Why do we crave sugar after a meal?

Have you ever finished a meal and immediately craved something sweet after? Here at Nutritionist Resource, we believe in the power of a balanced approach to eating, including enjoying the sweeter things in life. However, if your cravings are derailing attempts to eat the way you want to, or are causing friction in your relationship with yourself, keep reading.

We spoke to Katherine Kimber, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor to learn more about why we might crave sugar after a meal.

What are some of the reasons we may crave sugary foods after meals? 

1. Your meals don’t contain all the components needed to satiate you 

Feeling satiated is all about feeling like you’ve had enough and can leave a meal feeling satisfied. If you’re craving sugar after a meal, Katherine says this could be a sign you’re not getting enough protein, fat, carbohydrate or vitamin P in your meal.

“Vitamin P is ‘pleasure’ because enjoying the taste of food is important in helping you feel satiated and reduce cravings.” 

2. It’s a habit/learned association 

For some of us, having a ‘pudding’ after dinner was a big part of our childhood. We may even have been bribed with pudding to encourage us to finish our dinner.

“If you always have something sweet to eat after a meal, then your body may start to expect this.” Katherine notes, “It may nag you until it gets a sweet fix because it’s come to associate a meal with a sweet after.” 

3. You are denying yourself sugary foods 

Having a restrictive mindset when it comes to food can lead to feelings of deprivation according to Katherine.

“You know how once someone tells you not to look down, you then have to fight an urge to do so? It works the same when telling ourselves we shouldn’t have certain foods…e.g. ‘I will only have chocolate on Friday nights’. This type of mental food restriction can create powerful feelings of deprivation that lead to cravings.” 

What can we do if we’re trying to reduce these cravings? 

So now we know a little more about why we may have these cravings, what changes can we make if we want to reduce them?

“Start by ensuring your meals and snacks contain the correct amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrate – and that they appeal to your taste buds.” Says Katherine.

“When one of these components is missing we often crave something else after a meal. Eating when you’re hungry, or aiming for three meals, and two to three snacks a day is a good cadence if you’re feeling stuck. 

“If you suspect your sugar cravings stem from habit, try the ‘10-minute trick’. Give yourself permission to have the sugary food, but in 10 minutes time. If you still feel like the treat after the time is up, have it! You may find you forget about the craving altogether. 

“Finally, don’t try to cut out sugar altogether. Research shows that people who try to cut out sugar end up eating more overall and feeling out of control around it. Allow yourself to eat sugary foods in amounts that feel good in your body. Intuitive eating can help you figure out what this amount is for you.”

How can nutrition professionals support us with managing cravings? 

If this is an area you’ve tried to tackle before but have been unsuccessful, you may find it helpful to work with a professional. Katherine notes that registered dietitians or nutritionists can help you understand why you have these cravings.

“They will help you explore strategies to help you feel more confident and at peace with your food choices. For example, they can help with developing a supportive meal structure to ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs, which can help reduce sugar cravings.”

Finally, Katherine emphasises the importance of tuning in to what feels good to us. 

“We live in a culture that can make us believe that every sugary thing we put in our body is doing us harm. Rest assured this is not the case. It’s fine to regularly eat something sweet after a meal if that feels good in your body. However, if you are feeling out of your control or it’s causing you distress then that is something worth exploring with a professional.”

If you’re ready to work with a professional, you can contact Katherine or use our search tool to find a nutrition professional to suit you.  

Article updated 20/02/2023

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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