3 Reasons why you crave sugar after a meal

Having a little something sweet to ‘finish off a meal’ is an all too familiar feeling for many – myself included! Is there any science behind why you crave sugar after a meal, we hear you ask. 

Although the exact mechanisms of why we crave certain foods are still largely unknown. There are lots of reasons why your body might be craving higher carbohydrates or ‘sugary’ foods after you finish a meal. 

We’ve narrowed it down to 3 common reasons why you crave sugar after a meal:

1. Your meals are not nutritionally balanced and/or you’re not eating enough:

Ensuring you are consuming enough calories to support your energy needs is very important – if not, you will quickly feel hungry, and the desire to eat more (largely high-carb/sugary foods) will grow. Further, if a meal is low in fibre or protein, it may not be filling enough and also leave you yearning for more. 

The macronutrient breakdown of a meal constitutes how satisfying a meal will be. In nutrition terms, we often refer to this as how satiating a meal is – the satisfied feeling of being full after eating or the end of the desire to eat after a meal. Certain components, such as protein and fibre, impact this more than others.

Ensuring you are consuming a good quality source of protein with each meal is imperative. This includes chicken, turkey, white fish, salmon and eggs or perhaps plant-based alternatives such as beans, lentils and chickpeas.

When it comes to fibre, make sure you’re having plenty of vegetables at each mealtime – either added to curries, sauces or stews or served on the side. Also, consider choosing wholemeal / wholegrain bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa or bulgar wheat over refined carbohydrates to have with your meals.

2. You’re skipping meals and/or leaving large gaps between meals:

When we consume carbohydrates, we convert them into energy in the form of glucose. Glucose is then stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is stored energy and depletes over a period of time as we use our energy stores. Usually, glycogen reserves will last for about 3-6 hours and will then need to be replenished. 

Carbohydrates are essential for maintaining sustained energy levels throughout the day, maintaining a stable mood, and enhancing our focus, so it’s important to consume these regularly.

Our bodies perform at their best when blood sugar levels are kept relatively constant. If we skip meals or leave large gaps between eating, it can cause our blood glucose levels to dip.

We have extremely smart and responsive systems in our bodies that react quickly if things deviate from the norm. When our blood sugar levels are low, our bodies work to counteract this, and we will crave high-carb/sugary foods.

Aiming to consume meals at regular intervals and focussing on complex carbs will help keep your blood sugar levels more stable over the day.

Try to reduce your intake of processed, simple and refined carbohydrates and focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and oats. Complex carbohydrates are those that are digested at a slower rate, have less of an immediate effect on blood sugar levels and provide us with prolonged, steady energy.

3. You’re not getting enough sleep:

It can also be common to crave carbohydrates and more sugary treats when we are lacking sleep. A lack of sleep leads to an impact on our hunger hormones. In particular, it leads to increased Ghrelin (the hormone which signals to us when we are hungry) and reduced Leptin (the appetite hormone that signals to us when we are full). 

Try to get the recommended quantity of between 6-9 hours of sleep per night. Focus on your sleep hygiene, and avoid known stimulants like caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. 

Read more about how to improve the quality of your sleep here.

Science aside…

We might just be craving high-carb/sugary foods because we enjoy them! That is okay too, and we should allow ourselves to take pleasure in the foods we are eating. Deprivation or restriction is more likely to lead to binge eating behaviours and overeating than if we consume a small or regular portion of the food we actually crave. 

As you can see from the above, there are several reasons why you might be craving high-carb/sugary foods. There is some crossover between the factors, so considering the following may help: 

  • Make sure you consume enough calories to support your energy requirements
  • Ensure you eat nutritionally balanced meals
  • Prioritise complex carbohydrates at meal times where possible
  • Try to avoid skipping meals or leaving large gaps between eating
  • Ensure you get adequate good-quality sleep each night

If you have experienced sugar cravings after a meal and would like to discuss your nutritional needs in more detail with one of our Nutritionists, book a call here!

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Published by Georgia Chilton

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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