Like most people who think about food constantly, I take snacking very seriously. Growing up, I’d gravitate toward salty and crunchy—the crisp bite of a Lay’s (or Pringles) potato chip or whatever those disturbingly orange, peanut butter–filled biscuits were. Lately, however, I’ve noticed my salt tooth taking a decidedly sweeter turn, and it’s baffled me to no end. Suddenly I’m craving chocolate, doughnuts, candy, those green Haribo frog gummies that are inexplicably peach-flavored… The list goes on. Surely this must mean something about the inner workings of my body.
This can’t be a good thing, right? According to research, sugar is said to be as addictive as some street drugs, with similar effects on the brain(!). Excess sugar consumption may also lead to cavities, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a slew of other health problems. Knowing all of this, I was determined to stop eating sugar—but each day, I’d get tempted by a new sweet delicacy and thus, fall off the wagon (and into a pile of macarons). Why can’t I quit something that’s so clearly bad for my health, my brain, and my body? All around me, my fellow sugar worshippers bemoan the same question, all while stuffing more chewy morsels of Momofuku birthday cake into their mouths. I was determined to get to the root of the issue, and consulted two top nutritionists to help me find out what my sugar cravings mean, and hopefully, quell them.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to learn what your sugar cravings say about your health.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
A Magnesium Deficiency
First things first—before looking for answers, you need to identify the type of sugary food you are craving. “If you’re craving chocolate, it could mean your body is deficient in magnesium, which is a really common deficiency these days,” explains holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman. There’s a plus side to craving chocolate: Dark chocolate is actually full of antioxidants that can improve your health and decrease the risk of heart disease, according to research. Reach for the dark stuff (70% cacao content or higher), not the milk kind, to satisfy your sweet tooth without sabotaging your health.
Another Nutrient or Vitamin Deficiency
If you’re craving fruit, then congratulations! Goodman says this is one of the best cravings to have. “Your body might be telling you it needs additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” Goodman says.
A Fluctuation in Blood Sugar
“If you’re craving sweets all of a sudden, most likely you are experiencing blood sugar fluctuations,” Goodman explains. “When your blood sugar drops, your body may be trying to get you to give it more fuel to keep your blood sugar levels stable." To keep your blood sugar balanced, she recommends eating a healthy amount of protein and adding more high-fiber foods, like beans and legumes, to your diet, along with complex carbs. “This will give you the fuel you need without the blood sugar spikes,” she promises.
When your blood sugar drops, your body may be trying to get you to give it more fuel to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
What Can Your Sugar Cravings Say About Your Health?
As discussed above, a sugar craving could mean that your body is lacking a vitamin or nutrient, or that your blood sugar levels are off.
Registered dietitian Farah Fahad recommends adding more protein to your meals, so your blood sugar levels don’t drop. “The body is a well-built machine, and if you are not giving it the right foods, it will say, ‘Give me sugar!’” she explains. “It wants energy for all the thousands of biological processes that are happening.”
How to Curb Sugar Cravings
If you find yourself battling a serious sugar addiction, take things one day at a time. “Before you satisfy cravings, drink a tall glass of spring water,” Goodman suggests. “We often misinterpret our body’s signal for thirst as a signal of hunger. By drinking water first, you may be giving your body exactly what it wants and alleviate the craving.” If you’re still craving sugar, try incorporating more protein into your diet alongside fermented foods and supplements that ensure you’re getting your daily dose of vitamins, like Ritual, which boasts a number of vitamins and minerals specifically (and especially) important to women.
Fahad agrees, saying that fruit cravings are fine and just an indicator your body is craving nutrients. However, it’s important not to overdo it. “If you feel like you’re overdoing it with fruit, pair it with fat or protein,” she says. “For example, eat a banana or apple with almond butter, berries with coconut yogurt, etc.”
Additionally, Fahad recommends making sure you are getting enough magnesium, which she calls a “key for energy to enter our cells.” MedlinePlus, which is part of The National Library of Medicine, states: "Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong."
When to See a Doctor
If you find yourself feeling dizzy without sugar, or having regular (and inexplicable) cravings, it's time to call a professional, as it could indicate a deeper problem. If you are craving sweets chronically, Goodman says this may indicate that you have hypoglycemia, for instance.
Even if it's a sign of a nutritional deficiency, a professional can help determine what you're lacking, how much you need, and ensure the lack of the vitamin or nutrient doesn't lead to further problems. Magnesium deficiency, for example, has been linked to everything from osteoporosis to type 2 diabetes to heart disease. (Plus, getting an appropriate amount might even help with insomnia and anxiety problems). “When our body doesn’t have enough magnesium, it will have trouble bringing energy into the cells and thus, feel deprived and crave sugar,” Fahad explains.
The Final Takeaway
Sugar cravings could be an indicator of a range of issues — from a lack of nutrients for a concerning drop in blood sugar. But they could also be just an ordinary craving for a donut. If you're concerned about how often you're craving sweets, start monitoring how often your cravings take place. See a professional if it's so frequent it might indicate a deeper health issue.
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