It’s well known that food cravings are influenced mainly by psychological factors such as stress and mood. For instance: a study from the American Chemical Society found that craving for chocolate may be an attempt to self-medicate symptoms of depression, with the way compounds in chocolate boost “feel good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. But could there be another reason for these intense cravings? Could food cravings really be a sign of a protein deficiency?
Some research indicates that food cravings can indicate underlying deficiencies in certain nutrients, as well. As for one of the most popular types of food cravings—sugar—you may be surprised to learn that your acute case of the sweet tooth may be related to a protein deficiency.
Let’s learn why.
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The Link Between a Sugar Craving and a Protein Deficiency in Your Diet
In general, it’s been found that low carb diets (which are virtually interchangeable with low sugar diets) are associated with decreased food cravings and a decreased preoccupation with hunger, largely because of the way carbohydrates affect the body’s metabolism.
But if you find yourself craving sugar—even if you rarely eat sugary sweets to begin with—this could be a sign that you’re not getting enough protein in your diet.
The answer lies in one of the most critical functions of dietary protein: helping to regulate blood sugar levels. If you have low amounts of protein in your diet, then your blood sugar levels may not be sufficiently maintained. This can trigger your body to crave a “quick fix” to correct the imbalance (even if that’s in an imperfect way, such as eating a candy bar or that box of crackers).
The thing is, protein helps you feel full, and it satisfies you for far longer than a sugary bowl of cereal or even a plate of whole grain pasta. So by eating a protein and fat rich meal—especially first thing in the morning—you’ll be far less likely to experience crash-and-burn cycles of blood sugar…and their associated sugar cravings.
Other signs of protein deficiency in your diet? Mental fogginess, frequent illness, excessive loss of hair, and a general feeling of weakness. And while eating too much protein can also lead to a variety of problems including kidney damage and constipation, not eating enough is a problem faced by many of us.
Simple and Satisfying Protein Options to Combat Your Next Sugar Craving
A general prescription for protein intake is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, though you may need more or less depending on factors like activity level and health (talk to your doc).
Your challenge: the next time you feel yourself craving a sugary treat, opt-in for a healthy dose of protein instead! Some of our fave go-to’s include:
Hard boiled eggs—add a dollop of hot sauce or mustard for some flavor!
Prosciutto-wrapped melon—a bit of sweet without going overboard? Yes, please!
Grilled chicken with veggies—hello, leftovers!
Want more inspiration for protein-rich nutrition? Check out our nutrition-focused free downloads!