I would call myself a sugarholic. Even after years of no added sugars in my diet, I realise that I will always be prone to sweets – a small slip can turn on massive cravings for more sugars and carbs! Luckily, I have learned to enjoy the healthy snacks and desserts, that keep me satisfied and won’t give me the horrible feelings of the sugar highs and lows. Yes, the “highs” as well give me palpitation, anxiety and makes me sweaty. And you all know the feeling of the blood sugar hitting the rock bottom. But what is the ‘sugar crash’ really and how does it influence our brain and mood?
First, let’s talk about insulin which plays a huge role in our overall health. Insulin is a very important hormone in our body, produced by our pancreas. Insulin helps the glucose from food (primarily sugars and carbs) to flow into our cells to be utilized as energy. Not all the glucose go straight to the cells to be used as energy, but it can be stored from the bloodstream into muscle, liver and especially to the fat cells (in the form of fat) to be used later on. That’s why the higher the insulin, the more likely you are to store fat. Insulin is also an anabolic hormone that increases growth in the body and can affect other hormones as well.
Consumption of sugars and refined carbs -> blood sugar spike ->
insulin rush -> blood sugar crash -> compensatory cortisol response ->
more carb and sugar cravings!
Glucose, our primary source of energy, can not enter the cell without the transport of insulin. Everyone has heard about the ‘insulin resistance’ and this means that there are not enough insulin receptors left for the glucose to bind to – to work as a vehicle for the glucose to get into the cell. Why so? Because the cells have been relentlessly exposed to high levels of insulin by consuming too many sugars (or refined carbohydrates) and this “insulin bombing” has blown up the insulin receptors that allow the insulin to enter the cell. The receptors just had enough! So no more glucose is able to travel into the cell – the cells are missing out the energy – and the pancreas has to make even more insulin to guarantee the supply of energy to the cells. The result is that too much insulin is crashing down the blood sugar which was high just a moment ago after consuming sugary and simple refined carbohydrate foods.
What happens to our mind?
There have been times in my life when I was afraid that I have an early state of dementia at least. All that brain fog, fatigue, forgetting people’s names, keys or the things I was supposed to do and constant mood-swings, made me wonder if I was going insane.
Our brain needs a steady source of fuel. If your cells are not receiving the important energy of glucose, instead the glucose stays in the blood causing a lot of damage. Glucose levels and the brain’s ability to use it as a fuel source are closely linked with brain functions such as thinking, memory, and learning. Also, if there’s not enough glucose in the brain cells, the brain’s chemical messengers, neurotransmitters, can’t deliver the communications between neurons.
There was a study in 2015 led by a team of scientists at Michigan State and Dankook University in South Korea where they found that inflammation and metabolic disorders like high fasting blood sugar and glycated haemoglobin were extremely predictive of depression in women especially.
When the blood sugar hits the rock bottom after a sugar rush, it can almost be described as depression. Why is this so extremely hard for the body? Chronic high blood sugar causes chronic inflammation in the body when the cell functions become disturbed and free radicals can activate (oxidation). Free radicals again increase the chronic inflammation.
The reaction, where your body is dealing with various forms of sugars – is called hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). The typical signs of hypoglycemia include hunger, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, trembling, heart racing, nausea, anxiety, irritability and sweating. All of the things we feel when we are depressed, right? Sugar can also damage our brain cells such as in hippocampus. Region critically involved in stress regulation and behavioural outcomes. Hippocampus is responsible for cortisol supply and demand. What comes to my own brain fog a few years ago, I started to question whether my ‘early state of dementia’ was just an outcome of a poor diet.
Our body can not digest the artificial sweeteners. That’s why they are called empty calories, but it doesn’t mean they won’t interfere with our body in much more dangerous ways – by altering the gut microbiome. Artificial sweeteners can alter our gut bacteria, causing metabolic syndromes in humans such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, contributing to weight issues and obese epidemic.
How to balance insulin levels and help cravings?
Cut all the sugars, refined carbohydrates and starches from your diet. That means basically all the packaged foods. Turn to whole foods and organic as much as possible. You might also want to remove gluten (including whole grains, bread, pasta, pastries, noodles, cereals etc.) and dairy from your diet for a couple of weeks just to see how you really react to them when you later introduce them back to your diet. Skip the industrial vegetable oils (such as margarine, canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, peanut oil etc.) due to the fact that these are all highly processed oils (even organic) and have to be extracted in very unnatural ways with toxic chemicals. Vegetable oils also contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which are healthy in principle but unstable and therefore oxidise very easily when hydrogenated. Vegetable oils also contain proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (note! omega-3 and -6 ratio).
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HOW TO OUTSMART CRAVINGS!
Replace the foods mentioned above with the following:
Add more fibre by eating more vegetables rich in fibre and moderately fruits low in fructose. The fibre restrains the insulin to rise up. Remember that the fruit juices are lacking the fibre but contain all the sugar. In most of the cases, the sugar of many fruits! Nuts, seeds and wild berries are also a great source of fibre.
Healthy fats are crucial to your diet. Whenever we eat a source of carbohydrates or sugars, it should be accompanied by a quality source of fat. Especially in the morning to keep the energy up and stable for a long time. Fat slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and prevents sugar highs and sugar crashes. Fat is the nutrient that keeps you satisfied after a meal.
Healthy fats include, for example, naturally processed grass fed butter (helps your brain function properly) or Ghee (clarified butter), organic virgin coconut oil (great anti-inflammatory food), organic virgin olive oil (omega 3-6-9, helps chronic inflammation), MCT-oil (from coconut), and DHA, EPA found in fish oils (omega-3). Avocados, nuts (especially almonds) and seeds (flaxseeds, chia) are also a great source of healthy fats.
Find good sources of proteins. Vegetables also contain protein (especially peas, spinach, broccoli, kale, sprouts, mushrooms) as well as all nuts and seeds. If your body can handle the dairy, a fermented dairy beverage that has probiotics and raw cheeses are great. Wild chicken and turkey, free range eggs and sustainable fish are also great sources of protein. The ideal would be to have the meat as a side dish along with the vegetables more than the main course.
Add herbs. Healthy herbs like Sweet Cicely, Liquorice root, Ashwagandha root and Ginseng can help with sugar cravings.
Supplements for sugar cravings:
- 200mg Chromium (high-quality) – 3 times a day with your meal.
- Complex B-vitamin – as directed with your meal.
- Probiotics – help to reduce yeast in the system and therefore help with sugar cravings.
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