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Self-isolation, Stress, and Sugar Cravings

Sugar cravings could come from hunger, emotional state or a habit.

Whether you are practicing social distancing or self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, all of us are trying to adjust to a new lifestyle. Each individual reacts differently in these trying times, but we all experience stress, uncertainty and anxiety. Keep in mind that we are all in this together.

Social distancing and hours spent at home during the global pandemic can lead to overconsumption of processed food. Sugar cravings are very common during such situations. Our aim is to help you understand what is the science behind sugar cravings and how to deal with it.

Sugar. It’s wonderful taste could be the reason that we are addicted to sweet treats. Sugar has various effects on our health. By having a better understanding of how it can affect our body, we might think twice before having too many sweets.

Why do we crave sugar?

Sugar is just like an addictive drug for our brains. If you instantly remove sugar from your diet, you could experience symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and depression, which can all lead to more serious problems. It is hard to quit sugar completely! [1] 

Sugar cravings are very common, particularly among women, with 97% of women and 68% of men reporting episodes of food cravings [2]. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of sugars you should eat per day is 25 grams for women, and 37,5 grams for men. However, one research study from 2012 shows that the average adult intake was 77 grams per day, which is way too high and probably hasn't decreased since then [3,4].

People that experience a sugar craving feel a strong urge to eat something sweet. They often have difficulties trying to control themselves around food which could lead to overconsuming calories. One of the reasons why people love eating sugary treats might be because they enjoyed sweets when they were kids. Cravings could come from hunger, emotional state or a habit, which could further lead to eating disorders or caloric over consumption. Once you decide to cut back on sugar, the first step should be determining the root cause of the cravings [2].

It might sound strange, but many cravings come not from your stomach, but from your brain and lifestyle. Poor sleep can cause caloric overindulgence, which can raise blood sugar levels. Stress can also raise the blood sugar level, while skipping meals can cause food cravings due to low blood sugar [5, 6, 7]. This can become a vicious cycle. And what is the engine that drives it all: The gut!

Sugar sources

Before you decide to cut out all sugars from your diet, remember that some forms of sugar are recommended in moderation. For example, fruit contains the natural sugar Fructose, as well as many nutrients and fibers that can have a positive effect on your gut health. On the other hand, consumption of refined sugars can cause problems. Refined sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrates, are usually found in chocolates, candies, and cereals. These foods are high in sugar and low in nutrients, and can lead to insulin spikes or inflammation [8]. Artificial sweeteners can also be tricky for your gut health. A study from 2018 found that a few types of artificial sweeteners were toxic to certain strains of gut bacteria [9]. Another study from the medical journal Nature also suggested that common sweeteners (like saccharin and sucralose) can cause glucose intolerance by altering microbes in the gut [10]. 

Natural sugars are a much better choice than refined sugars.

Natural sugars are a much better choice than refined sugars.

Keeping in mind that all of us are spending more time at home than usual, it would be great to use this time to try out new things like healthier recipes and improving gut health. With our personalized food recommendations, we want you to have a strong foundation for your dietary habits, so you can make healthier choices. Eat smart and feel well using the OlaWell gut microbiome test! 

Sugar and Your Gut Health

Since it has such a significant role in food digestion, the gut microbiome is hit hard by sugar cravings. In contrast to the beneficial bacteria that feed on plant-based fiber, bad bacteria rely on sugar! When you eat a large amount of sugar, the bad bacteria grow out of control and spread quickly, while beneficial strains decrease in number. Good personalized eating habits can help you restore and maintain balance in your gut [11, 12]. Among macronutrients, carbohydrates and nitrogen sources, have been shown to be the most influential [13, 14].

The quick growth of bad bacteria crowds our intestines and alters the microbial composition and creates a condition known as dysbiosis. Low numbers of beneficial bacteria can alter the gut’s permeability. This creates a condition known as leaky gut. Leaky gut allows unwanted substances (toxins and bacteria) to pass through the barrier. At the same time the immune response is triggered in order to target some of the substances. Symptoms associated with this condition: constipation, bloating, gas, headaches, brain fog, and food cravings [15,16].


Sugar cravings could come from hunger, emotional state or habits, which could lead to eating disorders or caloric over consumption. Now, we know that natural sugars are a much better choice than refined sugars. The only question is which natural sugars are a good choice for your gut and overall health? Take the OlaWell gut microbiome test and find out what will benefit your gut the most.

Stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak and don’t forget to listen to your gut! 




[1] The Question of Sugar. Agricultural Research Service. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

[2] Yanovski, S. (2003). Sugar and fat: cravings and aversions. The Journal of nutrition, 133(3), 835S-837S.

[3] Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., ... & Wylie-Rosett, J. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 120(11), 1011-1020. 

[4] Powell, E. S., Smith-Taillie, L. P., & Popkin, B. M. (2016). Added sugars intake across the distribution of US children and adult consumers: 1977-2012. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(10), 1543-1550.

[5] Sinha, R., & Jastreboff, A. M. (2013). Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction. Biological psychiatry, 73(9), 827-835.

[6] Knutson, K. L. (2007). Impact of sleep and sleep loss on glucose homeostasis and appetite regulation. Sleep medicine clinics, 2(2), 187-197.

[7] Röder, P. V., Wu, B., Liu, Y., & Han, W. (2016). Pancreatic regulation of glucose homeostasis. Experimental & molecular medicine, 48(3), e219-e219.

[8] Spreadbury, I. (2012). Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy, 5, 175.

[9] Harpaz, D., Yeo, L. P., Cecchini, F., Koon, T. H., Kushmaro, A., Tok, A. I., ... & Eltzov, E. (2018). Measuring artificial sweeteners toxicity using a bioluminescent bacterial panel. Molecules, 23(10), 2454.

[10] Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., ... & Kuperman, Y. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), 181-186.

[11] Ercolini, D., & Fogliano, V. (2018). Food design to feed the human gut microbiota. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 66(15), 3754-3758.

[12] David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., ... & Biddinger, S. B. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.

[13] Sonnenburg, E. D., Smits, S. A., Tikhonov, M., Higginbottom, S. K., Wingreen, N. S., & Sonnenburg, J. L. (2016). Diet-induced extinctions in the gut microbiota compound over generations. Nature, 529(7585), 212-215.

[14] Holmes, A. J., Chew, Y. V., Colakoglu, F., Cliff, J. B., Klaassens, E., Read, M. N., ... & Raubenheimer, D. (2017). Diet-microbiome interactions in health are controlled by intestinal nitrogen source constraints. Cell metabolism, 25(1), 140-151.

[15] Sen, T., Cawthon, C. R., Ihde, B. T., Hajnal, A., DiLorenzo, P. M., Claire, B., & Czaja, K. (2017). Diet-driven microbiota dysbiosis is associated with vagal remodeling and obesity. Physiology & behavior, 173, 305-317.

[16] Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. 


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