Sugar cravings are a common phenomenon that can impact individuals of all ages and genders. These cravings can lead to imbalances in the body, ultimately leading to a strong desire for sugar. But how much sugar is too much?
It’s hard to say since sugar is not a required nutrient in your diet. The Institute of Medicine, which sets Recommended Dietary Allowances, has yet to issue a formal number for sugar. However, according to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons or 24 grams) and men no more than 150 calories (about nine teaspoons or 36 grams) of added sugar per day(2). It’s worth noting that this amount is close to the amount of added sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda. Limiting your sugar intake to these recommended amounts can help manage and reduce sugar cravings while promoting better overall health.
What vitamin deficiency causes sugar cravings? Several factors can cause sugar cravings, including dehydration, poor diet quality, hormonal changes, stress, gut dysbiosis, and nutrient deficiencies. The top sources of added sugar in the American diet are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items you may think of as something other than sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup. The result is that we consume way too much-added sugar, with adult men taking in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s equal to 384 calories.
In this article, we will explore the various reasons why people may crave sugar and how these factors impact the body. We will also provide tips and tricks from nutrition experts to help manage and reduce sugar cravings. So, if you struggle with sugar cravings, read on to gain insights into this phenomenon and learn how to curb those pesky cravings for good!
What vitamin deficiency causes sugar cravings
Vitamins and minerals are essential for the body to function correctly, and deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to imbalances, resulting in an increased desire for sugar. For example:
Magnesium: This mineral is essential for converting food into energy and adequately functioning muscles and nerves(3). A magnesium deficiency can lead to lethargy and fatigue, which can cause cravings for sugary foods. Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fish.
Zinc is vital for immune system function, wound healing, and protein synthesis. A zinc deficiency can cause a loss of appetite(4), resulting in sugar cravings. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, and nuts.
Chromium: This mineral plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. A chromium deficiency can lead to insulin resistance(5), which can cause an increased desire for sugar. Chromium-rich foods include broccoli, whole grains, nuts, and spices such as cinnamon.
Iron: Iron is vital for the formation of red blood cells and for the transport of oxygen throughout the body. An iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and weakness(6), which can cause cravings for sugary foods. Iron-rich foods include red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and fortified cereals.
Calcium is essential for bone health, muscle function, and nerve transmission. A calcium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps and spasms(7), which can cause sugar cravings. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, tofu, and fortified foods such as orange juice.
In addition to nutrient deficiencies, other reasons why people may experience sugar cravings include:
Emotional eating: Many people consume sugary foods to cope with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. This is because consuming sugar can trigger the release of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical in the brain, which can temporarily alleviate these negative emotions.
Dehydration: Thirst can be misinterpreted as hunger or sugar cravings, leading to inappropriate responses to hunger and thirst cues.
Poor Diet Quality: A diet with highly refined carbohydrates, low protein, and unhealthy fats can increase hunger and sugar cravings.
Gut dysbiosis: An imbalance of microbes in the gut or an overgrowth of yeast can lead to sugar cravings. Probiotics, prebiotics, and improving eating habits can help alter the gut’s balance of good and bad bacteria, reducing food cravings.
Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes in women, including an increase in estrogen, progesterone, and estradiol during the menstrual cycle, can cause an increase in sugar cravings.
Stress: Chronic stress can cause a direct effect on food cravings, leading to an increase in sugar consumption as a way to release dopamine, the “happy hormone.”
The force of Habit: Sugar cravings can result from conditioning over time, where the stimulus, behavior, and reward become ingrained habits.
Understanding these potential causes of sugar cravings can help people identify the root of their desires and develop strategies to reduce them. Some of these strategies include drinking more water, improving the quality of one’s diet, taking care of gut health, managing stress levels, and breaking the habit of indulging in sugary treats after meals.
Dangers of Excessive Sugar Consumption
Excessive sugar consumption can have several adverse health effects. One of the most immediate and obvious is tooth decay. When you consume sugar, the bacteria in your mouth break it into acids that can erode your tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
But the dangers of sugar consumption go beyond just dental health. Overeating sugar can also lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing your risk of several chronic health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Sugar also hurts your blood sugar levels. When you eat sugar, your blood sugar spikes, which can lead to feelings of energy and euphoria. However, this spike is usually followed by a crash, leaving you tired, irritable, and craving more sugar.
Additionally, consuming too much sugar can increase your risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver, linked to an increased risk of liver damage and liver cancer.
Finally, some research has suggested that excessive sugar consumption may harm brain function, including memory and learning. One study found that consuming too much sugar over a long period may lead to impaired cognitive function and a smaller hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Tips to Address Nutrient Deficiencies and Sugar Cravings
Addressing nutrient deficiencies and sugar cravings can be challenging, but incorporating lifestyle changes and nutrient-rich foods can help. Here are some tips to get started:
A. Lifestyle Changes to Address Nutrient Deficiencies and Sugar Cravings
Choose protein and fiber-rich foods: Eating foods rich in protein and fiber, such as whole grains and produce, can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings.
Keep fruit handy: Fresh or dried fruit can provide a natural source of sweetness and help satisfy sugar cravings.
Stock up on healthy snacks: Healthy snacks, such as nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, can help prevent reaching for sugary treats when hunger strikes.
Cut out simple sugars: Reducing or eliminating added sugars from your diet can help reset your palate and reduce sugar cravings.
Take a walk or change scenery: Engaging in physical activity or taking a break can help distract from sugar cravings and reduce the desire to snack.
Manage stress and get enough sleep: Addressing underlying issues like stress and sleep deprivation can help reduce sugar cravings and improve overall health and well-being.
B. Food Sources to Replenish Nutrients and Reduce Sugar Cravings
Dark leafy greens: These are a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron and calcium. Examples include kale, spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard.
Nuts and seeds are high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber and can help keep you full and satisfied. Examples include almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.
Berries are rich in antioxidants and fiber and can help satisfy a sweet tooth without spiking blood sugar levels. Examples include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Whole grains: These are rich in fiber, which can help slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
Examples include oats, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread.
Lean protein: Eating protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings.
Examples include chicken breast, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes such as lentils and beans.
C. Expert-Recommended Ways to Tackle Sugar Cravings
Eat some of what you’re craving: Allowing yourself to have a small portion can satisfy the craving without overindulging.
Combine foods to fill yourself up: Pairing sweet treats with protein and fiber-rich foods like nuts and seeds can help fill you up and satisfy a sugar craving.
Chew gum to reduce food cravings: Chewing sugar-free gum can help reduce the desire to snack and can be a helpful tool to manage sugar cravings.
Choose small, decadent treats: Opting for small portions of high-quality treats can satisfy a sugar craving without consuming large amounts.
Savor every bite slowly: Eating mindfully and savoring each bite can help you feel more satisfied and reduce the desire for more sweets.
Break up meals to avoid overeating: Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can help prevent overeating and reduce the likelihood of sugar cravings.
D. Rethink Your Drinks
Choosing water or unsweetened beverages can help reduce sugar intake and prevent cravings.
In conclusion, understanding the various factors contributing to sugar cravings is essential for improving overall health and well-being. Dehydration, poor diet quality, gut dysbiosis, hormonal changes, stress, and nutrient deficiencies can all lead to an increased desire for sugar. By identifying and addressing the root cause of sugar cravings through lifestyle changes such as improving diet quality, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep, individuals can reduce sugar cravings and improve their overall health.
It is important to note that sugar cravings can also be caused by addiction, emotional eating, and habit formation. However, nutrition experts suggest various solutions for each cause, such as replacing sugar with another activity, improving gut health, managing emotions through stress-reducing activities, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep.
For those looking to fight sugar cravings, some various tips and techniques can be used, such as eating a small amount of what is craved, combining foods to fill up, chewing gum, keeping fruit and healthy snacks handy, taking a walk, savoring each bite, choosing protein and fiber-rich foods, breaking up meals, and rethinking drink choices.
In summary, reducing sugar cravings requires understanding the underlying causes, making lifestyle changes, and implementing strategies to help manage cravings. By doing so, individuals can improve their overall health and well-being.
Vos, M. B., Kaar, J. L., Welsh, J. A., Linda Van Horn, Feig, D. I., Cheryl A.M. Anderson, … Translational Biology. (2017). Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(19). https://doi.org/10.1161/cir.0000000000000439
Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium. (2021). Retrieved April 28, 2023, from Nih.gov website: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer/
Shay, N. F., & Mangian, H. (2000). Neurobiology of Zinc-Influenced Eating Behavior. Journal of Nutrition, 130(5), S1493–S1499. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/130.5.1493s
Chromium and Insulin Resistance – Full-Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov. (2023). Retrieved April 28, 2023, from Clinicaltrials.gov website: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00846248
Neidlein, S., Wirth, R., & Pourhassan, M. (2021). Iron deficiency, fatigue and muscle strength and function in older hospitalized patients. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75(3), 456–463. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-00742-z
Kumssa, D. B., et al. (2015). Dietary calcium and zinc deficiency risks are decreasing but remain prevalent.
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