Over the last decade or so, we’ve made a lot of progress in debunking common myths and misconceptions about food cravings. What was once considered a lack of willpower, we now understand to be much more complex.
In fact, we now know that sugar cravings have almost nothing to do with a person’s motivation at all.
Our ability to control cravings and make healthy choices has way more to do with our genetics, our hormones, and surprisingly: our gut bacteria.
The bacteria-cravings connection you need to know about
So how are gut bacteria related to sugar cravings, exactly? Well, your gut contains billions of microbes, including bacteria, yeast, and viruses that all play a role in how you feel on a daily basis. It’s important to maintain a balance of beneficial bacteria, otherwise, unhealthy microbes can grow out of control and sabotage your health. And when we say sabotage, we’re not exaggerating. The status of gut bacteria has been linked to mood, energy levels, cognition, and food cravings, especially for simple carbs and sugar.
According to Kevin Libby, founder of PH2 Nutrition in Los Angeles, “An overgrowth in candida, a yeast-based fungus that feeds on sugar, is really common.” And when candida is allowed to overgrow, it needs more sugar to feed itself. Therefore, as Libby — who’s clients range from models to the entire cast of Seal Team on CBS — explains, “It’s not actually you that’s craving the sugar, it’s the candida and bad bacteria.” In fact, “they hijack the histamine neurotransmitter and vagus nerve and yell ‘FEED US!’, until you finally give in”
A vicious cycle of sugar, sugar cravings, and more sugar
If you can relate to this type of extreme craving — one that affects your mood, ability to concentrate, and energy levels, you’re not alone. Kevin Libby, who was recently named “Best Nutritionist in LA” by The Power Agent News, says that he often sees clients who are experiencing this type of overwhelming sugar and carb cravings due to an imbalance of gut bacteria. And as he explains it: “In this case, you can’t just use your willpower or discipline.” In other words, your gut bacteria are stronger than you are.
Unfortunately, when you inevitably cave and indulge in some simple sugars and carbohydrates, it’ll satisfy you only temporarily and you’ll actually feed more bad bacteria, which end up causing stronger, more persistent cravings. “You just keep feeding the dragon,” says Libby. Over time, this can cause you to develop insulin resistance and put on weight. “This is where food and sugar becomes a true addiction,” he continues.
To make matters even more difficult, sugar is hiding in a ton of places. As Max Lugavere, New York Times best-selling author of “Genius Foods” and host of The Genius Life podcast told Livestrong: “…sugar does have addictive qualities to it certainly, but I would say that the most insidious form in which sugar takes today, is that it’s squeezed into every crevice of the modern food supply via ultra-processed foods.” Even “healthy” foods like tomato sauce, yogurt, and granola can have upwards of 15 grams of sugar hiding in a single serving.
How to stop sugar cravings by healing your gut
So how do you get rid of these sugar cravings, once and for all? “Healing from an imbalance requires a different approach,” says Libby. “Don’t try to totally remove sugar; instead, add in more resistant starches [also known as prebiotics] and more healthy fermented vegetables like kimchi and kefir.” That way, you can repopulate the gut with beneficial flora and create more competition to crowd out the sugar-eating, craving-causing bacteria.
You can also take a high-quality probiotic supplement, like Youtheory® Spore Probiotic, which will inoculate your gut with more beneficial bacteria to overpower the sugar-craving ones. Unlike traditional probiotics, Youtheory Spore Probiotic is uniquely designed to survive the stomach acid and get to the intestinal tract where it can really get to work. It contains three well-defined probiotic strains that have undergone DNA sequence analysis and verification to make sure that it’s powerful enough to actually make a difference in your gut health.
Lugavere also suggests avoiding certain foods; more specifically, those that are “hyper-palatable,” which is a term that describes foods that are designed to be so delicious that we simply can’t stop eating them. “…these foods are not natural foods. Nowhere in nature will you find sugar combined with fat, combined with wheat, combined with starch,” he explained. As you can imagine, these foods feed bad bacteria. “They’re the foods that are the most addictive,” he continues.
Understanding how gut bacteria cause cravings can be equal parts frustrating and liberating. It’s great to know that it’s not your lack of willpower causing you to think about sweets all day and night, but it also means that it’s going to take some effort to get your gut bacteria back on track. Luckily, a quality probiotic and some resistance starch every day will put you on the path to fewer cravings and better health.
As you continue this journey to support your gut health and quell sugar cravings, make this low-sugar smoothie a part of your routine. It’s made with a scoop of Youtheory Spore Probiotic Powder, which contains 1000 mg of a beneficial resistant starch called xylooligosaccharide (or XOS) as well as helpful probiotics.