Dr Wendi’s Health

A deficiency in this mineral can cause sugar cravings

A deficiency in this mineral can cause sugar cravings

Indulging in regular, frequent sugar cravings can have a myriad of long-term effects and it is important to understand why you don’t want to have chronic high blood sugar.  Here are some of the main things affected by eating too much sugar on a regular basis: 

  • Weight gain and metabolic syndrome – leaves you at significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease, especially if it is stored in the belly area, and carrying excess body weight makes doing physical activities more difficult.  Regular physical activity is important for regulating hormones, especially hormones involved in mood and metabolism
  • Increased insulin production that long-term, can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • Speeds aging process by glycating proteins on cell membranes, then cells cannot function properly and cannot regenerate
  • Decreases energy – this is because the increase in insulin tells the liver and fat cells to take up blood sugar and convert it into fat for storage, the decreased blood sugar impacts the brain and muscles and you will feel less energetic.  Have you ever eaten a large meal and then feel like you need a nap?  This is because producing a lot of insulin makes your blood sugar drop, causing fatigue
  • Liver dysfunction – the liver is the first place where we store excess fat, especially fat produced from fructose that is found in any sweets.  Table sugar is composed of glucose and fructose.  Excess sugar consumption can lead to fatty liver disease (How fructose may trigger fatty liver disease)
  • Increases inflammation, sugar has a direct impact on the inflammatory process so if you have any kind of chronic inflammatory condition such as heart disease, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, any kind of -itis, irritable bowel or other digestion symptoms, then consuming excess sugar will exacerbate the inflammatory condition (Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation)
  • Increases cancer cell growth.  Cancer cells love to get energy from sugar (Effects of hyperglycemia on the progression of tumors)
  • Reduces overall brain function and this includes altering emotional states and has a significant impact on depression, anxiety, cognitive function (ability to concentrate and study or learn, as well as motivation and memory) (Impact of sugar on emotional, stress driven behaviours)
  • Feeds yeast and pathogenic organisms in the gut that directly impacts the gut microbiome.  We need a healthy microbiome for immune regulation, mood and brain function, to break down toxins, produce vitamins and extract minerals from our food plus many other important functions (High intake of sugar and the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory gut bacteria)

Regulating our blood sugar levels has such a tremendous impact on our overall health and wellbeing, it is beneficial to look at all the various factors that can affect it and then figure out which factors apply to you, then you can see where you can make small, easy changes.  Each factor may seem small but small things actually have a huge impact over time.  Think about how something as small as putting your wallet in the same back pocket can eventually cause severe back problems. Small GOOD things have a tremendous effect over time as well.  Every little good change makes a huge difference over time.

What mineral deficiency can trigger sugar cravings?

If you guessed magnesium, then you are correct.  Especially if you are specifically craving chocolate (because chocolate contains some magnesium), it may be that you need to consume more magnesium-rich foods.

Magnesium is a mineral that has hundreds of functions in every cell in our body.  Minerals act as cofactors that allow enzymes in our cells to perform chemical reactions, that includes making energy, replicating cells, getting rid of toxins, nerve and muscle function, reproduction, growth, hormone production, and tissue regeneration.

Symptoms of Magnesium deficiency

Research shows that approximately 50% of North Americans are not getting enough magnesium in their diet. (Magnesium: Are we getting enough?

Other than craving sugar, another tell-tale sign you need more magnesium is muscle cramps.  Calcium is a mineral that helps our muscles to contract, and it is balanced by magnesium that helps our muscles relax.  We also use calcium in the nervous system to release neurotransmitters when we are sending electrical signals to and from the brain; low magnesium can make you feel like your brain is in overdrive and can feel like anxiety, insomnia, or attention deficit disorder. Magnesium is also crucial for regulating blood sugar…which is why a deficiency can trigger sugar cravings.  Some of the most common symptoms of low magnesium include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Fatigue but also poor sleep at night
  • Stiff sore muscles and joints
  • Muscle weakness
  • Alterations in heart rhythms, feeling like your heart is periodically racing or fluttering (the heart is a muscle and magnesium is crucial for muscle function)
  • Numbness and tingling – because magnesium is also important for the nervous system
  • Mood changes – again, nervous system is highly dependent on magnesium for 100s of functions and that includes making mood molecules

Who would be the most at risk of low magnesium levels?

  1. People that have issues with absorbing nutrients in the digestive tract, such as people with Crohn’s disease, celiac, or other inflammatory bowel conditions. Elderly people can tend to have more issues absorbing nutrients. 
  2. People that excrete excess minerals. When people consume excess alcohol will become deficient in magnesium because alcohol acts like a diuretic, making you urinate more, which means more magnesium is being excreted.  For some reason, magnesium is more affected by increased urination than some ther minerals. 
  3. Some medications reduce magnesium absorption or increase excretion of magnesium. Some examples are acid blockers (to treat acid reflux), antacids, antibiotics, antivirals, diuretic blood pressure medication, stimulants like Ritalin, corticosteroids (used to inhibit immune response if autoimmune disease or chronic inflammation), and hormone replacement meds.
  4. People that take high amounts of zinc as a supplement. Zinc is great for helping the immune system fight infections, but you don’t want to take zinc all the time because it will reduce the amount of magnesium you absorb.
  5. People that eat processed foods, junk foods, fast foods, and conventional produce that has been grown in mineral-depleted soil. With agricultural soil being depleted more and more every year, our foods do not contain enough minerals, magnesium included.  (Magnesium deficiency in plants, an urgent problem)  and (Dirt poor: Have fruits and vegetables become less nutritious)  The drop in mineral composition in our plant foods is contributing to the obesity epidemic because when our brain detects low minerals, it triggers hunger (if low magnesium, it seems to trigger sugar cravings), and then we eat more processed/ depleted food and end storing all those calories but still not getting what the body needs. 

What foods have the most magnesium?

Foods that are high in magnesium (keep in mind the soil depletion aspect from the last paragraph), include:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, beet greens, swish chard, kale
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes – beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, peanuts
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds
  • Fish
  • Dark chocolate

We need about 300-450mg per day.  200 grams of leafy greens (about 1 cup cooked/ steamed) contains about 160mg of magnesium…..12-30% more if grown in fertile soil.  You can see that if you are not consuming whole foods then it is very easy to be deficient in magnesium and other minerals.  Considering conventionally grown plants contain 12-30% less minerals than just a few decades ago, even people eating whole foods can still not be getting enough. 

Out of the foods listed above, one thing you can easily grow yourself, ensuring very fertile healthy mineral-rich soil, is leafy greens. 

beet greens

You can harvest a lot of food from a small path of beets, chard, and spinach.  The more leaves you pick, the more new leaves will grow.  From this little row of beets, I have harvested the equivalent of at least 40-50 grocery store bags of greens that cost $5-$6 each.  I have also frozen batches in freezer bags (stir in boiling water for 1 min then drain before freezing so you stop the enzyme that ripens and rots veggies) to enjoy later when the growing season is over.  Growing just a few vitamin and mineral rich foods in your backyard, in pots or planters on your balcony, can help you to easily increase mineral intake that will help you feel more energized, less hungry, no sugar cravings, and better mood.  You can take magnesium as a supplement, but the benefit of getting extra magnesium from home-grown plants is that you also get many other nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, iron, and antioxidants.

This pot of swiss chard contains an entire daily dose of magnesium (plus many other micronutrients) for 2 people.

Swiss chard

Growing a few of your own plant foods is also very cheap.  $3.00 of beet seeds, a little soil, water and sunlight can give you a few hundred dollars of food for several months that is healthier than what you buy in the store….more nutrients and no pesticides.  Keep a little compost pail under your kitchen sink for plant scraps and then you can constantly replenish your soil for zero cost.  Eating nutrient-rich foods daily will reduce cravings and over-eating, and will increase your energy and mood that will be noticeable within 1 week. If you try this, share your comments below.  

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