Craving Sugar? It Might Be a Digestive Problem


While we cannot ignore the psychological underpinnings of a sugar addiction, physical problems can trigger our craving for sweets. Until those physical issues are resolved, the sugar cravings will continue.

Sweets not only provide a pleasurable sensation, but their simple sugars also give us a quick blast of energy. If our body’s ability to fuel itself by digesting nutritious food is impaired, it may begin craving the easy energy provided by sugary treats.

Digestion Problems and Sugar Cravings

Adrenal Glands

Glucose (sugar) in our bloodstream is regulated by glucocorticoid hormones. These hormones are produced by our adrenal glands. If your adrenal gland activity is low, your blood glucose will be low as well, and your body will crave sugar. This means that some people who seem to have an insatiable sweet tooth actually have poorly functioning adrenal glands.

Sluggish adrenal glands may be nutrient-deficient and easily re-energized by dietary changes. They need plenty of vitamins C, E and B-complex plus minerals such as magnesium and zinc.

Assimilation Issues

If our digestive system is not adequately breaking down the foods we eat, our body will not get the nutrients it requires. This may cause cravings for the instant fuel provided by sweets.

Poor digestion may be owed to:

  • ~ anxiety, which impairs digestion
  • ~ the absence of necessary digestive enzymes in our GI tract
  • ~ gulping our food, or swallowing without chewing it thoroughly

Intestinal Woes

Many people have more than one intestinal problem impeding their bodies' utilization of food:

  • ~ yeast, bacteria, fungal and viral infections
  • ~ parasites
  • ~ diarrhea (a well-known and unwelcome problem)
  • ~ leaky gut, or damage to the intestinal walls
  • ~ intestinal atrophy
  • ~ malabsorption syndromes (e.g., celiac disease)

When our intestines are not functioning up to par, people can overeat in an attempt to get the nutrients they need, or they might crave nutrient-empty but energizing sugary foods.

Cell Membrane Mayhem

Glucose does not have a free pass through our cell membranes; it requires the key of insulin. When our body has problems with insulin, glucose cannot enter our cells to provide fuel. You may already know that this can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

There are two other cell membrane problems that can lead to nutrition deficiency and sugar cravings:

  1. Insufficient omega-3 fatty acids decreases the permeability of our cell membranes. Many nutritionists recommend eating fatty fish or taking fish oil supplements because our Western diet does not provide adequate amounts of omega-3s.
  2. Our cell membranes are susceptible to hardening, or sclerosis. This is often the result of eating a processed-food diet, environmental toxins, the effects of illness, and aging.

The Point to Remember

We may do ourselves a disservice to assume that our sugar habit is the whining of a giant sweet tooth, or that we are too weak-willed to give up candy bars.

Our craving for sweets might be the body crying out for nutrients it needs but is physically unable to absorb. Once the physical issue is addressed, the body can learn to crave nutrient-rich fuel-foods.


Photo of cake and ice cream by John Nyboer

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