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Here's Why You Might be Craving Sweet and Salty Foods When Not Really Hungry

When it comes to food cravings, are you either craving sweets after meals or some savory snack mid-day? Well, you're not alone, we all battle these constant cravings. That is why we commonly hear terms like having a sweet tooth, sugar rush, or salt cravings.

But why do these cravings happen? While there are several physiological and psychological reasons causing these cravings, there might be some imbalances in your body that could be responsible too. To dig deeper, you can read along.

In this blog, we will break down what salt and sugar cravings indicate and what can be done to get them under control. So, let's start.

What are Sugar and Salt Cravings?

Your body is just like a car. It needs fuel to work and function smoothly. The fuel here refers to a balanced diet filled with essential nutrients like magnesium. But when the body is unable to get its fair share of essential nutrients, it results in cravings. These cravings make you indulge in eating something sugary or savory. There are several other factors guilty of contributing to these cravings. Let us discuss them in detail.

Why Do Sugar Cravings Occur?

Sugar, like other simple carbohydrates, signals the body to release happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Frequent intake of excessive sugary foods can make your body get habitual to sweet consumption. This can lead to neurochemical changes in the brain that trigger this craving frequently.

Sweet cravings after a meal could also mean you consume carbohydrates dense meals. And if you're indulging in these sugary cravings, it can lead to an imbalance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Other factors that can also stimulate sugar cravings are:

1. Dehydration

Dehydration can also be a major reason for your cravings. Yes, you read that right.

Sometimes, our bodies misinterpret signals that our brains are sending us. Like excessive thirst can send signals to the brain that it's craving something, and we may mistake this for a sugar craving.

Insufficient water intake can make it difficult for the body to metabolise glycogen. Therefore, the body is unable to get enough energy and thus craves sugar. That is because sugar is a source of quick energy. Next time you experience cravings, know that it can be a sign you are dehydrated. Opt for hydrating beverages like water, coconut water, or lemon water rather than sweets or sugary snacks.

2. Stress

Stress has a major impact on your primary stress hormone (cortisol) levels, and also brings about changes in glucose and insulin levels. Stress affects hunger and cravings in people differently, but your body will quickly use its energy stores while in overdrive. Sugar increases dopamine levels and provides temporary pleasure, making you want more of it to enjoy this happy or relieved feeling. Sugar can also make you feel relaxed by suppressing the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in your brain, which controls your response to stress. Low magnesium levels can also be the trigger for high-stress levels and sugar cravings.

3. Inadequate Fibre & Protein Intake

High-fibre meals keep you full for a longer time as fibre absorbs water that contributes to that feeling of fullness. Also, high-fibre foods require more chewing and take longer for your stomach to digest. This sends a signal to your brain that you are full, which helps you eat less throughout the day. Protein also works similarly by slowing down the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Hence when you don’t consume enough protein in your diet, your blood sugar can rise and fall at an abnormal rate resulting in your body craving quick energy from sugar.

Why Do Salt Cravings Occur?

1. Electrolyte Imbalance

Salt imbalance is a clear symptom of an electrolyte imbalance in the body. It can occur due to overhydration or dehydration.

2. Lack of Sleep

Just like stress, lack of sleep can also affect your hormones. Thus, leading to salt cravings. When you are sleeping less or are exhausted, your serotonin levels drop. So, your body looks for other ways, like eating salty or sweet foods, to feel good. When people are tired, they lose the ability to say no to their cravings.

3. Addison's Disease

The adrenal glands in your body produce hormones responsible for your survival. Addison's disease is a rare condition where the body is unable to produce enough of these hormones. These hormones also control stress and sodium levels and regulate blood pressure. As your body loses salt in this disease, it craves more of it, leading to sugar cravings.

How To Avoid Sugar or Salt Cravings?

1. Adequate Hydration

To maintain optimum electrolyte balance and hydration, ensure you consume 2-3 liters of water on a daily basis. You can incorporate coconut water, fresh lime juice (minus the sugar), fruit-infused or herb-infused water, or thin buttermilk to add variation to the routine and also stay hydrated.

2. Make Sure You Eat a Balanced Meal

A balanced diet is crucial for a healthy body and lesser cravings. And by a balanced diet, we mean that all the portions are in the right quantities and not dominating. That means your diet should meet the requirements of daily fibre, with the help of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, complete protein from superfoods like brown rice, pea, legumes, and micronutrients from nuts, seeds and seasonal fruits.

3. Healthy Meal Swaps

Swap your chocolates with healthier alternatives such as sweet tasting fruits like grapes or mangoes to make sure you don't end up reaching for junk food to get your sugar fix. Dates also are an excellent choice, and they're as nutritious as they are sweet. They're a good source of fibre, iron, and potassium too. You can have a mixed fruit salad or a fresh fruit smoothie. If you love ice-cream, you can make it at home by replacing the sugar-loaded ready-to-eat ice cream with the home-made version with fresh fruits and milk of your choice (almond, oats, lactose-free, etc.) or even indulge in fresh fruit popsicles. You can add sweeteners or date powder for added sweetness. For salt cravings, you can have vegetable sticks sprinkled with salt or khakhra, sprouts, or roasted murmura with salt and turmeric to satiate your cravings. Consuming sweets in moderation is acceptable, however, if it becomes a habit or excessive then it calls for health concerns.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Getting adequate sleep will make you feel well-rested and energised, reducing cravings for salty, sugary, or high-fat foods. A sleepless night will release ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and also increase insulin release. Thus, increasing your cravings for foods that are good for the short term but might affect you in the longer run. Ensure that you get your share of restful sleep by making a proper sleep schedule, avoiding excessive caffeine post-evening and also reducing screen time.

5. Stay Active

A great way of avoiding food cravings is by going for a good walk or running. Walking releases endorphins which are feel-good hormones. These hormones make you feel better and help turn the cravings off. Also, you will be distancing yourself from the food you want to avoid. If you cannot go out, some simple exercises at home will work the same.

Wrapping Up

Controlling cravings is not about starving yourself or banning yourself from eating your favourite salty or sugary foods. The only thing you should know is that giving in to them will affect you and your health. It is like inviting an addiction. But, once you follow the above tips and start working towards preventing cravings, things will be easier to handle.

References

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Munir S, Quintanilla Rodriguez BS, Waseem M. Addison Disease. [Updated 2022 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441994/

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