Everyone experiences sugar cravings, whether it’s a quick snack or a satisfying dessert to round off a great savoury meal. But what is the real reason behind these cravings?
There is evidence that our bodies may be responsible for our sugar cravings. Stress can be a large contributor. As your body releases stress hormones, this causes spikes in your blood sugar level.
Constantly being stressed can cause these spikes that inevitably lead to crashes and cravings for more sugar.
Diet may also be behind your sugar cravings. Protein and fats slow the release of sugar into your blood and help you feel full.
Eating a big bowl of carbs like rice, noodles or pasta with very little protein means that you absorb the sugar in those carbohydrates quickly without feeling full. This results in a quicker rise and fall in your blood sugar, and your body will crave the quick energy hit from sugar.
Lack of sleep can also have a big effect on your sugar intake. Sleep levels can affect the hormones which control and suppress your appetite, and can in turn make you far more likely to crave sugar and give into those cravings.
Even if your body isn’t craving sugar, your brain might be. We have all experienced a sugar rush, and the euphoric feeling that follows after eating a delicious cake, chocolate bar or sweet.
There is evidence that this sugar rush can be addictive. In fact, according to some experts, consuming sugar produces a positive mood-altering effect and sensation of pleasure similar to that of an addictive drug. In some studies mice have shown a preference for sugar over certain addictive drugs and even experienced sugar withdrawals.
What if the real reason we crave sugar is simply down to habit? If you’re used to a sweet coffee at the same time every morning, it’s likely that your body has learned to expect that sugar hit at the same time every day.
Similarly, if you always follow a meal with dessert, you are training yourself to expect that extra sugar hit after a meal.
Sugar is also often associated with reward or celebration. From treats from our parents for good behaviour, to birthday cakes and sharing sweets with friends.
Sugar also often reminds us of childhood and simpler, happier times, so it is no surprise that it can be used a coping mechanism.
People often eat sugary foods to comfort themselves when they are sad, stressed or unhappy. There is a reason for the age-old trope of eating a tub of ice cream after a bad break-up. Again, this is learned behaviour associating certain emotions and situations with sugar.
So, whether your sugar cravings are down to stress, diet or learned behaviours, understanding the reasons behind the cravings could help you control them.