10 p.m, you are watching your favorite show on Netflix, and suddenly, a force from outer space is guiding you, you are pulled out of bed, and you find yourself in front of the fridge. It’s not a horror story, it’s a fatal attraction, “Is there any ice cream left?”. It sounds funny, but for a lot of people it’s not funny, the truth is that sugar cravings are an addiction to the point that doctors often compare it to actual drug addiction. Interesting fact: in 2014, Berkeley, California, became the first city in the U.S. to tax sugary drinks in an attempt to address a serious problem that has gotten out of control. Americans consume more soft drinks per capita than any other country on the planet. This makes sense when you think about the fact that sugar is addictive, and it’s hidden almost everywhere. Science states that there are numerous explanations why you can’t resist sugar, some are psychological, some are physical. So let’s see, first of all, what cause the sugar rush.
Why our brain craves Sugar
Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. When you eat a candy bar the sugar in it – called a simple carbohydrate – is quickly turned into glucose in your bloodstream. Simple carbs are also found in fruits, veggies, and dairy products, so why are those not as bad for you? Because they also have fiber and protein which slow down the process, while soda, candy, and table sugar don’t. Our body needs to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells for energy. To do this, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone. As a result, your blood sugar level may experience a sudden drop. This rapid change in blood sugar levels leaves you feeling wiped out, so you naturally search for more sweets to regain that “sugar high.” Here starts a vicious cycle. Let’s not forget that sweets just taste good, “sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a dietitian, and American Dietetic Association (ADA) spokeswoman. As a consequence, we tend to reward ourselves with such treats. Doing so our brain gets used to associate sugar with a reward which can make it harder to break the vicious cycle. Also, “carbohydrates stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us”, adds Susan Moores, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minn. The problem comes not when we indulge in a sweet treat now and then, but when we over-consume, a thing that’s easy to do considering the fact that sugar is added to almost all processed foods, including bread, yogurt, juices, and sauces.
Why our body craves sugar
So far we have analyzed the brain cycle for sugar cravings, but there are also some interesting physiological reasons that you may not know. It seems almost a contradiction, but it explains why we don’t always look for sweet treats but salty ones as well. Scientific studies have proven that a deficiency in these two minerals – calcium and magnesium – causes sugar and salt cravings. For instance, low magnesium levels, are known to trigger chocolate cravings, and chocolate is a rich source of magnesium. On the other hand, both stress and eating too much sugar can deplete your calcium and magnesium stores worsening cravings. Here what happens, when you eat something salty the sodium temporarily increases calcium level in the blood, which cheats your body into thinking the calcium deficiency is over. However, while this may temporarily satisfy your salt craving, the secreted bone calcium leads to an even worse calcium deficiency and further salt cravings. So Make sure to have your vitamin levels checked, and next time you are dying for some chocolate, instead of reaching for the usual sugary option, try unsweetened cacao powder or 100 percent unsweetened dark chocolate which should do the trick.Related: Magnesium Deficiency 9 Signs & Solutions
Another physical reason may come from an imbalance in your gut health. Think about the millions of bacteria living in our gut, when you eat a lot of sugary and processed foods, all these bacteria in your digestive system end up feeding on the sugar in your diet, only making the problem worse with the more sugar you consume. This process is often triggered by lack of sleep. You certainly noticed that when you don’t sleep enough all your good intentions of eating healthy go into the trash. Science shows that poor sleep affects your hormones: it increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and reduces leptin (the hormone that allows you to feel satiated), making sleep deprivation another one of the major sugar craving causes.