Sugar Cravings Can Be a Sign of Mineral Deficiencies
(This is the second in a series of articles on the perils of added sugar. Be sure to check out the first article, “12 Tips for Avoiding Added Sugar On A Plant-Based Vegan Diet.”)
If you’re like most people, you probably struggle from time to time – or perhaps even throughout the day – with sugar cravings. If you feel like you’re constantly losing the battle against sugar cravings, you’re not alone. The average American consumes a whopping three pounds of added sugar per week!
Excessive sugar intake, anything more than six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men, puts us at risk for weight gain, heart disease, inflammation, diabetes and a host of other serious health problems. When it comes to added sugar, the truth is that sugar calories are entirely empty calories. There’s simply nothing to be gained from added sugar, and sadly, only your health and wellbeing to lose.
Why is it so hard to “Just Say No”?
If you’re anything like me, you know from experience that sugar cravings can be intense and persistent and can strike us at seemingly any time of day or night – during break time at work, while driving or sitting in traffic, when we’re relaxing in front of the TV after a long day, and, of course, during dessert after meals – leaving us vulnerable to everything from small sugary snacks to outright binges.
When we give in to our sugar cravings, it’s so easy to blame ourselves for a lack of willpower and to resolve to do better “next time.”
But as we’ll soon see, there’s a lot more to sugar cravings than personal discipline. In fact, your body may be trying to tell you something important!
Mineral Deficiencies and Sugar Cravings
You may be one of the nine out of ten Americans, according to a 2011 study, who’s deficient in key nutrients. And some of those missing nutrients, in fact, could be behind your sugar cravings.
If you’re craving sweets, and especially chocolate, a magnesium deficiency could be the culprit, because chocolate and cocoa are high in magnesium. Next time, instead of reaching for that chocolate bar or brownie, try a good serving of a magnesium-rich healthy plant-based food, listed below in order of magnesium content.
As an experiment, try incorporating these and other magnesium-rich plant-based foods into your diet on a regular basis and see if you notice a decrease in your sugar and chocolate cravings.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and unfortunately, many Americans are deficient. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 essential biochemical reactions and is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body.
Magnesium is needed for healthy cardiovascular and immune systems and for healthy nerves, muscles, and bones. Magnesium regulates blood sugar levels and helps with the production of energy and protein, among many other important functions.
Even if you’re not having chocolate cravings, it’s probably a good idea to monitor your dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods!
Plant-Based Sources of Magnesium
- soy milk
- black beans
- whole wheat
Zinc is involved in the production, storage and secretion of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates our blood sugar levels and “unlocks” our cells so that they can absorb the food, in the form of glucose (sugar), that they require. Too little insulin means that our cells can’t absorb food, resulting in increased blood sugar levels.
Too little food to the cells can create tiredness, thirst, and hunger, among other symptoms, and when we’re tired and hungry, we could become at risk for sugary food cravings. Like magnesium, zinc is an important mineral.
It’s found in all of our cells and is required for the activity of many enzymes, for healthy immune function, wound healing, protein and DNA synthesis, and properly functioning smell and taste. Unfortunately, animal foods such as oysters, beef, crab, pork, and lobster have the highest levels of zinc.
The top plant-based sources are listed below in order of zinc content
Plant-Based Sources of Zinc
- baked beans
- kidney beans
- green peas
The body doesn’t need a lot of chromium, but deficiencies could possibly contribute to sugar cravings. It’s estimated that somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of Americans are mildly deficient.
Even mild deficiencies can lead to blood sugar issues as well as fatigue and anxiety, according to Dr. Andrew Weil. Chromium plays a role in the metabolic processes that regulate blood sugar levels and helps the hormone insulin get glucose into our cells.
Chromium, a trace mineral, is found widely across the food supply but in very small amounts. It’s important to note that chromium levels can vary widely by agricultural and manufacturing processes, so determinations of chromium levels in foods are at best approximate.
Fortunately, unlike zinc, the foods believed to be highest in chromium are plant foods. Broccoli, grape juice, whole wheat, potatoes, garlic, and basil are the foods highest in chromium content, based on particular serving sizes. Other plant foods high in chromium include orange juice, red wine, apples, bananas and green beans.
Vanadium is another trace mineral that helps regulate blood sugar levels and may contribute to sugar cravings in the case of deficiency, but there’s currently no RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for optimal intake levels. Like chromium, vanadium is found in very small amounts in many common foods we tend to eat.
Vegetables, grain, and cereals are especially good plant-based sources, fruits are not.
Plant-Based Sources of Vanadium
- other vegetables
- buckwheat (gluten-free and no relation to wheat)
- other whole grains and cereals
- dill weed and seed
- black pepper
- vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower seed, peanut and olive oi)
There are other minerals which some believe can lead to sugar cravings in the case of deficiency, such as calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is the most common mineral in the body.
It’s found predominantly in our bones and teeth, and in addition to being essential for our skeletal system, is also needed for the healthy functioning of our nerves, muscles and cardiovascular system. Calcium-rich plant foods are listed below in order of calcium content.
Plant-Based Sources of Calcium
Phosphorus is also a major mineral with multiple functions in the body. It’s needed for bone, tooth and muscle health, oxygen delivery and energy creation, and the production of hormones, connective tissue and organs. Phosphorus is more abundant in animal than plant foods. Good plant food sources are listed below.
Plant-Based Sources of Phosphorus
- pumpkin seeds
- squash seeds
- brazil nuts
- whole grains
- other nuts and seeds
So, What Do I Eat Now?
Boy, that’s a lot to keep track of, you’re probably thinking! Indeed, it is. The takeaway here is clearly to eat as varied a plant-based diet as you can possibly manage, being sure to eat a range of nuts and a range of seeds, for instance, rather than getting into a rut with say, just almonds and sunflower seeds.
As always, please be in touch with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences. I’d love to hear how it’s going if anything has been especially useful – or not. Wishing you the best of luck and hope these tips help you kiss those sugar cravings goodbye once and for all!
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