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Why Do We Crave Sugar?


Our Honestly Healthy Hero and resident nutritionist Libby Limon talks sugar and sugar addiction…….. This year the media hooked on to the ‘big bad sugar debate’. Although this is not news to most people – even as a kid you knew that sweets weren’t good for you!! We are now bombarded with ‘healthy’ sugar alternatives, but what makes us have a sweet tooth to begin with, why do we crave sugar? Understanding this can help you figure out how the best way is to reduce it in your diet? Sugar is an addictive substance, the more you have the more you want. This works on three levels;
  1. Firstly is taste, your taste buds develop a ‘sweet tooth’ but become desensitised so need more sugar to have the same taste of sweetness.
  2. Secondly, sugars can trigger ‘pleasure’ sensors in the brain triggering a feeling of wellbeing via production of your brain's natural opioids. We have sweet receptors (two protein receptors located on your tongue), which evolved in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, and high energy source food was an aide for survival.
  3. Lastly and probably the most important and enlightening is the body’s  need for energy and the mechanism by which the blood must maintain homeostasis or balanced blood sugar levels.  The graph here demonstrates this. Looking at the red line to begin with. When you eat something that is made up of sugars (carbohydrate) the digestive system breaks this down into simple sugar molecules and absorbs it in the blood stream. If this happens quickly your blood sugar goes too high so the body produces insulin in order to reduce the sugar level back down to healthy range by storing the ‘energy’ for use later. Unfortunately this can then lead to low blood sugar which triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol as well cause cravings and energy dips (think that post lunch slump!). This means that you reach for more sugary calories instead of using the already stored ones.
 This cycle can lead to sugar/energy highs and lows, the red line roller coaster. Overall you can develop an addiction to sugars and refined carbohydrates, create high circulating insulin and cortisol, overeating and weight gain.  To maintain a healthy and stable blood sugar you want to find yourself on the blue line with a diet high in complex carbohydrates combined with protein and fibre. Make sure you are also eating enough at your meals and snacks, as well as eating regular intervals to avoid blood sugar dips and slipping back on to the red roller coaster. Also beware sugar alternatives which are often touted as the answer. All sweeteners, natural or not can both stimulate pleasure sensors and insulin production. Chemical sweeteners have been linked to cancer, depression and weight gain. If you recognise this pattern of eating behaviour and energy levels then you may have developed a sugar addition. Like with any addiction it is important to break the negative pattern of behaviour and replace with positive ones. Replacing sugar cravings with a healthy sustainable diet. Remember snacking is good and preparing ahead is key so that you don't head for the biscuit tin. Try something like this Butternut Squash Hummus with crudite in the afternoon - it's a really alkaline recipe, super delicious, keeps well in the fridge and most importantly is fantastic for maintaining those blood sugar levels!


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