25% of their total calorie intake from protein – developed increased sugar cravings six to twelve months into the diet program.
- Quitting Smoking: If you have quit smoking recently, then you may experience a sudden increase in cravings for sugar. According to a 2008 study, quitting smoking increases the ingestion of sweet foods in animals. The study also reports that in the USA, people who smoke less tend to have a higher sugar consumption and vice versa.
- Stress: Stress is associated with feelings of anger, depression, apathy etc. and foods rich in sugar can serve as a form of self-medication for stress. Individuals in a stressful state of mind have been shown to favor hyper-palatable foods rich in sugar, whereas individuals in a cheerful state of mind have been shown to favor foods such as dried fruits.
- Hormonal imbalance: Hormonal imbalances can also lead to sugar cravings. Low estrogen and progesterone levels in women and low testosterone levels in men can cause sugar cravings.
Health Hazards of Sugar Craving
Increased consumption of added sugars can lead to adverse effects on health. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) containing free fructose is a commonly used sugar additive in beverages and processed foods. Fructose in natural sources such as fruit has health benefits. But free fructose present in the artificial sweeteners can lead to health hazards.
- Liver damage: Similar to alcohol, fructose is metabolized in the liver. Increased fructose intake can lead to liver damage.
- Harms the appetite-regulating system: Fructose also affects the appetite regulating system.Insulin exerts an appetite suppressant effect by inhibiting ghrelin, which is the hormone that stimulates hunger. This leads to stimulation of leptin production, which is the hormone that gives the feeling of satiety by acting on the hypothalamus. Fructose, when consumed as a sugar additive, does not stimulate insulin production from the pancreas. Lack of insulin production affects the appetite regulating system in the body, leading to a lack of satiety after eating, which results in obesity.
- Causes metabolic syndrome: Research has shown that an increased consumption of added sugars in the diet can lead to metabolic syndrome. This is characterized by abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high serum triglycerides and low high – density lipoprotein(HDL) levels.Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Causes cognitive decline: Studies have shown that an increased consumption of added sugars can lead to cognitive decline in humans, which can increase the incidence of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
How to Stop Sugar Craving Both in Diabetics and Non-Diabetics?
Studies have shown that eating breakfast, especially a protein rich one, prevents sugar cravings for the rest of the day and leads to an increase in homovanillic acid, which is a precursor of dopamine.Consuming foods rich in vitamin C also reduces sugar cravings by increasing the serotonin levels in the body.Eating whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables also reduces sugar cravings. It is also important not to skip meals, especially breakfast, as that may result in low blood sugar, leading to binge eating for the rest of the day. Diabetics are advised to eat three whole meals in a day with two snack intervals, to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Maintaining a stable blood sugar level can stop sugar cravings in both the diabetic and non-diabetic population.
Avoid foods containing added sugars
Avoid foods containing artificial sweeteners such as HFCS, as they can lead to sugar craving.A study conducted on lab rats by Assistant Professor Joseph Schroeder from Connecticut College, shows that Oreos have an addictive potential similar to cocaine. It is recommended that you avoid eating processed foods containing added sugars. You should also carefully read the food labels in order to identify foods containing added sugars.
Lack of sleep leads to an imbalance between leptin and ghrelin levels. A study conducted by the University of Chicago, found that lack of sleep can decrease leptin levels and increase ghrelin levels, leading to sugar craving. It also augments the endocannabinoid system in the body which is known to cause a propensity to over eat. Sleep deprivation also leads to insulin resistance and other complications associated with diabetes. So it’s important for diabetics and non-diabetics to sleep well to prevent sugar cravings.
Keep your body hydrated
Dehydration can lead to sugar cravings. To prevent this you should drink the recommended daily allowance of water (3liters for men and 2.2litersfor women). When dehydrated the liver is unable to release glycogen which is the energy source for the body. This causes the body to crave sugar, as the liver needs glucose and water for glycogen production. Dehydration also decreases serotonin levels in the body leading to sugar craving. Diabetics should remain hydrated as high blood sugar levels can lead to dehydration. Being sufficiently hydrated helps diabetics to maintain a stable blood sugar level apart from stopping their sugar cravings.
Multivitamin supplements containing calcium and vitamin D can stop sugar cravings which helps to promote weight loss. Supplements containing trace minerals such as chromium and vanadium can also inhibit sugar craving.
Stress causes sugar craving. The regular practice of meditation reduces stress, thereby decreasing sugar cravings.
Indulge a little
Occasionally, you can indulge in sugary treats to keep sugar cravings at bay. It is best to consume treats with natural sugars in them rather than artificial sugars like HFCS. Especially for diabetics, it is best to consume natural sweeteners like Stevia.
Take fermented foods
The bacteria in fermented foods reduces the sugar burden in your body. Over time it has been found that consuming fermented foods reduces your sugar craving. Fermented foods are also diabetic friendly and they can help control diabetes as well as the sugar cravings.
Sugar craving is associated with a number of health problems. Whether you are a diabetic or non-diabetic, it is important that you control your sugar cravings in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
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