Working in the field of clinical nutrition, complaints of sugar cravings are ones that I hear often from patients. If sugar cravings are not something you suffer from consider yourself lucky. If you do know what it feels like to have a “monkey on your back” yelling ”sugar” into your ear, then read on. This post is for you.
Sugar cravings can be attributed to several different causes. But when you have them what you most want is to get rid of them, and after over two decades in practice I believe that I and my team have really perfected this.
When working with a patient suffering from sugar cravings we have a checklist of possible factors that we assess. Let’s review some of the most common causes:
1. The patient eats the typical Standard American Diet (SAD – and yes it IS sad) and due to that is so poorly nourished that the body craves sugar in order to keep blood sugar levels from diving too low.
2. The patient suffers from a food sensitivity (gluten intolerance and dairy reactions are the most common) that is preventing nutrients from nourishing their cells adequately and erratic blood sugar again results in sugar cravings.
3. The patient doesn’t eat enough good food, even if they are NOT eating something they are sensitive to, and their malnourished cells once again crave sugar.
4. A woman who is deficient in progesterone will often crave sugar because progesterone is a glucose tolerance factor – meaning that it stabilizes blood sugar. If you’ve ever really craved sweets around your menstrual cycle, ladies, then you know of what I’m speaking. More on this later…
5. A patient is deficient in sleep and craves sugar to “fuel” an otherwise exhausted body.
6. A patient is under a lot of stress such that their adrenal glands (the stress glands) are not dealing with it adequately and the result is sugar cravings in an attempt to gain more quick fuel and deal with the stress load. Unfortunately the more sugar you eat the worse the stress becomes on the adrenal glands.
7. A patient has imbalanced organisms present in their small intestine such as parasites, yeast or amoeba that cause a sugar craving to occur.
We spend a fair bit of time speaking about #2 on this site so I won’t go further into that one. But points #3, #4 and #7 are critical and I want to elaborate on them further.
Our clinical nutrition department spends a great deal of time with our patients discussing their diet. Not simply what they shouldn’t eat, but also what they should. In spite of this effort, about a year ago we were confronted by the fact that a simple aspect of clinical nutrition was not being adequately addressed by us.
What was it? The number of servings of fruits and vegetables that a body needs to consume each day is sadly deficient in our society. Most of us have heard that we need 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Actually that’s incorrect, but we’ll come back to that. When you hear “5 servings” do you actually know what that means? Don’t worry if you don’t, you’re in very good company.
A serving is represented by a medium piece of fruit, ½ cup of cut up fruit or vegetables and 1 cup if the vegetable is leafy such as spinach or kale. The truth is that an average adult woman needs 7 servings of fruits and vegetables – 3 fruits and 4 veggies. The average adult male requires 9!
Do you know how much the typical American eats in a day? Shockingly it’s only 1 or 2, and they are often not the highest quality.
As we delved into it deeper we began to realize that if one didn’t plan one’s day and begin with breakfast, the odds of getting the required amount of these vital nutrients was extremely low.
The good news is that as we began to work on it more and more with our patients (and ourselves!) an interesting side benefit developed – patients began to comment that they were so satisfied with what they were eating that they had absolutely NO desire to consume any sugar.
If sugar cravings stem from the body not being properly nourished with the result being unstable blood sugar, it certainly makes sense that when the body IS being nourished ideally, the cells will be well satiated, blood sugar will be stable, and sugar cravings will abate.
It’s one thing to be “good” and stay away from sugar, it’s quite another thing to lose one’s interest in it altogether. I think you’ll agree that the latter scenario would be much easier to maintain.
Please note that organic fruits and veggies is a key point whenever possible. As a matter of fact some common fruits and veggies should not even be consumed if you can’t get them organic – they are so heavily laden with pesticides that any possible benefit is outweighed by the negatives. Amongst these are spinach, apples, strawberries, bell peppers and more.
The next point, #4, is mostly addressed to women. Progesterone deficiency is extremely common amongst women of all ages in this country, and it often begins with our teenagers.
• Mood swings
• Heavy periods
• Irregular periods
• Sugar cravings
• Weakened adrenal glands
Even if you are currently in menopause or peri-menopause, if you experienced these symptoms when you were menstruating, it’s unlikely that your earlier progesterone deficiency has gotten resolved with the passage of time; it’s more likely that it’s worsened. In fact, the more children a woman has had and the higher her stress load, the more progesterone deficient she is likely to be.
Finally, point #7 is a tricky one that can frustrate the most diligent of patients. An individual can “clean up” their diet, eliminating sugar and other food sensitivities and feel great. Then a dietary “oops” occurs and some sugar is ingested. Immediately the sugar cravings return with a vengeance and the person has to steel themselves to once again wean away from sugar despite intense cravings.
As a nutritionist I have very much found this to be a function of imbalanced organisms in the intestine – not enough “good guys” (probiotics) and too many “bad guys”. The bad guys love sugar.
This area is one of our specialties, and I can tell you that simply killing the ‘bad guy’ with a drug is not the answer. Plenty of individuals have taken antibiotics or anti-yeast medications to kill off inhospitable organisms in their intestine. But if the reason why the immune system was not able to deal with it on its own (as it’s designed to) is not corrected, there is nothing stopping the problem from returning. This is a classic example of symptomatic relief vs root cause correction – they are very different, and the latter is what clinical nutrition strives to achieve.
What is the root cause of this imbalance of organisms? Most commonly it stems from point #2, food sensitivities, that weaken the immune system of the gut and diminish its capacity to successfully eliminate these hostile organisms.
I hope this was helpful. I know the list above seems a bit long, but the typical person will rarely have all of the points positive. The goal for us in clinical nutrition is to isolate what points need to be addressed and correct them thoroughly. The result is not only optimized health, but that ‘sugar monkey’ is gone for good – really!
Please let me know if you have any questions. HealthNOW is a destination clinic and we see patients from across the country as well as internationally. We are here to help, regardless of where you may live.
Permission is granted to re-post this article in its entirety with credit to Dr Vikki Petersen & HealthNOW Medical Center and a clickable link back to this page. Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN is founder of HealthNOW Medical Center and the author of “The Gluten Effect”. She has been featured in national magazines, international medical journals and is a frequent headlined speaker.