The Real Reason Sugar Cravings Are So Powerful

Sugar is everywhere, sneaking its way into so many foods that many of us don't even realize how much of it we're consuming. Classic breakfast foods such as packaged oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and granola are often teeming with added sugar, while wholesome-seeming protein bars, smoothies, and even salad dressings can contain tons of extra sugar. With all of this sweetener pumped into our daily food choices, it's no surprise that many of us are so keen to eat too much sugar.

One seemingly universal human experience: the irresistibly strong urge to have something sweet after a meal. Whether they're for a small piece of dark chocolate, a caramel-filled candy bar, or a piece of cake, sugar cravings can super difficult to avoid. But why are these cravings so difficult to ignore, and how do they become so powerful in the first place? There are a few reasons why, and, thankfully, there are also ways to stave them off when you're not in the mood to have more dessert.

Stress, lack of sleep, and giving in to cravings can all lead to more sugar consumption

We love sugar for tons of reasons: It gives us a short burst of energy and it tastes delicious — especially when we're feeling overwhelmed. Why's that? A 2019 study shared in the U.S. National Library of Medicine linked the stress hormone cortisol with food cravings, specifically for sweet foods. Feeling stressed can lead to the desire to consume more sugar, so simply being aware of that fact may help you reduce your sweets intake when you're having a difficult day. If you aren't getting enough sleep, that could also be why you find yourself wanting a ton of salted caramel ice cream. Another report found that those who don't get enough rest tend to have more cravings for foods that are sweet, salty, and starchy. Simply hit the hay earlier and see if that lessens your hankering for sugar over time. 

Why try to curb sugar cravings at all? The more sweet foods we consume, the more we want. According to Healthline, "Some researchers think that when people get used to the hyper-sweetened taste of artificial sweeteners, their desire for sweeter foods could get stronger." Case in point: A report conducted in 2015 found that nearly 90% of people who cut all sweeteners out of their diet for two weeks reported reduced sugar cravings by the end of the study. Therefore, cutting back on sweeteners, both natural and artificial, could help lower your penchant for sugar in a significant way.