Are you on the hunt for the best supplements to stop sugar cravings?
If conquering sugar cravings and mindless snacking was easy and accomplished by will power alone, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Some studies (1-3) suggest that sugar and boredom eating can be just as addicting and habitual as drugs, like opioids (pain meds) and cocaine, which means, when you’re trying to overcome boredom eating, it may feel like you’re going a little crazy!
Other research shows that eating foods like sugar and processed snack foods are actually even more addicting and overpowering to our brains than other “exciting” addictions like drugs, alcohol and sex because of the effects they have on our gut bacteria (4).
Fact: Your gut bacteria are the #1 drivers behind your sugar cravings, mindless snacking and boredom eating.
In other words: Your gut microbes influence what you eat.
The good news? When you change your gut bacteria and heal your gut, your sugar cravings can go away! Plus, there are great supplements to stop sugar cravings that will help you.
The Gut & Sugar Cravings Connection
Your body is home to over 100 trillion gut bacteria—more bacteria than human cells in your body. You are bacteria. Life does not exist without bacteria and more than one-third of your bodyweight is bacteria.
Although the word “bacteria” may sound like a gross, negative or pathogenic word, not all bacteria in your gut are “bad.” You actually have LOTS of good guys—or buddies—in your belly that desire to be friends with you (if you treat them right).
Your gut bacteria play a huge role in practically every bodily process—from immune health, to digestion, brain function, hormone balance, metabolism speed and determining what you eat!
Specific types of gut bacteria help their host animal (you) detect which nutrients are missing in their diet and then finely fine-tune and decipher how much of those nutrients the host really needs to eat.
Think of your gut bacteria like your body’s personal “dinner bell” to help you know when it’s time to eat and what specific nutrients that you need to eat…at least if your gut bacteria are healthy. In a picture perfect world, if you have healthy gut bacteria, they can help you determine if they need more Vitamin C in broccoli or spinach, some magnesium in nuts or seeds, more zinc and iron in a grass-fed burger patty or omega 3 fatty acids in salmon.
However, if you have unhealthy or imbalanced gut bacteria (“dysbiosis”), then these natural hunger-fullness cues and your ability to eat intuitively get hijacked!
Unhealthy gut bacteria send signals to your brain for food cravings or obsessive thoughts over food!
Pathogenic or dysbiotic microbes often crave foods that you are intolerant to! Since the food proteins and compounds in certain inflammatory foods are the “favored” by pathogenic bacteria, pathogenic and dysbiotic bacteria try to get us to eat foods that they thrive on.
The United States’ sugar and processed food consumption epidemic is a perfect example of this. Seventy-percent of foods sold in grocery stores are processed foods and most Americans eat 3 to 4 times the max recommended amount of sugar every day (90 to 100 grams) (5-7).
There is a reason why Americans continue to eat these foods (despite a rise in health education and consciousness): Processed foods, sugar and even artificial sweeteners feed (unhealthy) gut bugs.
Considering the fact that the vast majority of Americans and Westernized guts have gut dysbiosis (unhealthy gut microbiomes) (8, 9), no wonder it’s tough to conquer sugar cravings by willpower alone!
This fact does not just apply to cookies and cupcakes either. Your gut bacteria influence your cravings across the boards.
Even for those people who already eat “healthy,” if you have dysbiosis or an underlying gut pathology (like SIBO or candida), you may still crave foods that your body is intolerant to or foods that don’t make you feel great.
For example, when I had SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), I constantly craved sweet potatoes—sometimes eating them twice per day. However, every time I ate sweet potatoes, I found myself feeling bloated and running to the toilet shortly after. Why? The overgrowth of certain bacteria in my microbiome (especially pseudomonas aeruginosa) loved fermenting (rotting) those sweet potatoes in my belly. The same thing has happened with Brussels sprouts, Crystal Light diet soda, sauerkraut and almonds at different times in my own gut healing journey, greatly influenced by imbalances in my gut bacteria; and yet I still continued to crave and want to eat many foods that didn’t make me feel good physically.
Why? Unhealthy gut bacteria can send signals to your brain to feed them certain foods they crave and need to keep alive (4).
How Gut Bacteria Tell You What to Eat
Gut bacteria—both healthy guys and unhealthy guys—can influence your cravings in a variety of ways.
While healthy gut bacteria may make you crave foods that make you feel good; unhealthy gut bacteria on the other hand can (4):
- Change your taste receptors – making you prefer sweet flavors.
- Release hormones, like serotonin, that make you feel good after eating certain foods.
- Affect appetite hormones, making you feel hungry when you shouldn’t be.
- Prevent the absorption of nutrients—leaving you nutrient deprived and wanting more!
- Stimulate the brain-gut connection (vagus nerve) which may lead to overeating, binging or anorexic like behaviors if they are turned off by certain foods.
One of the most interesting studies (10) on how gut bacteria influence cravings phenomena involved observations in three groups of fruit flies fed three different diets.
One group of fruit flies received a diet containing all the necessary nutrients that they needed for survival and health.
The second group of flies received a diet that had only some nutrients, but not all—leaving them with diet deficiencies; and the third group of fruit flies were nutrient deprived (similar to an extreme diet).
After 3 days on the different diets, the flies in the all three groups were then fed an all-you-can-eat buffet consisting of both foods in their typical diet, plus the option to eat yeast—a food similar to sweets, junk food and processed foods that humans eat.
The researchers found that flies in the two groups with nutrient deficiencies experienced strong cravings for yeast (junk food, snacks and sweets) due to the certain gut bacteria in their body.
However, when the scientists increased five different types of healthy bacteria in the flies’ guts—(Lactobacillus plantarum, L. brevis, Acetobacter pomorum, Commensalibacter intestini and Enterococcus faecalis)—the flies completely lost the urge to eat more junk food and sweets.
In other words: When we have enough healthy bacteria in our gut, we no longer crave the foods that feed an unhealthy microbiome.
Conclusions: Although this study was only in fruit flies, researchers concluded that it adds to the hypothesis that our gut bacteria influence our sugar cravings and mindless snacking more than we give it credit.
3 Supplements to Stop Sugar Cravings And Mindless Snacking
So how do you rewire your cravings? You change your microbiome!
Here are 3 essentials to get you started:
- Essential #1: Probiotics
- Essential #2: Pre-biotics
- Essential #3: Short-Chain Fatty Acids (Post Biotics)
Essential #1: Probiotics
Probiotics are live organisms (i.e. bacteria) found in foods in supplements that are similar to a variety of healthy live organisms (bacteria) that you naturally have in your gut. Numerous studies show that probiotics have a positive affect on modulating blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, balancing mood and consequently decreasing sugar cravings (11).
For example, several strains of the probiotics Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have been shown to improve anxiety and depression-like thoughts and habits, which tend to affect eating behavior (12). A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled study in over 100 highly stressed out young adults found those who supplemented with Lactobacillus plantarum, not the placebo, for 12 weeks experienced significantly reduced stress and cortisol levels, as well as enhanced mental clarity—including the ability to make “better choices” with food (13). Other research shows that Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus can also modify hunger and fullness cues by targeting ghrelin receptors (hunger hormones) in the body (13).
For the best therapeutic effect of probiotics, I often recommend varying up your probiotic types and being a probiotic snob (only taking quality supplements—not a random formula you find at Whole Foods or Amazon). Please consider these to find the best supplements to stop sugar cravings.
Probiotic Supplement Types
- Soil Based Organisms
- Lactic Acid Bacteria (such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species like: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus plantarum,and/or Bifidobacteria infantis)
- Saccharomyces boulardi (best for loose stools, SIBO and histamine intolerances)
Warning: More than 90% of probiotics on shelves do not contain the probiotics they claim. Quality matters. This is because many probiotic companies “kill off” the strains of gut bacteria during manufacturing or use cheap strains—and don’t even list the strains of probiotic bacteria on the label.
My Top Recommended Probiotic Supplements
- Soil Based Organisms: TerraFlora, Megaspore
- Lactic Acid Bacteria: Seed, BifidoMaximus, Align Probiotic, Visbiome, Therbiotic Complete
- Saccharomyces boulardi: RestoreFlora, Strengtia
How to Take Probiotics
Take 1 dose 1 to 2 times per day with meals.
Essential #2: Pre-biotics
Fiber is often recommended for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes to help them “control their blood sugar” and cravings. Little do most people realize, this is because fiber—specifically prebiotic fiber— has a positive effect on the gut microbiome.
Prebiotics are nondigestible starches and fibers that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the colon and thus improve total health. Translation: Pre-biotics are the food for your probiotics to help them stick and multiply in your gut so you can increase your beneficial bacteria over time.
Pre-biotics are found in foods and supplements.
Top Prebiotic Foods
- Beans & Lentils (soaked and dried)
- Cassava (Yuca, Tapioca)
- Chia Seeds
- Cocoa & Cacao
- Coconut Flour
- Cooked & Cooled Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
- Cooked & Cooled Rice and White Rice
- Cruciferous Veggies (cooked, softened)
- Dandelion Greens
- Ginger Root
- Green bananas & banana flour
- Plantains (green), plantain flour & dehydrated plantain chips
- Potato starch
- Raw Honey (Manuka Honey)
- Winter squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, delicata)
Prebiotic Supplement Types
- Acacia fiber: may be used as an alternative to psyllium husk
- Beta-glucan, or 𝛽-glucan
- Chicory Root
- Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum (Like Sunfiber)
- Psyllium husk powder
- Resistant Starch (potato starch, green banana flour)
My Top Recommended Prebiotic Supplements
- Soluble Fibers & Resistant Starches (tend to be the best tolerated): Fibromin, Pecta-Sol, Sunfiber, Organic Ground Flaxseed, Green Banana Flour
How to Take Probiotics
Take 1/8 to 1/4 tsp dose or 1 capsule to start with food, once per day, and gradually increase to 1/2 to 1 tsp dose or 2 capsules as tolerated. Take 1 to 2 times per day and rotate the fibers you use.
Essential #3: Short-Chain Fatty Acids (Post Biotics)
Short chain fatty acids are the “new kids on the block” when it comes to gut health for significantly reducing inflammation in your gut microbiome and making your gut a healthier happier ecosystem overall. Short chain fatty acids are the primary healthy byproducts that are created when probiotics eat pre-biotics, and they serve as the #1 source of energy for healthy colonic bacteria and cells.
Some positive benefits of short chain fatty acids include:
- Regulates pH of gut
- Protects against pathogens
- Prevents leaky gut and inflammation
- Regulates immune system and metabolism and appetite
The more short chain fatty acids in your gut, the less likely you are to have unwanted pathogens in there demanding you feed them chocolate, cookies or Ben & Jerry’s.
Top Short Chain Fatty Acid Foods
- Most vegetables! Aim for at least 7 to 12 servings of plant foods per day and you’re golden.
My Top Recommended Short Chain Fatty Acid Supplements
There aren’t very many SCFA supplements out there on the market right now compared to the saturated probiotic and pre-biotic market.
How to Take Short Chain Fatty Acids
Take 1 capsule or dose with meals, three times per day for at least 3 to 6 months.
Warning: You May Feel Worse…Not Better
Some people find they feel more bloated, gassy or constipated when they increase probiotics, prebiotics and other fibers in their diet—both in the forms of foods and supplements. This is often a sign that you have dysbiosis (gut bacteria imbalance) that may need to be addressed with a functional medicine practitioner who can customize a nutrition, supplement and lifestyle protocol for your body.
Personally, I prefer a two-pronged approach: the first one by bringing in probiotics (about 15 Billion of diverse strains), along with various botanical herbs designed for bacterial overgrowth (like those with berberine), in addition to introducing a high-potency, broad-spectrum enzyme (lipases, cellulases, amylases, proteases) to take with each meal and again 60 to 90 minutes after the meal. After a 3 to 4 week regimen of getting the basics of the gut in order, bringing in more high-fiber foods within a mixed meal gradually to enhance tolerance and gauge response. Sometimes, people respond poorly to fibers due to lack of an adequate gut mucin layer, so the husks of fibers become irritating for the gut lining. In those cases, focusing on aloe, glutamine, and zinc, to name a few can be helpful. Others simply have such a low growth of healthy bacteria that it takes a little longer of regular probiotic intake plus low dose soluble fiber supplements to help them improve tolerance of more fiber rich and probiotic rich foods.
Gut healing is a journey, but with consistency, a healthier biome (and decreased sugar cravings) can be won.