Sugar is almost everywhere — added to countless products, advertised in every form of media, and included in nearly every meal. According to research, craving sweet things is now so common that some researchers wonder whether we’ve developed a habit-forming culture when it comes to craving sugar.
What causes sugar cravings?
People crave sugar for many reasons — some of them physiological and some of them psychological. So, if you’re asking yourself why, here are some possible causes to consider.
What you eat — along with when, why, and how much you eat — can turn into behaviour patterns. In short, you may crave sugar because your mind and body have been trained to crave it.
An intense craving can feel a lot like a compulsion or a habit-forming experience. Researchers found that processed foods — especially those containing added sugar — can cause habit-forming behaviours.
Sugar and habit-forming behaviours
Are sugary foods habit forming in the same way as drugs? The science isn’t completely clear. However, sugary processed foods may trigger the release of the “feel-good” neurochemical dopamine in your brain’s reward centre. More dopamine could mean more cravings.
It’s possible that artificial sweeteners, which are much sweeter-tasting than sugar, may change people’s taste preferences over time. Some researchers think that when people get used to the hyper-sweetened taste of artificial sweeteners, their desire for sweeter foods could get stronger.
Your body responds to stress by secreting hormones such as cortisol and the hormone ghrelin, which controls appetite and both are related to sugar cravings. If you’re exposed to stress over a long period research showed that you’ll be vulnerable to increased cravings for palatable foods containing added sugars and fats.
The relationship between what you eat and how you sleep is complex. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to crave foods that are:
This may be because they’d like to boost their energy levels and sugary foods can interfere with the quality of your sleep causing a vicious cycle.
Can you rewire your cravings?
The short answer is yes. Research shows that even when cravings are intense, resisting them can eventually lead to less intense, less frequent cravings over time. If you reduce the calories you eat instead of eliminating certain foods completely, cravings tend to decline.
How to manage cravings
Cravings on their own are not necessarily harmful to your health, it’s how you respond to cravings that could become problematic. Here are some options for managing cravings when they come upon you:
Eating the odd square of chocolate or piece of cake for an occasional treat is probably not going to damage your health. It can be good for your mental health to savour something sweet now and then.
Glance at the label
Sometimes a reality check can curb your craving. If you’re craving something that has a packaging label, look closely at the nutritional content, so you can make an informed choice about what to eat.
Take a quick walk
A brief 15-minute walk could cut the cravings. As a bonus, the walk could pep you up more than a biscuit or brownie anyway.
Opt for a nap instead
If you’re one of the millions of people who are chronically sleep deprived in this age of overstimulation, a power nap may do more to revive your energy levels than something sugary.
Swap it out
If you want a hint of sweetness without the glycaemic overload, you could choose healthier alternatives such as:
dark chocolate (70% Cocoa)
And if you’re feeling hungry, a meal that features protein may be what you need instead.
Get in touch
If sugar cravings are driving your daily stress levels up too high, or if you are concerned you may be eating too much sugar, it might be a good opportunity to talk with a nutritionist to give you some personalised guidance on managing your cravings.
The bottom line
Sugar cravings on their own are probably not an indication of a health concern. In fact, they’re one of the most common cravings people experience.
You could be craving sweets because you’re:
used to eating them
associating them with certain life events
having a period
To decrease cravings, you could try:
educating yourself about the health risks involved
eating more protein
getting more rest
satisfying the craving with a healthier sweet-tasting alternative
And if resisting the urge to eat sweets is taking up too much of your time and energy, don’t hesitate to contact a me for some help.