by Jamie Truppi
Historically, the cold autumn weather would lay to rest the fruits of summer and, along with it, your sweet tooth. Our taste buds would shift from a hankering for ripe apples, pears and plums to heartier squash and onions. However, with year-round availability of fruit and sweets—and, of course, an abundance of holiday treats—sugar cravings intensify rather than wane.
Two-thirds of the tongue’s taste buds recognize sweetness, thereby alerting the brain’s pleasure center, which in turn signals us to eat more sweet foods. This system was beneficial for our ancestors, who ate copious amounts of ripe, high-sugar-foods all summer to build fat reserves for winter survival.
Sugar from any source—fresh fruit, soda or Halloween candy—is broken down into three basic sugars: glucose, fructose and galactose. Glucose is the monosaccharide responsible for producing the majority of energy in the body. When enough glucose has been utilized for the body’s needs, the rest is stored as fat.
What about calorie-free sweeteners?
Unfortunately, nowadays, we eat sugar all day and all year from innumerable sources, even as many also replace natural with artificial and calorie-free sweeteners—such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and Stevia.
However, when we eat artificial and calorie-free sweeteners, our taste buds still recognize sweetness and signal our brains to eat more. But since no calories were consumed, we aren’t satisfied. The body associates sweetness with fruit, honey and other natural forms of sugar, but artificial sweeteners contain no vitamins or minerals, leaving us void and searching. Lacking energy and nutrients, we crave—and consume—more sugar.
What causes sugar cravings
Sugar cravings relate to more than lack of self-control. In fact, sugar cravings are partially controlled by the gut. When we consume a diet high in simple carbohydrates, the gut bacteria species that feed off this sugar flourish. The thriving species will compete with—and overpower—the smaller species. Thus, the food we eat directly affects dominant gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria regulates hormones, immunity and metabolism, and synthesizes key nutrients and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Overconsumption of sugar can lead to blood glucose dysregulation, endocrine dysfunction, poor immune health, excess weight, depression and anxiety.
Sugar cravings are a sign that we need to limit our overall sugar intake. They’re a sign that the gut microbiome has an excess of sugar-loving bacteria, causing imbalances that will affect the rest of our body’s systems.
Further, newer research indicates that artificial sweeteners eradicate gut bacteria, and some studies link artificial sweeteners to obesity, by way of altering the gut microbiome.
Simple ways to cut back on sugar
While some of us can give up sugar “cold turkey,” others want to enjoy some of the delights of the holidays. Here are some mindful ways to address sugar cravings:
This holiday season, when reaching for another dessert or piece of candy, ask yourself who’s actually craving sugar – you or your gut? Consider whether a no-calorie sugar substitute will really help. And choose one mindful technique to adopt for resisting excess sugars until next summer’s fruit ripens.
Jamie Truppi, MSN, is a functional nutritionist who seeks to understand the core imbalances of adverse health when guiding individuals toward wellness. Always starting with food, she focuses on improving chronic conditions, gut health, and family wellness. To learn more about Jamie or sign up for a personal or family consultation or class, click here