Understanding Why Our Bodies Crave Sugar Can Help Us Make Healthier Choices
Do you have a “sweet tooth”? Ever wonder why we crave sugar? There are many reasons for this. Sugar has a huge effect on our bodies and on our brain.
We may partially be able to blame our ancestors. Eating fruit which is ripe and hence sweeter may be an evolutionary adaptation since ripe fruit is generally more nutritious than that which is not ripe. Sugar can also be a source of quickly accessible energy and would promote storing fat in our hunter-gatherer days.
Another reason we may crave sugar is because of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, when released, elevates our mood. Sugar will signal the serotonin and our bodies will start to associate sugar with a positive emotion.
Finally, hormones may also play a role in our sugar cravings. Women may crave sweets in the days prior to their menstrual cycle due to hormone fluctuations. Their cortisol hormones tend to rise and our serotonin levels dip which can contribute to the sugar craving. Ramping up your protein and fiber intake in the weeks leading up to your cycle as well as reducing your caffeine and processed food intake may help to reduce or eliminate these cravings.
The Role that Sugar Plays In Our Bodies
First, we need to understand that there are different kind of sugars present in our diet. Carbohydrates, another name for sugar, can be broken down into complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are slower to be broken down or metabolized by our bodies. Such simple carbohydrates can be found in green vegetables and whole grain. Because of this slow breakdown, they tend not to create a spike in our insulin levels. Simple carbohydrates, such as those from table sugar and corn syrup tend to be quickly broken down and will create a spike in our insulin.
When carbohydrates are broken down, they form glucose. Glucose is what our bodies can use for energy. If we eat more carbohydrates than our body needs, we will store the glucose in our liver and muscles and eventually convert the excess into fat stores. Consequentially, the issue we have run into with our modern day diet is that we are eating more carbohydrates than we need and often from overly processed sources.
How You Can Make Healthy Decisions
Choose Complex Carbohydrates:
As mentioned previously, complex carbohydrates are slower to be broken down by the body. This is in part because their fiber content tends to be higher, slowing down how quickly the food passes through our GI system. This will also slow down the absorption rate of the sugars from these foods. Therefore, our insulin level will stay relatively level. When our insulin spikes, as it will if we eat simple carbohydrates, more insulin is released into our bodies to pick up all the glucose (sugar). It will then move it into storage in the muscles, liver, and fat. When we eat complex carbohydrates, there’s not as much glucose floating around our bodies signaling a release of insulin to pick it up, keeping our insulin levels stay stable.
Choose Whole Foods:
If the food looks like it would in nature, it’s probably a safe choice. Processed foods tend to contain a lot of hidden sugars and sodium that we don’t really need. When at the grocery store, the vast majority of your purchases should come from the exterior aisles. You should not need to venture into the middle aisles for very many items.
Include Protein And Fats In Your Diet:
Adding healthy fats into every meal can help slow down glucose from your food enters your bloodstream. Protein is very satiating and will leave you feeling fuller for longer. For example, instead of a bagel for breakfast which is high in simple carbohydrates, opt for eggs with spinach and avocado.
Avoid Sugary Drinks:
Pop, for example, has no nutritional value. It is made of empty calories that do not help fuel our bodies in a healthy manner. If you are someone who just loves a fizzy drink, have sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime to curb the craving. While fruit juices do contain nutrients, the fiber from the fruit has been removed as part of the juicing process. This makes it an insulin spiking, sugar storing food. It’s best to enjoy fruit in its whole form where the fiber content is intact. The best thing to drink is water.
For more information on the different types of sugars and which may be a healthier option, check out our previous blog post “Are All Types Of Sugar Equal”.