Sugar Cravings

We have all done it, we have succumbed to the calling of sweet stuff when we are tired, stressed or just generally fed-up.  Cravings, this uncontrollable desire to have something sweet immediately, are seen as an innocent need for a quick ‘pick me up’, but is there something more going on in the background?Chocolate bar

Regular consumption of sugar has been shown to create patterns for bingeing, craving and withdrawal, behaviours that are connected to the same neurochemical changes in the brain that are also activated by addictive drugs1. Increased sugar intake has also been linked to obesity, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and chronic disease2, 3.

Our brains require a constant supply of energy in the form of glucose, such as sugar. If the energy supply to our brain is disrupted, our inherent survival mechanism creates a sugar craving, and then rewards us with a dose of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter4.

We can balance these fluctuating energy supplies by eating enough protein and fats with carbohydrates to slow down the feed of sugar from healthy carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, dairy) to our bloodstream. Stress can also contribute to the imbalance of blood sugar levels. Both stress and high-sugar foods create blood sugar ‘highs’ that signal a start of insulin production. Normal insulin function delivers sugar into our cells for energy, but in excess it prioritises fat storage over fat burning.

You can take steps to break the vicious cycle of sugar cravings by making the right food choices and by reducing your stress levels.

Control sugar cravings by reducing
- cakes, biscuits, ice cream, sweets, chocolate, sodas, alcohol, refined sugar
- stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine
- wheat and dairy as they may stimulate cravings in some people
- stress
… and increasing
- protein intake at each meal  – eggs, nuts, cheese, tofu, beans, fish, free-range meat
- good fats within meals and snacks – nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado, coconut milk, Greek yoghurt, olive oil in salads
- meditation, yoga, or walking/deep breathing in fresh air to relieve stress

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  1. Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent excessive sugar intake.  Neurosci Biobehav Rev; 32:20-39.
  2. Thornley S, Tayler R, Sikaris K (2012). Sugar restriction: the evidence for a drug-free intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Intern Med J; 42 Suppl 5:46-58
  3. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L (2011). The western diet and lifestyle and disease of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol; 2:215-235.
  4. Rada P, Avena NM, Hoebel BG (2005). Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell. Neuroscience; 134;737-744.

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