2 Reasons Why You Can’t Give Up Sugar
By Nikki Doering, RD, LD
June 15, 2021
“Why can’t I give up sugar?” This is something we hear in many of the classes we teach, in consultations, and from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners. 97% of women and 68% of men have cravings, so if you’ve said this to yourself before, you are not alone. It’s amazing how sugar affects so many fundamental aspects of health. This is where the science behind the sugar cravings comes in. And it becomes easier to conquer those cravings when we understand the science behind them and when we realize beating cravings is not simply a matter of willpower (you can read more about willpower and moderation here). So, why does your body call out for sugar?
Reason #1: An unhealthy gut
Let’s look at gut health first. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” So ask yourself, “how is my gut health?” Here’s a list of markers to help you do a little self-inquiry – are you experiencing any of the following?:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Bloated feeling
- Belching, passing gas
If you’ve said yes to one or more of those, it’s a sign your gut is in need of some support.
How about these scenarios: Do you drink soda a couple times per week? Are you eating fast food regularly? Have you needed to take antibiotics or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like Advil, Motrin, or ibuprofen this month? Do you have a drink (or more) of alcohol to wind down after work? And how is that stress level these days?
Unfortunately, all of these things strip the good bacteria (yes, even stress!) from your intestinal lining. This means there is nothing there to fight off bad bacteria. So, if for example, you have yeast that starts to grow in your gut, you may not have sufficient good bacteria to stop it. If yeast wants to grow, all it needs is SUGAR! And so the cravings begin…
Another side effect of poor gut health is a slow metabolism. What does metabolism have to do with cravings for sugar? And what is metabolism, exactly? Metabolism is how well you convert your food into energy. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we often say that a slow metabolism and cravings for sugar go hand in hand. If your gut health is compromised, you are no doubt having a difficult time digesting your food and absorbing nutrients. If you aren’t absorbing nutrients, you are not getting energy from your food. And if this is happening, you might be looking to the vending machine, digging in your pantry, or running through the coffee drive-through in the afternoon for candy, a soda, or a fancy mocha latte to give you an energy boost. Once your gut is healed, you will absorb the nutrients from your food, your metabolism will improve, your energy will increase, and the sugar cravings tend to disappear.
Take bifidobacteria and L-glutamine, a powerful duo to strengthen and heal your gut. Balance will be restored and you’ll be able to take in all the nutrients from your food. You will have good bacteria present to fight off bad bacteria and will likely find that your sugar cravings go away. Our intestinal lining is really only one cell thick, so to protect that gut lining, L-glutamine is key for repairing.
Reason #2: Lack of protein
Another piece of the cravings puzzle is a protein deficiency. Have you ever noticed that when you are sad, you don’t crave a salad? You want something that will provide a quick pick-me-up like ice cream, candy or cookies. This is not a lack of willpower. It’s actually your body sending a biochemical message. Sugary foods spike your blood sugar quickly so you feel better…temporarily anyway.
To avoid these “give me sugar, quick!” messages from your body, make sure you’re getting sufficient protein each day. And by sufficient, we don’t mean a little chicken at dinner, we mean eating protein throughout the day with all your meals and snacks. That protein, combined with all that good bacteria in your gut, will create neurotransmitters for you. Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, make you calm and will give you a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards most sugary foods. You will feel satisfied all day long and be less likely to seek comfort or that afternoon pick-me-up from sugary foods. How’s that for a solution? Rather than thinking about “depriving yourself”, you can focus on incorporating more delicious, filling proteins into your life.
Your two-step action plan for kicking your sugar habit
Trying to curb the sugar cravings can feel overwhelming at first, especially when sugar urges can feel super strong! Break it down into simple, doable actions steps that give you the focus and tools you need to kick that sugar habit and it will get easier over time:
- Heal your gut: Take bifidobacteria and L-glutamine to strengthen and heal your gut, as well as rev up your metabolism.
- Make sure you’re eating enough protein: For women, we recommend 4 ounces of protein at meals and 1-2 ounces at snacks; most men need 6 ounces of protein at meals and 2-3 ounces at snacks. Eating this way will create serotonin and other neurotransmitters plus balance your blood sugar, helping you stay calm and satisfied.
For more information on curbing those sugar cravings, check out these resources:
- Listen: What Do My Cravings Mean? where we tackle what common nutrient deficiencies cause cravings
- Learn: Breaking the Sugar Habit online class offers great do-able tips
- Read: Is “Everything in Moderation” Terrible Advice? for inspiration on why willpower doesn’t work for most of us
- Try: Instant Pot Beef Recipes: One Grocery List, Four Meals for getting that protein in while being a busy human!