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Why You Crave Sugar & What You Can Do?

Do you have a sweet tooth? Or teeth? And why is that?

Most of us have food cravings and often they tend to be for items loaded with sugar or starch. Some research points to the desire to FEEL BETTER.

Honestly, more often than not, don’t you feel better after eating something sweet (putting the feelings of guilt aside)?

Most do. Because sugary foods and carbs causes an increase in the “feel good” and sense of well-being hormone called serotonin.  Too bad broccoli doesn’t have this same immediate effect!

But there are several other causes behind your sweet tooth cravings and what you can do:

  • Being sleep deprived: notice the next time you have a bad night’s rest what happens the next day. Carbs? Fat? Sugar?! Partly this is to stay awake as you get energy form these calorie-dense foods, but also you have less will power when running on little sleep. Action: work on your sleep hygiene to improve how much sleep you get consistently.
  • Feeling stressed: regardless of the source, it’s understandable why you reach for something sweet or “forbidden” to eat. It’s soothing. Like what did your cherished love one use to give you to make you feel better when you were little? Ice cream? Who said frozen Kit-kat bars? You learned this coping strategy as a youngster but now it’s a quick fix that only makes blood sugars and weight go up, up and away. Action: find other ways to cope that don’t involve calorie-packed items. Crunch on veggie sticks instead, or take a stretch or 2-minute breathing/meditation break. Get your regular exercise.
  • Eating too much sugar: If you’re used to having lots of sugar, your body craves all that artificial flavoring. Let’s face it. If you have a juicy peach on the counter next to a hot fudge sundae, it’s hard to go for nature’s candy, fruit. Action: train your taste buds into appreciating – even craving fruit instead of junk. You might also absolutely love fruit and are scared to eat it. As a guide, a serving size is a small fist worth of fruit, but talk to one of our dietitians during Office Hours about any questions you have about fruit. You can have it!
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners: it seems logical that by not eating sugar and instead using artificial sweeteners, that should be good, right? Well, not if you consume them often. Artificial sweeteners can be several thousand times sweeter than regular sugar. That can alter your taste buds and actually increase sugar cravings. A lot of these come in the form of sodas. Action: ditch your diet soft drink? Blasphemy! The American Diabetes Association recommends water. Our bodies need it. Make it fun and fancy! Add bubbles, some mint, a slice of lime or other fruit.

Other ideas to consider (source: Your First Year with Diabetes, by yours truly):

  1. Seek quality, not quantity. If you are craving something in particular, don’t compromise. Have a smaller portion and savor it, otherwise you’ll end up eating other things without satisfying the beast.
  2. Make yourself walk to the store to buy treats and don’t keep a stash in the house!
  3. Cut back on other carbs within the meal to make an even trade for the carb in your dessert.
  4. Out of sight, out of mind. Get help from your spouse or family not to have junk food in the house. (OK, it is a strategy!)
  5. Reduce portion size (skip that gargantuan slice of cake); ask for child-sized servings instead or share.
  6. Have fruit rather than candy.
  7. Check the calorie and saturated-fat content of your treats.
  8. Have a glass of water before you start with the dessert (water quenches thirst, not hunger). Doing this makes sure you’re not eating when you’re actually thirsty.
  9. Watch out for items labeled “sugar free.” By definition, that means the item has less than a 1/2 gram of sugar or sucrose in a serving, but it will often contain as many carbohydrates (or more) than the regular product.
  10. Keep a “sweet” diary and jot a note of what and how often you are dipping into the proverbial cookie jar.
  11. Ask yourself if the reason you are grabbing the sweet is an external solution to stress. That’s deep!

Most everyone slips up and eats stuff we shouldn’t. So remember to be kind to yourself and if you have a bad day and spent too much time in the cookie jar, whatever you do, don’t give up your efforts to make food and beverage choices that helps out your health.