Overdone the chocolate consumption this Easter and now you can’t stop the sugar cravings?
We all crave chocolate from time to time, some more than others. As women, our menstrual cycle does have a lot to answer for! 🙂
Here are 10 reasons why we crave chocolate and carbs/ sugar:
- Hormone fluctuations /menstruation
Would you just do anything to have some chocolate in the lead up to your period!? This is due to hormone fluctuations:
- Mainly, low magnesium (hence why we crave chocolate)
- Cocoa beans are very rich in magnesium, hence our craving for chocolate!
- Avoid processed milk chocolate, containing mostly sugar and fat and eat 80% cacao dark chocolate from a health shop.
- However, green leafy vegetables are healthier sources of magnesium!
- Magnesium is required for energy production and release of stored energy and is used up to help reduce PMS symptoms in women, i.e. cramping, constipation, insomnia, headaches, water retention, anxiety and swollen breasts
- Increased cortisol and reduced serotonin and its precursor tryptophan
- leads to irritation, low mood, exhaustion and anger and thus we reach for certain foods to make us feel better.
- Carbs help release insulin to get tryptophan into the brain 
- Low progesterone
- Leads to mood swings, depression and feeling down, thus increasing a need for comfort food, often involving sugar and fat, to again boost serotonin
- Increased energy needs as the body is detoxing during your period
- Avoid sugar and eat complete whole grains and good sources of protein to increase energy and reduce our cravings. 
- Mainly, low magnesium (hence why we crave chocolate)
- Depression or feeling low
- When we’re feeling low we are often deficient in certain feel good hormones.
- Foods with lots of sugar and fat boost levels of serotonin and beta endorphins. They also combat cortisol production, making us feel happier and more relaxed and give us a natural high. It has also been known to increase self esteem and reduce anxiety. [2a]
- We therefore crave sugary, high carb foods at this time, as our brains “reward” us by releasing serotonin and beta-endorphins when we eat sugar or other refined carbohydrates that are easily converted to glucose (the simplest sugar). 
- However, this is short lived, leading to an addiction
- Stress and anxiety
- When stressed, our adrenals burn out and we have fluctuating blood sugar levels as the body isn’t producing glucose as efficiently from carbohydrates and fats as usual. Thus we crave more sugar and highly palatable foods for fuel and energy. [3, 3a]
- Chronic stress and low cortisol also causes irritability and exhaustion before meals and other common hypoglycaemic symptoms.
- We crave quick energy boosting foods like caffeine, chocolate and sugar, however, this just leads to further cravings and addictions and actually depletes the adrenals more in the long term.
- I know for me as soon as I feel a little anxious or stressed I will reach for a piece of dark chocolate. I am currently moving and Sea salt dark chocolate (as we also crave salt when adrenals are pushed) has definitely been consumed a little more!
- We crave chocolate as the magnesium is energy producing and chocolate also contains copper
- Copper is also essential for energy production and to reduce excessive glucocorticoid activity.
- People in burnout usually suffer from an inability to properly mobilize copper. Although copper is present, it is bio unavailable, largely due to an adrenal insufficiency problem.
- Copper supplementation can therefore be useful.
- Emotional associations
- Pleasure Reward
- We often associate sweet foods with love and acceptance, and scientists have looked at our brain chemistry to understand how food can directly affect our “feel-good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and gets feeling of pleasure and reward. 
- Memories/ food association
- The smell of homemade cookies or a cake fresh out of the oven reminds us of our childhoods, evoking fond memories of past holidays, birthdays, or special occasions.
- Others remember being rewarded with candy or other sugary delights when they did something “good.”
- Environmental cues can really stimulate food cravings. 
- Memories and habits are also a big reason we eat or crave certain foods i.e. popcorn at the movies, hotdog at the footy. 
- Boredom also makes us want to eat more
- When boredom, procrastination and frustration set in, feed your need for energy release rather than your emotions. Go for a power walk or find something else to distract yourself of the strong need for chocolate.
- The more we can break this habit the less we will crave bad foods when bored in the future. 
- Pleasure Reward
- Food sensitivities
- Food sensitivities are often the result of a situation known as “leaky gut,” where partially digested food particles can make their way into the bloodstream through a damaged, inflamed mucosal lining in the digestive tract.
- The body regards these food particles as foreign antigens and mounts an immune response by sending antibodies. These combined antibodies and antigens in your bloodstream, known as immune complexes, can lead to intense cravings.
- Excess acid-forming foods
- Foods like red meat can also cause sugar cravings as it is high in arachidonic acid (AA), a pro-inflammatory omega fatty acid, thus eating a lot can upregulate the oxidative–inflammatory cascade in our bodies.
- It is also a contracting food, and therefore in excess can cause craving for expansive sweets to “open you up” and help you relax.
- If long term, it can cause abnormal glucose metabolism, and, ultimately, insulin resistance.
- Choosing anti-inflammatory foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as those that are alkalizing and antioxidant-rich, such as fruits and vegetables, can help balance out the acidity. 
- Insulin resistance
- Insulin resistance often occurs as a result of a long-term diet high in refined carbohydrates.
- Glucose is not signalled by insulin release to be taken into the cells and instead builds up in the blood, starving your cells of glucose.
- The body thus signals to the brain to secrete more insulin, as the cells aren’t accessing the glucose. This result in sugar cravings, and ultimately, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
- Intestinal yeast
- Yeast feeds on sugar, so if we have some gut dysbiosis, intestinal yeast overgrowth or candida or parasites in our system, this will lead to uncontrollable sugar cravings as the yeast looks for sugary, high carb food to feed on 
- A probiotic is great to keep the bacteria balanced as it contains a competitive yeast and pau d’arco, wormwood, oregano, horopito, and avoid grains, fruits. 
- Ayurvedic perspective
- We all, universally, feel a shift in energy around 3pm and we all crave the sweet taste, some more than others. That 3.30itis as it has been named!
- The Ayurvedic doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha – predominate at different times of life, seasons but also different times of the day.
- Vata is king from 2am-6am and also 2pm-6pm and thus causes sweet cravings.
- At 2pm in the afternoon, the atmosphere tends to shift down a gear, moving from the Pitta Fire, heat of the day, intense, achievement-oriented time to a slightly cooler, clearer, lighter, more ethereal, spacey, sensitive Vata time
- If we’ve had a chilled-out day this shift will feel like a quiet settling.
- If we’ve pushed ourselves (and our nervous systems) we will feel more like a ‘hitting-the-wall’ kind of crash, especially if Vata dominant.
- We have trouble concentrating, feel restless, bored or easily distracted or play aimlessly on Facebook…. or we may just get sleepy if our adrenal tank is empty.
- We find ourselves desperately seeking the sweet taste made up of earth and water, a great antidote to aggravated Vata
- What we’re really craving at this Vata time of the day is comfort, grounding and steadiness. This is what the sweet taste provides. So don’t have aversion towards the craving.
- Just choose wisely… refined sugar, although very sweet, actually aggravates Vata (as well as Pitta and Kapha) and causes increased restlessness and agitation (Rajas) in the mind.
- Unrefined sugars like honey, rapadura, jaggery and maple syrup are a better choice because they pacify Vata and are considered Sattvic, having a peace-promoting effect on the mind.
- Avoid coffee as it is overly stimulating and tends to aggravate Vata and promote Rajas. Black tea is more gentle, especially if you add a sprinkle of ground cardamom 
When you have cravings, be kind. Our sugar cravings and bingeing is often absolutely not a reflection of our willpower or our individual strength. It most likely has physical roots, and those roots can be restored to set the foundation for a healthy, lifelong relationship with sugar!
Look out for my next article on tips to overcome these cravings.
1a Insulin Resistance: Our love affair with sugar. Women to Women
1b Wurtman JJ, ‘Carbohydrate craving, mood changes, and obesity’ J Clin Psychiatry. 1988 Aug;49 Suppl:37-9.
Shabbir F1, Patel A, Mattison C, Bose S, Krishnamohan R, Sweeney E, Sandhu S, Nel W, Rais A, Sandhu R, Ngu N, Sharma S., Effect of diet on serotonergic neurotransmission in depression. Neurochem Int. 2013 Feb;62(3):324-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2012.12.014. Epub 2013 Jan 7.
2a Dr Judith Wurtman, author of The Serotonin Power Diet
3a Sinha R & Jastreboff AM, ‘Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction’ Biol Psychiatry. 2013 May Epub 2013 Mar 26.
4 Theresea Vernon
5 Kathleen Zelman WedMD Food Cravings
6a MK Stojek, S Fischer & J MacKillop ‘Stress, cues, and eating behavior. Using drug addiction paradigms to understand motivation for food’ in Appetite. 2015 Sep 1;92:252-60. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.05.027. Epub 2015 May 27
7 Body Ecology ’10 secrets for ending sugar cravings’
8 Mudita Institute Ayurveda ‘Happy Belly’
Amanda Bontempo, Dietician NY
Better Health Channel, chocolate http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Chocolate
Hale Central, The Best Benefits of Dark Chocolate,http://halecentral.com/the-best-benefits-of-dark-chocolate/