We crave sugar for many reasons. Sometimes getting to the root of your cravings is a bit of a puzzle. However, many clients find that they can link their cravings to one (or more) of these common reasons below.
lack of sleep
eating unbalanced meals
One of the more complex reasons I see people craving sugar is due to low serotonin.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a brain chemical that influences mood and behavior. It's derived from the amino acid tryptophan. It's responsible for things like self-control and impulse control.
When your serotonin is at an optimal level you feel relaxed, hopeful, and focused.
When you have low levels of serotonin, you may feel depressed, reactive, or scattered. You may also have intense carb cravings or act impulsively.
In the book, Potatoes not Prozac, Kathleen DesMaisons describes the delicate balance of blood sugar, serotonin, and beta-endorphin and how they relate to cravings. Beta-endorphin, another brain chemical, is related to emotions and pain. Many people relate this to the "runner's high" or feeling euphoric.
The author does an excellent job explaining why medications often miss the mark to treat the symptoms of low serotonin and depression because we need all three of these important factors to be in balance. Just treating only one can leave many people still feeling "off".
How Low Serotonin Impacts Cravings
Our body's are extremely intelligent and will crave things that will increase our serotonin. This means carbs like cookies, candy, breads, and pasta.
Since low serotonin may leave you feeling impulsive or having no self control, it's common to over eat these foods. Skipping the bread placed on your table at a restaurant isn't an option. You've eaten several pieces before you even notice you're eating the bread. You basically have no brakes around these types of foods.
In the book she discusses an informal approach to find out if you're sugar sensitive. It goes something like this.
Imagine you've come home and there is a plate of warm brownies on the table. No one is around. You're not hungry because you just had a full meal. What do you do?
When I read this for the first time I laughed. Is that even a question? I mean, my mouth was watering just at the thought of smelling the imaginary brownies.
I'm sugar sensitive. If you had the same thought as me, so are you.
If you've been working hard to "eat right" or balance your blood sugar and still can't shake the cravings...it could be that you have low levels of serotonin.
Want support to end your sugar cravings?
How To Increase Serotonin
Here are a few ways to naturally increase your serotonin levels. And many of these can also boost your beta-endorphin levels and help you balance your blood sugar too.
Focus on Gut Health
Since 95% of our serotonin is made in our gut, it's important to ensure that we maximize the health of our gut. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids will reduce inflammation. Adding in probiotic foods will help balance your gut flora.
Research shows there are the three major monoamine neurotransmitters that are known to be modulated by exercise. Serotonin is one of those neurotransmitters. Get some movement into your day that you enjoy doing. If you need some ideas, go here.
Eat Adequate Protein
Serotonin is derived from tryptophan, which is found in protein. A few good sources are chicken, pork loin, ground beef, tuna, salmon, and eggs. Make sure you are balancing your plate and including 4-6oz. of protein.
Limit or Avoid Refined Carbs
Remember it's as important to keep your blood sugar balanced as it is to increase your serotonin. While insulin helps tryptophan cross the blood brain barrier to make serotonin, we don't want to spike your blood sugar. Instead, eating complex carbs that contain fiber will allow the glucose to enter your blood stream slowly. Blood sugar stays steady and you boost your serotonin. Win, win!
Have you ever heard the phrase, "laughter is the best medicine"? It's true! A few minutes of laughter can lower your stress hormones and alter your serotonin. Taking a laugh break is another thing I recommend for my clients that deal with a lot of stress and have very little time. A couple times a day take 2-3 minutes to watch a funny video or chat with/text a friend that you know will give you a good laugh. Even just a few minutes can make a big shift in your mood.
Getting fresh air is good for your mood and something else I always suggest to clients with high levels of stress. But did you know that getting in 20 minutes of sunshine a day will also boosting your vitamin D levels? Additionally, research has shown a connection between sunshine and the release of serotonin. Try to park farther away and spend a few extra minutes outdoors if you can't take a break outside during the day. Getting your sunshine early in the day also has the added bonus of helping regulate your circadian rhythm which means better sleep.
Always consult your trusted medical professional before introducing new supplements.
Vitamin C supports the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.
The B vitamins break down carbohydrates for your body to use as fuel. Its best taken as a B Complex rather than picking and choosing with B vitamins to take. Many of the B vitamins have other beneficial roles and they work synergistically.
Zinc can help your body use insulin more effectively.
Vitamin D can be helpful if you're not getting adequate sunshine or are deficient.
If you feel like you have no brakes when it comes to sweets and refined carbs then this aspect is worth exploring. Especially if you've been focused on many of the common diet and lifestyle factors I pointed out at the beginning of the article to no avail.
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