Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Article Review By: Kristy Synder Colling, Ph.D. and Robert Coben, Ph.D.
What is one of the most challenging things about changing habits of disease
into habits of health? For some, it can be tackling those sugar cravings.
Getting a handle on that sweet tooth is difficult for three reasons. First,
added processed sugar is in many of the prepackaged foods we eat every
day. Sometimes it is obvious, as is the case for desserts, but sometimes it
isn’t as obvious, as in the case of salad dressings, condiments, energy
drinks, and some yogurts. Second, sugar is often a ritual. For example, after
dinner many of us expect to eat something sweet. Third, sugar may actually
Typically, when we eat food, like broccoli, dopamine (i.e., a neuro transmitter
that is linked with feelings of pleasure) is released in the brain. However,
after a few bites the release of dopamine lessens and instead of being
enjoyable, the food gets a bit boring. However, this is not the case with
sugar. Processed sugar continues to induce the release of dopamine. As a
result, our brains crave more. This is a mechanism that is similar to other
addictive substances (e.g., nicotine). As a result, you may start off thinking
you’ll have just one or two cookies after dinner but before you know it,
you’ve eaten the whole package.
Foods not only affect the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, they also
affect the bacteria in our digestive systems. Processed foods and those high
in added sugar facilitate bad bacteria. However, diverse diets that include
leafy greens, fiber, and probiotics facilitate good bacteria. In addition to
affecting digestion and regularity, there is evidence that our gut bacteria can
also play a role in our food cravings. This means that the more sugar we eat,
the more our gut bacteria sends signals to the brain to eat more sugar. But,
it also works the other way – if we choose to eat a bowl of fruit after dinner
instead of brownies, we can change the bacteria in our digestive system and,
in turn, we will eventually start craving healthier
The answer is to start making conscious decisions about what we eat.
Instead of a sugar-bomb Frappuccino at breakfast, have some black tea
instead. In the beginning, it may be hard to make these switches but every
time we make a better choice it makes the next choice easier – both
physiologically (i.e., gut bacteria) and psychologically but replacing habits of
disease with habits of health. If you’d like to learn more about how to start
making healthy choices, please contact us. Our health coaches would love to
talk with you about our nutrition program.