You might not think about why you’re reaching for that extra cookie. Menopausal sugar cravings are real, and they can make it challenging to maintain your weight and health.
Causes of Menopausal Sugar Cravings
Hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause can cause sugar cravings. Insulin, estrogen, serotonin and dopamine are in flux during this time, and low amounts contribute to sleep problems, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and increased sugar cravings.
An imbalance in blood sugar is another culprit. The level of sugar in your blood can swing from low to high, sometimes resulting from poor sleep, diabetes, stress or consumption of sweets.
Women in menopause should watch their intestinal and vaginal yeast levels. If there is too much yeast in your system, sugar cravings will flourish. Other symptoms of excess yeast are fatigue, digestive issues and foggy thinking.
When you think you want a sugary snack, your body might be craving more nutrition. When you don’t get enough nutrients, your body starts to look for ways to get them from whatever you eat, even if it’s a sweet snack.
Sometimes menopausal sugar cravings aren’t physical. If you’re bored, sad or anxious, you might be tempted to go for a slice of cake to “feel better.” Stress can cause more cortisol production, leading to a fight-or-flight response. Too much cortisol often means unwanted weight gain.
Sugar’s Effects on the Body
There’s a reason sugar is addictive. That afternoon cookie gives you a sugar rush and rewards your brain with feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Unfortunately, the sugar rush can disrupt your hormone balance and escalate common menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. Excess sugar in your liver turns to fat and contributes to weight gain. Other adverse effects include heart palpitations, anxiety and panic attacks and joint pain.
Combatting the Sugar Cravings
No healthy diet has a recommended daily amount of processed sugar. We can do without sugar that comes from sodas, sweets and processed foods. However, our bodies do need glucose, and we get enough when we digest whole foods.
If you’re feeling hungry for something sweet, drink a glass of water. Sometimes we confuse thirst and hunger. Staying hydrated will reduce your sugar cravings. Drink mostly water; coffee, sodas and alcohol can dehydrate your system. Herbal hot tea is a good substitute for plain water.
Learn which food ingredients are hidden sources of sugar. These include glucose, dextrose, maltose, syrup, caramel and high fructose corn syrup. Look for any word that ends in “-ose.” Be cautious of so-called “low-fat” foods; they’re likely laced with extra sugar.
Eating fresh produce and varying the types of fresh foods can help you get all your vitamins and minerals. Make sure you’re getting a daily dose of micronutrients like zinc and vitamins B and C, which create serotonin. Magnesium is excellent for relaxation, and omega-3 fats help regulate mood.
Protein is great for battling menopausal sugar cravings because it balances your blood sugar. Nuts are a healthy supplement to your daily diet. Try some protein powder in your shakes or smoothies.
Go “clean slate” with a sugar fast. Three to five days without eating processed sugar could give you a jump-start to tackling your cravings. Don’t eliminate fruits from your diet because they’re sources of natural sugars.
Try cutting down on your yeast intake or take a probiotic to rebalance your body’s bacteria. The better the bacterial balance in your body, the less sugar it will want.
When cravings hit, go for a walk. Kick up your exercise to get your heart pumping and encourage the endorphins to kick in. Even a daily half-hour walk will help you balance your blood sugar and calm your menopausal symptoms.
Are you stressed, anxious, sad or bored? Sweets often feel like a good substitute for negative feelings. When you’re not feeling well emotionally, be aware of that feeling and avoid the snacks. Try deep breathing for relaxation, or go for a walk to de-stress.
Resisting sugar cravings can be difficult, especially for women in menopause. Understand sugar’s harmful effects and what leads to those cravings. Your health will benefit.