Cupcakes, ice cream, doughnuts and chocolate. Hmm… It’s past your bedtime, yet you can’t fall asleep because you’re thinking about sweet treats. But why have you suddenly been hit with sugar cravings?
A food craving is an intense desire for a specific kind of food. Sometimes that desire can be so intense that you won’t feel satisfied until you have that specific food. Where’s it coming from?
There are a few reasons why you crave sweet foods.
1. Your hormones aren’t balanced
Hormones play an important role in food cravings. An imbalance of hormones like leptin (which helps to regulate appetite, food intake and body weight) or serotonin could cause food cravings. In women, serotonin (one of the “happy hormones”) can trigger the need for high-calorie foods like sweet treats. This happens because oestrogen falls during the menstrual cycle while cortisol (the “stress hormone”) rises.
Fix it: Getting enough sleep helps to balance these hormones, so aim for at least seven to nine hours every night. Unwind at the end of each day and eat fresh foods like cheese, salmon, nuts and chicken. These contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can raise serotonin levels. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your hormones being unbalanced.
2. You’re skipping meals
Although some people skip meals to cut down on calories, this habit could up your calorie intake for the day. Why? If you skip a meal, your blood sugar levels drop, which could make you reach for sugar-rich foods like doughnuts and chocolates.
Fix it: Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Snack on fruit, nuts or yoghurt to keep your sugar levels balanced until your next full meal.
3. Your diet is too sweet
Just as you can start craving caffeine if you drink lots of coffee, you can crave sugar if you have too much. The cravings can be so intense that it’s often compared to an addiction. The more simple sugars you have, the more your brain will tell you that you want (or need) it. This has to do with endorphins, the feel-good hormones that are released when you’ve eaten sugary foods. Responding to a constant flood of endorphins can lead to addictive behaviour.
Fix it: Remove all sweet-tasting foods from your diet, including items like sugar-free beverages, sauces and sweetened, flavoured yoghurt. Ask your family to support you so that you won’t be tempted by their food. When a craving hits, drink unsweetened tea or chew a piece of sugar-free gum. If your emotions are triggering sugar cravings, call a friend or talk to a loved one for a healthier release of negative feelings.
4. You have a deficiency
A body imbalance occurs when you lack certain key nutrients in your diet. For your body to feel better and to regain its balance, it instructs you to seek out certain textures or foods. If your body doesn’t have enough vitamins and minerals, you might feel tired, causing you to crave sweet treats to boost your energy levels. Similarly, if your body lacks salt because you’ve lost a lot due to sweating, you might crave salty foods.
Fix it: If you’re deficient in certain nutrients, you could take a supplement or make a change to your diet. Before you doing anything, talk to your doctor to clearly identify the problem.
5. You’re stressed out
Do you often find yourself heading for the bakery or chocolate aisle whenever you’re stressed? It’s your body looking for comfort. High-fat and high-sugar foods help satisfy that need. What’s more, the stress hormone cortisol releases sugar into your bloodstream and which can make cravings for sweet treats even more intense.
Fix it: Put down the chips and take a walk instead. Find a replacement for that stress trigger. Turn on the radio or watch a movie. Distract yourself from the sugary comfort.
6. It’s in your genes
Just like your genes influence your personality, they may be involved in your food cravings too. Researchers found that a genetic variation called FGF21 can lead to sugar cravings. An international team tested the genes of more than 6 500 Danish people. The researchers also went through dietary preference reports by the Danish participants, while investigating their cholesterol and blood sugar test results. Those who had the FGF21 gene variant were approximately 20% more likely to enjoy sugar or experience sugar cravings.
Fix it: While it may not be possible to change your genes, you could make other changes to reduce your sugar cravings: try eating regular healthy meals and managing your stress levels as best as you can.