Have you had a dessert craving so strong that only stops when you’ve finally given in? Your dinner doesn’t feel complete without candies. Or you crave chocolate at the same time every day. We’ve all been there. And in today’s age, where a slice of cake is a tap-of-a-button away, it takes a lot of self discipline to combat it. But what’s wrong with sugar cravings and how can you control this urge? Nutrition Expert, Chandni Haldurai, is here to help.
What are sugar cravings?
Sugar cravings are a strong urge to consume sweet foods. It sometimes also manifests as the inability to control oneself around such food. While consuming sugary products and dishes are fine in moderation, the craving of sugar and having an excess of it have a strong correlation to weight gain. This is mostly because these foods tend to have higher calories.
Why do we have sugar cravings?
Sugar carvings are extremely common and have several underlying causes. The reasons are subjective; in some cases, it is physical and in others, it could be psychological. Let’s explore some common causes for sugar cravings:
Consuming food with lots of sugar — especially processed — trigger the release of a feel-good hormone called dopamine. This creates a dependency on more sweet foods.
The foundation of most habits is the reward factor linked to the secretion of dopamine. So the continued dependence on dopamine-release while having sweet food over time feels like a celebration or reward. This pushes us to have more sweet food, eventually becoming a habit. Hence, when one considers sugary foods as rewards, they are essentially training their brain to crave more sugar.
When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol. This hormone mediates the flight-or-fight response, i.e., a physiological response to perceive threats. In nature, when we are under physical threat, cortisol plays a crucial role in preparing our bodies to either fight or flee. This enhances our glucose availability for a short duration. However, when we are under psychological stress for long periods of time, our glucose level continues to remain high. This generally leads to increased cravings for sugar or carbohydrates.
Adequate sleep is as important for health as a good diet. It helps our bodies recover. When we’ve had poor-quality sleep, our energy levels are affected. Low-energy levels are an automatic indicator for our bodies to want more energy-giving foods like sugar.
Need for more nutrients:
In some cases, sugar cravings might be an indication for other nutrients like magnesium. Magnesium helps regulate glucose and insulin levels in our body. So when it drops, it can trigger sugar cravings, especially chocolate as cocoa is a good source of magnesium.
So, what can happen if we continue having lots of sugar?
Sugary foods tend to be high in calories. So eating more sugar means excess calorie intake. This can cause weight gain. Another threat is Insulin Resistance: It’s when the cells in our muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to insulin and can't easily absorb glucose from our blood. Other excessive-sugar-induced problems include metabolic disorders and inflammation.
Should we avoid sugar completely?
Not at all. Sugar can be found in natural sources as well as processed foods. The refined and processed versions of sugar are what we should consume less of. Natural sugars that are present in fruits and grains are not harmful.
How can we control our sugar cravings?
There are many natural foods that can help keep our cravings under control:
Fructose is a type of natural sugar present in the fruits. They can be helpful in bringing down our sugar cravings. As a bonus, they are also rich in micronutrients — especially antioxidants which are great mood-boosters.
Nuts, seeds, and dry fruits:
Nuts contain healthy fats and micronutrients. Similarly, dry fruits are rich in nutrients and are sweet-tasting. Combining both nuts and dry fruits can make for great snacks. They’re crunchy, tasty, and healthy!
When the chocolate-craving kicks in, go for anything with over 70% cocoa. The polyphenols present in cocoa have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help in controlling sugar cravings. And the great taste is definitely a perk!
Are there any healthy dessert recipes we can try?
Of course! Here are some desserts that are low in processed sugar and filled with nutritional goodness:
- High-protein Granola Bar
- Jackfruit Halwa
- Oatmeal Protein Cookies
- Superfood Laddoo
- Peanut Butter Bread Pudding
The final word
It’s important to remember that our bodies are easily conditioned to long-term behavioural habits. So it’s important to be mindful about what, when, how, and why we eat certain foods. Once we notice a pattern and understand our bodies and cravings better, we will be on our way to building a stronger and healthier life!