Sugar has become the bane of our society and the sad part is, so many people have no idea what kind of damage it does inside our bodies. At almost 130 grams of sugar per person (PER DAY!), America is by far the highest consumer of dietary sugar in the world.
Think about this.. 130 grams of sugar is the equivalent of about TEN SPOONFULS and the average American eats that every day! It’s no wonder conditions like obesity, cancer, and diabetes are some of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the US. That being said the strategies outlined in this article could change the trajectory of millions of lives.
Causes of Sugar Cravings
There are a number of different mechanisms why one would have sugar cravings throughout the day. The most common underlying triggers for this include blood sugar imbalances due to a poor diet or large feeding gaps throughout the day.
HPA axis dysfunction is what happens when we are under a tremendous amount of stress. For many this stress leads to a desire for sugar. Most of us have experienced emotional eating crisis as well when we looked for sugar to help us cope with certain emotions such as loneliness, sadness or depression.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Consumption of sugar-rich foods by our ancestors was much different from the present. Sweets were consumed only on occasion and in much lower quantities. Today it seems like if we don’t get a constant flow of it we can’t function properly. The average American consumes upwards of 150 LBS of sugar per year and about 50% of Americans consume ½ a pound of sugar every day.
High doses of sugars throughout the day sends blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster that should optimally remain relatively stable. Consistently spiking blood sugar levels also results in chronically elevated insulin which contributes to inflammation, hormone imbalance, weight gain, and yes, more sugar cravings.
Additionally, it’s possible to develop something called reactive hypoglycemia. This occurs because of a rapid drop in blood sugar that occurs only a few hours after consuming a sugar-rich meal. Symptoms of this include irritability (feeling hangry), weak muscles and fatigue (1).
Following this crash we go into emergency food-seeking mode. Unfortunately, if we’re not conscious of what is going on, the food sought out tends to be another sugar bomb that restarts the cycle.
HPA Axis Dysfunction
The body contains an extensive amount of regulatory systems to keep itself healthy. One that has received a lot of attention in recent years is the HPA axis. The HPA axis consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands (which are responsible for regulating stress).
When we are under chronic stress, eating a poor diet, or constantly in a poor emotional state for extended amounts of time, it can lead to a disruption in the HPA axis (also known as adrenal fatigue). This can be problematic for many reasons.
The HPA axis is responsible for cortisol regulation and cortisol plays a key role in blood sugar balance. If HPA axis dysfunction leads to chronically high or low cortisol levels then blood sugar imbalance may result which will then result in cravings.
There is also some evidence that chronically elevated cortisol levels can interfere with the reward center in our brains and reinforce negative habits (2). Strengthening the HPA axis may be a critical factor to stop sugar cravings.
If you feel like your eating habits are driven by your emotions, or become poor during times of high stress, this is not uncommon. What I often find in this scenario is that by addressing dopamine levels, people find it much easier to regulate their behaviors.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for the reward system in our brain that has a lot to do with our motivation to accomplish goals, make good decisions, and control emotions. It has been shown that sugar consumption not only spikes blood sugar, but also causes a temporary spike in dopamine.
This dopamine-spiking effect of sugar can actually become addictive and when trying to cut sugar from the diet we often encounter a dopamine deficit that makes regulating our behaviors more difficult. Additionally, blood sugar imbalance can increase dopamine enzyme activity. This means dopamine is broken down faster and a higher amount is needed to stimulate the same amount of pleasure (3).
Ways to help sugar cravings
- Lemons, Limes, and Apple Cider Vinegar
Sprinkling the juice of lemons and limes over your foods will change the way your body processes them during digestion. The citric acid within those juices will change the way your digestive system processes your foods in a way that slows blood sugar response (4).
All three of these liquids also have a range of other nutrients that can aid in digestion and help promote better insulin signaling. Simply adding these to your foods can be a great strategy. As an alternative, you can also add 1-2 Tbsp. to a glass of water and drink about 30 minutes before eating for a similar benefit.
- Low Carb, Ketogenic-Style Diet
As has been alluded to already, many of our blood sugar problems simply result from the overconsumption of sugar. One of the most powerful dietary strategies I have found to stabilize blood sugar, improve hormone balance, and kick sugar cravings is a ketogenic-style or low-carb/high-fat diet.
By replacing high amounts of refined sugars with predominantly healthy fats and only consuming slow-digesting, low glycemic carbohydrates (when necessary), you are taking a massive step towards better health and blood sugar regulation.
Another benefit of eating predominantly fats is their effect on satiety (feeling full after a meal). Dietary fats help promote proper secretion of leptin which is a hormone responsible for satiety as well as healthy blood sugar balance.
- Air Squats
Another MAJOR reason for blood sugar imbalance is inactivity. If we don’t use our muscles regularly, then stored sugar remains in the cells while blood sugar gets diverted into fat stores. By using your muscles through movement, you can burn up those stored sugars and improve blood sugar response for 2 hours following.
My recommendation is to perform 20-50 air squats whenever you start to feel the craving for sugar coming on. For an added benefit, try this Super Brain Yoga move that combines the squatting motion with a specific pressure application using your fingers to improve brain function!
If you have knee problems or for some reason cannot perform a squat, you can also perform an overhead press with light weight.
- Water & Good Salts
Sugar cravings can often be a result of dehydration and improper mineral balance. At first it can seem like these variables don’t tie together but it actually makes a lot of sense why you would crave sugar when dehydrated.
Our liver utilizes water in the process of converting glycogen into glucose for energy. If we are dehydrated then our ability to maintain steady blood sugar decreases and the body tries to compensate by signaling you to consume more sugar.
Consuming adequate amounts of a high-quality salt such as Himalayan pink will help maintain proper hydration by providing trace minerals and electrolytes like magnesium, sodium and potassium. They will also promote proper balance of stress hormones which profoundly influence blood sugar.
Use pink salts generously on foods or add a pinch to your water before drinking. I personally use this pink salt.
- Use Natural Sweeteners
Eliminating processed sugars and fast-digesting high-carb foods is one of the primary strategies to stabilizing blood sugar and eliminating sugar cravings. To safely consume sweet, delicious foods, make them homemade with natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.
Both stevia and monk fruit have been proven safe for diabetic populations because they have no significant impact on blood sugar levels. What I find amazing is that some evidence shows that incorporating these sweeteners into your diet can actually improve your ability to maintain steady blood sugar levels (6, 7)!
The fact that they contain no sugar also makes them awesome for use in a ketogenic diet.
- Reduce Stress & Adapt Stronger
Stress can be one of the most destructive forces to the human body. If we learn to tame it however, it can also be one of our greatest means for growth. The first step is make sure we separate bouts of stress with enough rest to fully recover. Our body is adapted for short bursts of high stress, but chronic stress can lead to problems.
I fully understand the fast-paced nature of our society today so for times of prolonged stress it is important to ground ourselves through exercises like deep breathing, meditation, gratitude, prayer, and getting out in nature. These kinds of activities pull the body back into a parasympathetic state where recovery can occur. In this article, I go over a number of strategies to help you adapt stronger.
For additional support, it’s important to obtain adequate amounts of B vitamins and magnesium to help support stress responses in the body. I have also found adaptogens like cordyceps and ginseng to be incredibly powerful for this. I will often use Adapt Strong to help my clients adapt to stress more effectively.
- Support Dopamine Production
Dopamine is most commonly associated with the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. When we finish a task or accomplish a goal, our brain releases dopamine that gives us a feeling of euphoria. In this way, dopamine also highly regulates our motivation and ability to exhibit will power. Consequently, I have found that sugar cravings and compulsive eating habits are often a sign of low dopamine levels.
Sources For This Article Include
- UW Health
- Stephens, M. A. C., & Wand, G. (2012). Stress and the HPA axis: role of glucocorticoids in alcohol dependence. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 34(4), 468–83. PMID: 23584113
- Kleinridders, A., Cai, W., Cappellucci, L., Ghazarian, A., Collins, W. R., Vienberg, S. G., … Kahn, C. R. (2015). Insulin resistance in brain alters dopamine turnover and causes behavioral disorders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(11), 3463–8. PMID: 25733901
- Radulian, G., Rusu, E., Dragomir, A., & Posea, M. (2009). Metabolic effects of low glycaemic index diets. Nutrition Journal, 8, 5–12. PMID: 19178721
- Johnston, C. S., & Gaas, C. A. (2006). Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect. , 8(2), 61. PMID: 16926800
- Assaei, R., Mokarram, P., Dastghaib, S., Darbandi, S., Darbandi, M., Zal, F., … Ranjbar Omrani, G. H. (2016). Hypoglycemic effect of aquatic extract of Stevia in pancreas of diabetic rats: PPARγ -dependent regulation or antioxidant potential. Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology, 8(2), 65–74. PMID: 27141265
- Zhou, Y., Zheng, Y., Ebersole, J., Huang, CF. (2009). Insulin secretion stimulating effects of mogroside V and fruit extract of luo han kuo (Siraitia grosvenori Swingle) fruit extract. PMID: 21351724