You know that feeling. You just had a very large, very filling dinner and you feel you couldn't possibly eat one more bite of anything. But slowly, you get the feeling that something's missing – something sweet. Even though you're stuffed, you practically need a piece of chocolate, or – even better – a slice of chocolate cake. This happens to many people, perhaps even most. But why? Here's some information on post-dinner sugar cravings and how you can beat them:
Why do I crave sweets?
We want sweet treats after meals for several biological, psychological and lifestyle-related reasons.
- Low serotonin levels cause us to want to eat sugar. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that elevates mood. Sugar can help the body absorb tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin. If you're feeling down, eating something sweet can boost your mood.
- Eating an unbalanced diet high in carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and then drop suddenly after dinner. Our bodies want this "high" again, so we look to sugar. We also experience low blood sugar when we're tired, which causes us to need more carbs for a pick-me-up.
- If your diet is low in fat, you could put too much strain on the body and cause insulin resistance, during which sugars are not being carried effectively throughout the body. This stress on our bodies leads to a need for sugar.
Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet and have normal serotonin levels, you might still be feeling that you "need" sweets after dinner due to psychological conditioning: Dessert was always what rounded out and finished a meal, so you feel like something is missing if you don't have it.
Why should I avoid them?
Like you've heard hundreds of times, you really should do your best to eat sugar in moderation. The more sugar someone eats, the more their body becomes used to it and wants it – this sugar craving is a vicious cycle. Here are some foods with "hidden" sugars to watch out for:
- Protein bars
- Coffee drinks
- Teriyaki sauce
- Salad dressing
- Flavored waters
How can I resist?
There are many ways to resist sugar cravings and potentially avoid them altogether! Here are some tips:
- Eat a balanced diet – don't overload on carbs, but make sure to eat plenty of complex carbs that help us to stay full between meals.
- Get enough sleep each night because being tired makes us crave the quick – but not nutritious – pick-me-up that sugar provides.
- Check labels! You never know where sugar is hiding these days. It's even in foods we perceive to be savory and health foods.
- If you just can't resist, try a tactic like brushing your teeth immediately after dinner so you won't be tempted to eat sugar.
- Or, even better, substitute chocolate cake and candy for fresh fruit like berries that also pack an antioxidant punch.
- Take a walk after dinner. Exercise can boost serotonin levels too, making it less likely that you'll need to have sugar!