Why We Crave Breads & Sweets

Imagine a platter of warm crusty bread or fresh-baked cookies. Are you hungry yet? The availability of flavorful breads and sweets in today's culture can make occasional cravings a given. Often, however, dietary and lifestyle factors underlie such cravings, making frequent and excessive indulgence likely. Learning more about these factors may lead you to make healthier decisions, making constant cravings a thing of the past. For intense and long-lasting cravings, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian.

Eating too many diet foods can trigger cravings for sweets or carbohydrates.
Credit: Howard Shooter/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images

Skimping on Calories

Because your brain and body need sufficient amounts of calories for proper function, dipping too low can stimulate cravings for breads and sweets. To avoid these cravings, Martha McKittrick, a registered dietitian with Montana State University, recommends avoiding very low-calorie diets and eating balanced snacks and meals at regular time intervals. While individual calorie needs vary, eating less than 1,200 calories regularly will spark carb cravings for many, she writes. Keep in mind that exercise, larger body size and muscle mass increase caloric needs.

Skimping on Carbs

Even if you eat plenty of calories, you're likely to crave sugary sweets and breads if you haven't consumed enough carbohydrates. In addition to being the primary fuel for your brain and body, carbohydrates allow your brain to produce serotonin, a natural appetite suppressant that promotes positive moods. Because breads and sweets are particularly high in fast-acting, or simple, carbohydrates, a bagel or cookie may appeal more than brown rice once cravings hit. A healthy diet consists of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, or a midpoint of 275 grams per day within a 2,000-calorie diet.

Using Artificial Sweeteners

If you're prone to sweets cravings, sugar-free desserts and diet drinks may seem like healthier alternatives -- but occasional modest portions of the real thing may prove wiser. Artificial sweeteners add sweetness, but few, if any, calories to a variety of foods and beverages. They taste a lot sweeter than sugar, however, and that sweetness encourages sugar cravings and dependency, according to a report published in the "Yale Journal of Biological Medicine" in June 2010. These sweeteners may also encourage overeating and weight gain.

Managing Cravings

In addition to eating enough carbohydrates and calories and limiting or avoiding artificial sweeteners, much can be done to manage bread and sweets cravings. McKittrick recommends eating snacks even when you're aren't hungry, to promote blood sugar control and prevent cravings. Never skipping meals, staying well hydrated and keeping a food journal to gain awareness of your dietary triggers can also help. When possible, fulfill cravings with nutritious whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. By eating plenty of fiber, you're likely to keep your appetite in check. Lastly, keep in mind that occasional treats fit well within a healthy diet; deprivation, on the other hand, can work against you.

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