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So, You Have Sugar Cravings, Now What?

Bioenergetics Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

A woman fighting away sugar cravingsSugar craving has become a plague of modern times. This is not surprising, considering the aggressive advertising campaigns and the range of sugary foods available.

What’s worse, sugar is not only cakes and ice-cream. It’s part of almost everything we eat from bread, ketchup and salad dressing to soda and baby food. With so much sugar in our diet, it’s small wonder so many people are addicted to it.

Fortunately, getting rid of sugar cravings is not that hard. To deal with this problem, you have to focus on What, Why, and How.

What is Sugar Craving?

Craving is a kind of addiction. It's wanting something so badly, you often feel you can't carry on without it. Over time, you get to a stage when you need sugar when you feel low, when you feel tired when you're stressed or when you need to improve your concentration.

Sugar craving is when you become so dependent on sugar that depriving yourself of it causes withdrawal symptoms, not unlike those of drug addicts.

Besides, some people have addictive natures. As a result, they are much more likely to develop a craving for stuff they feel they need to function well, eg coffee, sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.

Why We Crave Sugar?

Sugar-rich foods taste nice which is probably why it's so easy to become addicted to sugar. We often crave it when we feel down, when our energy levels are low, when we are under a lot of stress, when we feel exhausted because of lack of sleep but also if our diet is low in nutrients.

Although sugar does help you feel better, this is only a temporary improvement as you'll soon experience a sugar crash. This is a sudden drop in energy levels that happens after you have consumed a large amount of sugary foods.

When you take too much sugar, you force your body to rapidly produce high amounts of insulin in order to keep the sugar level consistent. This will unbalance your blood glucose levels which in turn will cause a drop in energy or sugar crash.

How to Get Rid of Sugar Cravings?

To address this problem, you first have to understand how you came to become addicted to sugar. Educating yourself about what foods or life choices contribute to this addiction will help you work out how to deal with it.

If you struggle with giving up or reducing sugar intake, you can try and motivate yourself by learning why sugar is so bad for your health. Alternatively, find out how you can satisfy your sugar cravings with healthier foods.

Why is Sugar So Bad for Your Health?

In small quantities, sugar, or any other food, is not bad at all. At the time when sugar was unavailable or was rare and therefore expensive, no one could eat so much of it to develop sugar cravings. Unfortunately, mass production agriculture has made sugar available to everyone and it is now marketed as an affordable source of energy.

8 ways sugar damages your health:

  1. Sugar is very bad for your teeth
  2. Sugar contributes to weight gain
  3. Sugar can be a direct cause of many serious conditions, eg obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, etc
  4. Sugar boosts the growth of cancer cells. This is why the first thing cancer patients are advised to do is give up sugar. Removing sugar from your diet is a natural way of “starving” cancer cells.
  5. Numerous studies suggest that sugar contributes to aggressive behavior in children
  6. Sugar is as addictive as cocaine – the so-called “reward” centers of the brain react the same way when you take sugar or cocaine
  7. Sugar depletes your mineral stores
  8. Sugar suppresses your immune system for a couple of hours after consumption

Main Challenges When Trying to Get Rid of Sugar Cravings

  • Sugar improves the taste and flavor of the food it's added to
  • We often associate sugar with nice memories or special occasions, eh Christmas, birthdays, romantic relationships, etc
  • We are often given sweets as special treats, both as children and adults
  • Sugary foods improve our mood because they trigger the release of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone

Is It Possible to Avoid Sugar Completely?

Avoiding sugar completely would be very difficult mainly because it's added to almost everything that a standard Western diet is based on. However, there is no need to try and avoid it if you only take it occasionally or in small quantities. But, if you have a sweet tooth and often feel you need to take something sweet, you can solve the problem by opting for healthier sources of sugar, eg dried fruits, honey, sugar-rich fruits, etc.

However, if you do want to eliminate as much sugar from your diet as you can, follow these three simple steps:

  • Adopt a protein-rich diet
    Many people crave sugar simply because their diet is low in protein. When you take enough protein you feel full for longer and are much less likely to crave sweets and unhealthy snacks
  • Get enough sleep
    Studies show that if you don't get enough sleep your body starts producing more ghrelin, the hormone that triggers hunger. And when you feel hungry, you are much more likely to stuff yourself with sweets or other junk food
  • Take your cravings seriously
    Dr. Colleen Huber, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor who undertook the so far largest and longest study in medical history on sugar intake in cancer patients, claims we should take cravings seriously.Dr. Huber believes that cravings are often a sign of mild malnutrition, which is very widespread, even in developed countries. According to her, cravings actually mean we lack certain vitamins and minerals. The good news is that cravings can be easily dealt with if we know what it is our body needs. For example, if you crave chocolate, what you really need is magnesium, and you can get it from raw nuts and seeds, legumes, and fruits.

    If you crave simple carbohydrates (eg pasta, pizza, white bread, pastries, etc), what you need is the amino acid tryptophan, which is vital in the production of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin. So, the reason you are often in a bad mood could be that you are not getting enough carbs in your diet, and by craving high-carb foods, you are subconsciously trying to cheer yourself up.

Go for Quality Not Quantity

Get help from sugar cravings by knowing what is in your food You don’t need to give up sweets altogether. In fact, many dietitians and nutritionists recommend satisfying sugar cravings with a little bit of sugar. The important thing here is the quantity. If your body is craving something sweet, do reach for a decadent snack, but keep it small, eat it slowly, and savor each bite. If you indulge in large portions of sugar-filled treats, this will only trigger even more cravings in the future.

The best options for suppressing your sugar cravings are natural sources of sugar or sweeteners. These are easy to find. For example, dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate. Or try sweetening some Greek yogurt containing little to no added sugar with honey or fruit. Bananas also work well as natural sweetener and can be used in baked goods and smoothies. Importantly, replace all your usual sodas and energy drinks with flavored carbonated water. We promise, your body will adapt quickly to the changes and you’ll start enjoying the difference in no time.

Protein and Sugar

Eating protein can affect your body and your sugar cravings in a few different ways. Protein is digested more slowly than sugar and carbohydrates. That’s why meals that are low in protein and high in carbs/sugars can cause blood sugar levels to spike and crash, making you hungry more often and contributing to sugar cravings.

A recent study published in the journal BMC Nutrition discovered exactly what happens when you mix something sugary with a protein-rich meal. The results were “fattening” to say the least.

Offsetting sugar cravings by eating more proteinThe study was conducted on 27 adults classified as young, healthy, and of average weight. All of the participants were housed in separate rooms for 24 hours, which allowed the researchers to closely monitor energy expenditure and nutrient processing by measuring the oxygen, carbon dioxide, activity, body temperature, and pressure inside each room. Participants were split into two groups and fed two meals throughout the day—each group was given a different amount of protein, either 15% or 30%, and one of the meals was paired with a sugary drink.

The sweetened drink resulted in a decrease of 8% in the breakdown of fat, or fat oxidation, the essential process your body uses to breakdown fat. In the 15% protein group, this equated to only 7 grams of fat, however, in 30% protein group, this meant a whopping 13 grams of fat. So, the effect of sugar-sweetened drink on metabolism when combined with the high-protein meal was alarming. In addition, the study showed that the combination of high protein and sugar also triggered more salt and sugar cravings that lasted up to 4 hours following the meal.

The lesson here? Keep your meals protein-rich. You’ll stay fuller longer and be less inclined to reach for sweet or savory snacks between meals. But forgo the sugary drink. Your metabolism will work more effectively, and it will be easier for you to maintain your ideal weight.

Sugar by Another Name is Still Sugar

The food industry has gotten smarter! With all the backlash against sugar and all the hype surrounding healthy foods, some companies are attempting to mask unhealthy ingredients. Sadly, this is not illegal, but you can take a stand by becoming more knowledgeable about the food you’re eating, reading the label carefully, and educating yourself on what you’re not looking for. The following list contains 60 of the most common tricks food manufacturers are using to mask added sugar in their products. If you see any of these in the first few items on the ingredients list, the product probably has too much sugar:

Different types of sugar cravingsAgave, Barbados sugar, barley malt, beet sugar, blackstrap molasse, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, buttered sugar, buttered syrup, cane juice, cane juice crystals, cane sugar, caramel, carob syrup, castor sugar, coconut sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystalline fructose, date sugar, demerara sugar, dextran, diastase, ethyl maltol, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, golden sugar, golden syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, icing sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, maple syrup, molasses syrup, muscovado sugar, organic raw sugar, oat syrup, panela, Panocha, confectioner’s sugar, rice bran syrup, rice syrup, sorghum, sorghum syrup, sucrose, sugar, syrup, treacle, tapioca syrup, turbinado sugar, and yellow sugar.

Sugar and Adrenal Fatigue

The fact that an increasing number of people are suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a sign of the increasingly stressful world we live in.

When your body is under stress, adrenal glands start producing high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Over the long term, this exhausts the adrenals and they eventually become unable to produce all the cortisol your stressful lifestyle requires. As a result, you may experience glucose and insulin imbalances which in turn may trigger both hunger and sugar cravings.

Chronic stress can take an enormous toll on your health, not just by causing the AFS, but by depleting your energy levels very quickly. This is why chronically stressed people crave unhealthy snacks and sugary foods.

Adrenal Fatigue, Energy, and Sugar Consumption

One of the many downfalls of consuming too much sugar is a strong correlation to low energy levels. Energy is one of the most important aspects that affect your quality of life. When you have low energy levels, your entire body will suffer resulting in many different symptoms. This is easy to understand if you consider the bioenergetics circuit—thyroid, pancreas, and liver—which is part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system. The bioenergetics circuit is responsible for producing and transporting energy to all the cells of your body in the form of glucose. The thyroid, pancreas, and liver work together to keep your body energized and balanced. But what happens if there is a sugar overload? This can cause your metabolism to derail, leading to serious symptoms over time, eventually leaving you debilitated or housebound

Action Steps For Sugar Cravings

If want to control sugar cravings, regain your health, and proactively manage your wellbeing, there are a few things you can do:

  • Have your cortisol and melatonin tested—at home tests are available.
  • Start recognizing bad habits and replace them with drinking water, doing some jumping jacks, or another way to redirect your mind.
  • Incorporate protein into every meal and snack you eat.
  • Get plenty of quality sleep and consistently wake up and go to bed at the same time—morning and evening rituals can help.
  • Boost your serotonin levels by getting more of this “happy” hormone from sources like green tea, eggs, cheese, walnuts, and exercise.
  • Eat foods that are high in chromium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium, or take supplements if you have a deficiency.
  • Eat Smarter—just remember, 1 teaspoon of sugar is roughly equivalent to 4 grams of the sweet stuff. The World Health Organization recommends limiting your intake of added sugars to less than 6 teaspoons per day. Following these guidelines can help you lead a healthier life. Moreover, if you are suffering from a chronic illness, such as adrenal fatigue, reducing your sugar intake will help you eliminate any unwanted side effects, speed up your recovery, and allow you to enjoy a higher quality of life.

If you are still having trouble with cravings and maintaining your goal weight, our team of experienced coaches at Dr Lam Coaching can help you take the next step and achieve your goals. Give our office a call at +1-626-571-1234 to get started today with a free** consultation.

 
© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam's Key Question

Although there are numerous symptoms that come together to define Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, sugar cravings could very well be one of them. Craving sugar may be a sign that your body is unbalanced or deprived of nutrients.

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