What Actually Happens During a Sugar High?
You know about the sugar cycle: It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. You’re stuck at your desk trying to work, but your eyelids are drooping and all you can think about is a maple bacon donut from the shop down the street. Eating that donut would temporarily make you feel better, give you energy and help you complete the dull assignment you’re plodding through.
There’s just one problem: You also know that later you’ll be grouchy, irritable and crave more sweets and carbs.
Have you ever wondered about this pattern? If so, you’re not alone. Many, many people go through this cycle every day, sometimes multiple times. They eat sugar, only to regret it when they crash. Yet their cravings return later, stronger than ever, prompting them to do it again. Just what the heck is happening?? Well, let’s explore that.
The Insulin Spike
When you eat a bunch of sugar, your bloodstream feels the effects almost immediately. The result is significantly higher levels of glucose, the body’s energy molecule, and the main ingredient in most types of sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as white flour and starchy potatoes.
In reaction, your body produces a lot of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that is responsible for moving glucose into the cells of your body, where they can be used as energy. In a way, this is good, because when too much glucose stays in your bloodstream, you’re at risk for developing diabetes. However, eating too much sugar can make you insulin resistant, which is where your body is immune to insulin’s effects, and puts you at risk of heart disease and other problems.
The Sugar CrashEven if you aren’t insulin resistant, eating too much sugar has negative side effects. Because all of that glucose has been taken up by the tissues in your body, it is no longer circulating in your bloodstream. This results in a sugar crash, leaving you feeling tired, grumpy, hungover or anxious. Later, we miss the high associated with eating sugar (which comes from happiness-inducing neurotransmitters released in our brain while we’re eating), and want it back. Hence more cravings. No good right?
Breaking the Sugar CycleThis ongoing cycle of wanting, eating, crashing and wanting more doesn’t have to be your life. You have other options.
- Alter your diet: Instead of eating a diet rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates, sub in dark whole grains, vegetables and fermented foods. These keep you full and help you crave less.
- Use non-calorie and non-glycemic sweeteners: If you have a sweet tooth, try a zero-calorie sweetener that contains no glucose. This will stop the cycle of spiking and crashing, and leave you feeling healthier and free of cravings. Lakanto is a good example, made from all-natural monkfruit
- Get enough sleep: Often we eat sugar to feel energetic or to balance our emotions. Luckily, sleeping more can provide the same services. If you aren’t getting your 8 hours (7 minimum), start now.