Sweet Cravings-What is your body really telling you?
With winter holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas) quickly approaching, it is tempting to indulge and treat yourself with sugary foods. Before reaching for that piece of candy, cake, or ice cream, let’s dive into the reason why sweets are so tempting and satisfying.
Positive associations with sugar are ingrained in our brains from the memories we hold. For instance, the smell of homemade cookies, or memories of special occasions where sweets are always present such as birthdays and holidays. From a scientific standpoint, sugar rewards our body with the release of serotonin and beta-endorphins. These two endorphins send positive messages to the rest of the body giving you that feel good “high”. However, this is a short lived feeling when eating sugary foods especially without combining with a protein source. Sugar consumption sets us up for an endless cycle of cravings and the desire for more and more.
Can sugar be addicting? It certainly can, but this depends on many factors such as the level of neurotransmitters in your brain, genetics, lifestyle, hormones, exercise, sleep and so on. There is definitely a part of the population that is sugar sensitive, those individuals going through life with a low level of serotonin and beta endorphins which leave them more susceptible for sugar cravings. Some key nutrients to enhance your serotonin levels without the sugary treats include vitamin C which aides in converting tryptophan in the food you eat to serotonin. B-Complex vitamins which help metabolize carbs for the body to use. Zinc, which aids in helping insulin do its job of metabolizing carbs.
Some possible reasons you may be craving sugar include: Stress, hormones, insulin response, food sensitives and lifestyle.
Stress: When stressed out, we have a high level of cortisol hormone circulating. We crave sugar because it releases serotonin the “good feeling” hormone to counterbalance this feeling of panic and distress. Serotonin hormone provides a calming and relaxing feeling. Essentially providing a “chill pill”
Hormones (Women): Just before menstruation estrogen is low and progesterone is declining. Also, beta-endorphins are at the lowest they will be in the cycle. This is why many women have cravings during this time. High sugar foods provide the serotonin and endorphin boost their body craves.
Insulin resistance: This can happen due to a long-term diet with high refined carbs (pasta, bread, white rice) and low micronutrients. In this condition, glucose (sugar) does not enter cells and stays in the blood. Cells are starving for energy and signals are sent to the brain to increase insulin. You therefore crave sugar, because although you are eating, your cells cannot access the food.
Food Sensitivities: Food allergies or digestive issues can lead to leaky gut. Leaky gut is when only partially digested foods enter the blood stream through a damaged and inflamed digestive tract. The body reacts to these food particles as foreign substances and creates an immune response that sends out antibodies which can lead to intense cravings. Gluten is usually a cause, because we often eat gluten and sugar together, and a sugar craving might be mistaken for a gluten craving.
Lifestyle: Are you getting enough serotonin and endorphin release? Are you exercising, eating a balanced diet, and building positive relationships? Are you trying to fill a void with a temporary sugar fix?
In summary, when indulging in those Holiday treats this season… put a little thought into what your cravings really mean. Are you living a balanced and healthy life in order to avoid triggering these cravings and the desire for a temporary fix?