Cupcakes, candy, and soda are some sugar-filled goodies that are readily available at every gas station, grocery store, and pharmacy. Mounting research finds sugar can be as addictive as certain illegal drugs, with one study from 2013, published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, suggesting that the way sugar affects the brain makes it even more addictive than cocaine. Susan Moores, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant told WebMD that the sweetness of sugar actually releases endorphins which create feelings of calmness, seemingly offering a natural “high.”
While there are many reasons people will say they have sugar cravings, from a self-proclaimed sweet tooth to symptoms of PMS, often a sugar craving can have a simpler, or possibly more alarming, reason. Dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES spoke to the Cleveland Clinic and explained that sometimes sugar cravings are physiological; for instance, “If you go too long without eating, your body will crave the fastest fuel it can think of — refined grains and simple sugars.” According to Runner’s World, even athletes use sugar as fast fuel during a marathon or intense workout by way of sports drinks or gels.
Sugar cravings can point to a deficiency
According to Byrdie, if you find your sweet tooth has you reaching for chocolate, you might have a magnesium deficiency. Certified holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman told the outlet that magnesium deficiencies are more common than ever, and if you find chocolate is your sugary snack of choice, your body could be craving the vital mineral. Goodman suggests choosing dark chocolate, which is rich in magnesium as well as high in antioxidants, offering up more benefits for your health than the alternatives.
If you find yourself constantly craving the juicy sweetness of fruit, Goodman says this is not necessarily bad, as “Your body might be telling you it needs additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.” However, when it comes to craving fruit for sweetness, it’s good to know how much is too much. As Well+Good notes, those with conditions like diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels, should consult with their doctor to make sure they’re eating the proper amount.
Sugar cravings can mean a blood sugar imbalance
Registered dietitian at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dacia Lyn Breeden, RD, tells Everyday Health that dramatic shifts in blood sugar levels can cause sudden pangs of hunger or an immediate urge to eat. Research shows when blood sugar levels drop, your body craves sugary type foods to raise those levels (via The Journal of Clinical Investigation). Per WebMD, if you feel lightheaded, anxious, or moody after going too long without eating, hypoglycemia may be the issue.
According to the Washington Post, sugar cravings are common in people with blood sugar imbalance. Speaking to Byrdie, Farah Fahad, MS, MA, RD, recommended adding protein to meals and snacks to keep blood sugar levels stable, saying, “The body is a well-built machine, and if you are not giving it the right foods, it will say, ‘Give me sugar!'”
While it is normal for blood sugar levels to fluctuate through the day, if you find new, intense cravings for sugary foods, carbs, or caffeine, you may want to check in with your doctor.
Sugar cravings can mean dehydration
There is also the possibility that your cookie cravings are a sign of dehydration. According to MedlinePlus, dehydration leads to losing electrolytes, like salt and potassium, which are essential to helping your major organs work optimally. “When you’re dehydrated, it can be difficult for organs such as the liver, which uses water, to release glycogen and other components of your energy stores, so you can actually get cravings for food,” John Higgins, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Texas in Houston, told Everyday Health.
While there are possible underlying physiological reasons you crave sugar, studies suggest you may simply have a sweet tooth, or preference of sweet foods. If this is the case, be sure to enjoy your sweets in moderation, as too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing.
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