Menopausal Sugar Cravings: What You Need to KnowAug 31, 2018
Have you noticed your sugar cravings getting even worse as you approach the menopause?
Despite being pretty keen on staying healthy and ageing gracefully, you find yourself reaching for the sweet treats throughout the day.
At times, it feels like these cravings have taken control, and you simply can’t stop thinking about those [insert sweet food] in your kitchen cupboard. It’s as if they’re calling you…
So why are you experiencing these sugar cravings now, at the menopause? And what can you do to overcome them?
Why we crave sugar more during the peri-menopause and menopause
You’re much more likely to find yourself snacking on KitKats and Chelsea buns for elevenses and cracking open that packet of Ginger nuts to get you through your mid-afternoon slump during the menopause because of the changing levels of oestrogen, progesterone, GABA, serotonin and dopamine.
This is because your ‘unstable’ hormone levels have an impact upon an area of your brain called the hypothalamus. The result is often sleep problems, irritability, PMS symptoms and increased sugar cravings. See? It’s not really your fault!
Having said that, there are many other factors which can also cause you to fancy something sweet more often than you otherwise would. These include:
Blood sugar issues
The one I see most often is a blood sugar level imbalance. This simply means that the amount of sugar in your blood isn’t stable and fluctuates between high and low. It can be caused by diabetes and insulin resistance, stress, or more commonly, a high intake of sugary foods.
Insomnia or poor sleep
Lack of sleep will also affect your blood sugar balance, causing it to destabilise. This will cause further sugar cravings as your body attempts to redress the balance.
Any gut troubles also make you much more likely to experience those annoying sugar cravings. This is because our gut health has a massive impact upon on our overall health, including that of our hormones and our hypothalamus.
A poor diet
A lack of nutrients in your diet can also cause your body to start ‘asking’ for them in whatever way it can. In this case, it’s cravings for those foods which would naturally be high in vitamins and minerals- fresh sweet wholefoods.
It’s also worth mentioning that our sugar cravings often don’t have a physical basis. Sometimes we just want to eat something sweet to ‘cheer ourselves up’, don’t we? We want to give ourselves a ‘treat’ after a hard day or if we’re feeling fed up, so we turn to sugary foods.
Whilst this isn’t a health problem in itself, consuming sugar like this will impact your hormonal balance and affect how easily you transition through the menopause.
Why does it matter that you have sugar cravings?
Sugar cravings are bad at any age, and point to a definite imbalance within the body.
Worst of all, if you give in to these cravings and eat more sugar, you’ll make your symptoms of the peri-menopause and menopause even worse, increase your anxiety and even pile on more weight, especially around the belly area.
Sugars spell even worse news for your body at the time of the menopause.
Firstly, a high intake of sugar can disrupt your overall hormone balance and trigger yet more hot flushes, more brain fog, and more stress.
Secondly, these sugars actually deplete vital nutrients from your body, many of which are especially important during the peri-menopause and menopause. These include:
- Chromium: helps to regulate insulin and stave off sugar cravings
- Manganese: benefits bone health, weight loss, PMS
- Zinc: protects the immune system by supporting gut lining
- Magnesium: prevents migraines, insomnia, PMS, anxiety
Your body also uses its stores of the B-complex vitamins plus extra calcium to digest the sugars. This means your body will lack stores of these vital minerals to stay healthy.
Thirdly, refined sugars, carbohydrates, and sweeteners are largely void of nutrients. They only contain carbs for energy and nothing else.
Finally, the more sugary foods you eat, the lower your appetite for those nutrient-dense foods which you really need. You know what I mean- it’s that old saying, “Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach”. If you do, you’ll buy all the wrong foods and miss out on the healthy foods.
How do you know if you need to do something about your sugar cravings?
Most of us like to enjoy something sweet from time to time. So how do you know when things are getting out of control? How much sugar is too much?
There’s no such thing as an RDA (recommended daily allowance) for sugar.
Whilst it’s true that our bodies and brains run on glucose which is a type of sugar, we get more than enough glucose when we digest our food.
We just don’t need the processed sugars in the form of table sugar, biscuits, cakes, sweets, pastries, jams, fizzy drinks, sweetened yoghurts, and so on.
How can you tell when you’re eating too much sugar?
If you add sugar to your food or drinks, you drink fizzy drinks, you snack on dried fruit, you eat large amounts of fruit or you crave sugary foods or carbs, you probably have a problem with your sugar intake.
The following health symptoms might also indicate a problem:
- Need coffee to get going in the mornings or to keep energy up
- Insomnia or waking during the night
- Symptoms of low blood sugar
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Irritability or agitation
- Feeling stressed or overwhelmed
- Depression or mood swings
- Feeling fearful
- Poor memory and concentration
- Intense cravings for sweets or chocolate
How you can stop your sugar cravings?
As you’ve probably noticed, your willpower alone usually isn’t enough to beat those sugar cravings. If it was that easy, you’d have given up those Hobnobs long ago. So here are some easier (and much less painful) ways to take control and avoid eating too much sugar.
- Ask yourself if you’re thirsty
Often, when we think we’re hungry or need a sweet treat, we’re actually feeling thirsty or even slightly dehydrated. So next time you find yourself scouring the kitchen cupboards for something sweet to eat, grab a glass and enjoy a cool, refreshing glass of water or herbal tea instead.
It’s also worth treating yourself to a reusable stainless steel water bottle (not plastic), filling it up and sipping often.
- Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet is the foundation of a healthy body. There’s simply no way you can function at your best unless you’re nourishing it to the best of your ability. If you’re not getting the nutrition you need, you’ll feel tired, low on energy and you’ll even start craving certain foods to get what you need. Including sugar.
So make sure you’re filling up on plenty of fresh produce, including plenty of green leafy veggies, healthy fats, good sources of protein, plus nuts and seeds. You’ll notice a massive difference.
- Avoid foods which spike your blood sugar
Certain foods will spike your blood sugar sharply and then cause your blood sugar to crash. This leaves you feeling grouchy, exhausted, and craving yet more sugar . And so the cycle continues.
Avoid the following foods and you’ll feel much more energetic, balanced and positive.
- Whole fruit: If eaten alone, whole fruit can spike your blood sugar. Eat small amounts only with a small amount of protein.
- Dried fruit: Yes, it might be rich in minerals but it’s also very high in concentrated sugars which can cause problems with your blood sugar levels if eaten alone. Again, enjoy small amounts with protein, like nuts or seeds.
- Honey, maple syrup, and molasses:These are healthier sweeteners but also impact your blood sugar if eaten alone. Instead you can add them to smoothies or soups, but make sure you’re eating them with fats and protein too.
- Fruit juice: Fruit juices are similar to whole fruit, but they lack the fibre which naturally occurs within the whole fruit. This means they have an even greater impact upon your blood sugar. Avoid these.
- Agave nectar: Whilst it has been touted as a healthy alternative to sugar, agave sugar is actually high in fructose. Our bodies find it harder to process fructose compared to other sugars.
- Fizzy drinks (sodas) and energy drinks: These drinks are often high in added sugars and often caffeine too, which cause your blood sugar to spike and crash.
- Sugar and processed carbohydrates: Refined sugars and processed carbohydrates (think sugars, white bread, white rice, white pasta and processed foods containing these ingredients) can also spike your blood sugar and increase your cravings. Avoid them!
- Keep your sweet tooth happy with a touch of sweetness
Don’t panic! You can still keep your sweet tooth satisfied even if you need to avoid those sugars. Simply choose small amounts of those sugars which don’t affect your blood sugar so much, like Stevia and Xylitol.
However, please avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. These are highly toxic in the body, increase inflammation, damage your bone health and can affect your brain health.
If you do the things recommended here, you won’t only beat your sugar cravings, but you should prevent yourself from experiencing them in the first place. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel!