Your food cravings are dictated by the health of your gut microbiome—the “gut bacteria food cravings connection.” A healthy gut equals less sugar cravings, less food cravings and more balanced blood sugar overall—meaning more energy, a faster metabolism, mental clarity, and food freedom.
Read on to discover how probiotics work to kick sugar cravings and other food cravings, plus all you need to know about the gut microbiome blood sugar connection.
The Gut Bacteria Food Cravings Connection
When we eat, we not only feed ourselves, but we also feed our gut bugs.
Our gut bacteria (the trillions of critters living inside your “microbiome”) dictate our sugar cravings, food cravings, likes and dislikes.
Don’t like red meat—feel like it sits in your stomach like a brick? You probably don’t have enough stomach acid or microbes to break down trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO)—a molecule that makes red meat toxic to the gut. Love burgers and steaks—eat them every day on the carnivore diet? You more than likely have gut bacteria that digest red meat well!
The gut bacteria living inside your are the reason why…
- It takes a total of 12 to 30 times of trying a certain food for picky eaters to eventually like that food (their gut bugs have to warm up to it).
- “Super tasters” despise broccoli and Brussels sprouts (because their gut microbes tell their taste buds these foods are toxic)
- Some people are more sensitive to gluten because their gut bacteria trigger an immune reaction when they eat it.
- Oxalates in vegetables (like broccoli or squash) and high-histamine foods (like kombucha and sauerkraut) make some people feel brain foggy and fatigued (they don’t have enough oxalate or histamine-degrading bacteria)
- You crave sugar, carbs and sweets the more you eat sugar, carbs and sweets (because your gut bugs LOVE sugar, carbs and fruit)
What Causes Cravings?
What causes food cravings? How do the bacteria in your microbiome affect the cravings in your brain—and your insatiable desire to dig into a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, an entire bag of plantain chips, a stack of pumpkin pancakes, a Shake Shack burger and fries, or fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy?
Enter: The gut-brain connection!
Your gut and your brain are directly connected by the vagus nerve (like a telephone line), and you have more neurons (brain cells) inside your gut than any other part of your peripheral nervous system.
Hence, when the gut bugs inside your stomach are out of balance or feel hungry, they send signals up the vagus nerve and throughout your enteric nervous system (the brain inside your gut) to your brain!
So can you see how cravings easily happen when your blood sugar is low, you go on an elimination diet or your body feels stress?
Your gut bacteria tell your brain that they NEED food—glucose (and need it NOW!!!)—in order to feel balanced again. If your blood sugar drops too low or your stress levels are really high, your sugar cravings and carb cravings, in particular, go bonkers— on “high alert.” (This is because sugar and carbs are the quickest source of energy for your body to try to “balance” blood sugar again).
As a quick refresher, blood sugar is a cool phrase for “energy” or “gas in the tank” of your body. When we eat food (no matter if it’s a Hershey’s candy bar or chicken breast), it affects our blood sugar levels—typically sending blood sugar up right after the meal, and, then, taking it back down to baseline…until we run out of energy (fuel) and need to eat again.
Ideally, we want the “just right” amount of blood sugar (“glucose”) in our body and blood stream at any given time—not too much (hyperglycemia) and not too little (hypoglycemia).
Our gut bacteria—and their ability to both digest our food and nourish the rest of our body—determine our blood sugar balance.
The bottom line: Your gut bacteria are the primary drivers behind food cravings, sugar cravings and ultimately, they are the “balancers” of your blood sugar.
Signs of a Healthy Gut & Blood Sugar Levels
Insatiable food cravings are often a good sign that your gut health and/or your blood sugar levels—or both are off. Cortisol (your stress hormone) and the HPA Axis (your body’s stress management system) also has something to do with it (this is why you crave chocolate after a bad breakup, or you may head to the fridge after reading a stressful email from your boss).
Cool. We know what an “imbalanced” gut microbiome and blood sugar levels look like. But what about signs of balanced blood sugar and gut microbiome?
Signs of Balanced Blood Sugar & Gut Microbiome
When our body has “balanced blood sugar”, we feel:
- No need for coffee to function
- No need for naps
- Able to sleep throughout the entire night (no insomnia)
- Power to get through a tough workout
- Mental clarity
- Not “hangry”
- Appropriately hungry for meals
- No insatiable cravings for sugar, carbs or any other food
Sounds like a dream right?
5 Hacks to Stop Cravings & Balance Blood Sugar Through Your Gut
Lots of people think the key to balanced blood sugar is through low carb diets, and in some cases, taking prescribed insulin if necessary.
However, these tactics are more like “band aids”, suppressing symptoms of imbalanced blood sugar. Remember: Your blood sugar levels are dictated by your gut health. If you want to kick sugar cravings and balance your blood sugar for good, you need to balance your gut microbiome!
Check out these 5 research-backed hacks to stop cravings and balance blood sugar (through your gut).
#1. Supplement with Fiber
Ever wonder why fiber is prescribed as a food and supplement to help diabetics lower blood sugar? Fiber is the #1 source of “fuel” for probiotic-rich (healthy) bacteria in your gut. If we feed our healthy gut bugs fiber, the more healthy our gut becomes.
The best sources of fiber are found in vegetables, some fruits and starchy roots and tubers—particularly prebiotic and soluble fibers, including:
- Cooked and cooled sweet potatoes/new potatoes
- Green-tipped bananas and plantains
- Roasted carrots
- Winter squash and summer squash
- Sautéed leafy greens
- Konjac root (like Miracle Noodles)
- Cooked and cooled rice (brown/white) and gluten-free oats
- Cassava and tapioca
- Supplements: Glucomannan, Partially hydrolyzed guar gum, Modified potato starch, Green banana or plantain powder
Be warned: Fiber can sometimes make some folks feel worse (not better) if they have gut “dysbiosis” (gut imbalances). If this is you, work with a practitioner to address underlying SIBO, candida or pathogenic bacteria overgrowth in your gut so you can come back to gut balance (and no sugar cravings).
#2. Don’t Cut Out Carbs Entirely
Speaking of fiber (a carb), while low carb and ketogenic diets are very popular right now, low carb and keto diets can backfire on folks (and their gut health)—especially if you follow them for a long time.
When we deprive our gut microbiome of any one macronutrient (be it carbs, fats or protein), the gut microbiome experiences a shift in gut bacteria. In fact, the gut microbiome can dramatically change in as little as 3 days. This is because what we eat affects the gut bugs present and living in our gut. Carnivorous protein eaters have entirely different biomes than vegan plant heads.
This is actually why diets often work in the short term—the diet is reshaping an unhealthier gut microbiome that was there before. This fact is also why diets don’t work in the long term (99% of diets fail). The gut microbiome may swing too far to the other extreme, leaving you feeling worse, stuck or back at square one in the long run.
If you cut out carbs (or any one food group), your blood sugar levels may seemingly improve, however, as carb-eating bacteria “die off” during the diet, if you reintroduce carbs back in, you may find that you tolerate them even less and your blood sugar levels are all over the place (ie. Carbs give you more brain fog, make you feel shaky or lightheaded, give you digestive upset, etc.).
Balance is king my friend.
The best carb sources include both prebiotic fibers, veggies and fresh fruits. Researchers say, for a healthy, diverse gut, we should aim to consume a variety of 30 different plants each week—such as an orange carrot, a purple carrot, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, green chard, kale, spinach, fresh ginger, rosemary, cilantro, avocado and beyond. Cook, sautee, roast and steam if you struggle with constipation or bloating to aid in digestion.
#3. Eat Regular Meals
Not eating is “so hot right now”—habits like intermittent fasting, fasting and OMAD (one-meal-a-day). While proponents state these tactics “balance” blood sugar, in other cases, they completely dysregulate it!
I see this especially in females due to our sensitive hormones. Not eating (fasting), just like too much eating, is a stressor.
Our bodies work hard on a daily basis and simply need two things to do so—food and water. Although fasting can be a “hormetic stressor” (ie. A “good stressor”) and fasting can be helpful for giving your gut and migrating motor complex a break for digestion…some folks fall into the trap of “accidental dieting” or “accidental under eating.” As a result, what was once productive (fasting) becomes counter productive, as the body sends cortisol up (stress hormone) and then sends blood sugar down.
Fasting practices, if not implemented appropriately, can also inadvertently lead to a “wild wild west” of symptoms that no one is really talking about, including:
- The “hypoglycemic binge” (overeating or saving all your calories for one setting)
- Bloating and constipation (ie. no food followed by lots of food)
- Slowed motility (ie. Not enough “bulk” to push poo throughout your GI tract)
- Suppressed appetite and slowed metabolism (ie. Your digestion slows down and your gut bugs ‘die off’—not needing or craving food at all)
- Poor sleep (hunger and low blood sugar at a cellular level)
- Disrupted circadian rhythms and digestive juices (our digestive “fire” and biological clocks are actually wired to eat with the rhythms of the sun, and less food at night. Intermittent fasting often preaches the opposite).
If you’re going to fast, consider eating earlier on in the day (such as a feeding window of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and be mindful to not under eat for your body’s energy needs (note: 1200 calories is under eating. Most women need 1600-2000 calories minimum daily and men need 2200 to 2600 calories, minimum).
Also, eat foods that make both your gut microbes and your blood sugar levels happy and healthy. Some of my top picks to include in your diet include:
- Bone broth
- Wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, sardines, halibut)
- Pasture-raised, grass-fed organ meats
- Fermented and pickled veggies, kimchi, sauerkraut
- Water kefir
- Grass-fed, cultured yogurt
- Broccoli sprouts
- Sea salt (minerals)
#4. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Balanced blood sugar and healthy gut bugs go far beyond food and supplement popping. Did you know that just one night of sleep “deprivation” (less than your body’s ideal amount of sleep) results in approximately a 40% reduction in glucose tolerance? Translation: Your blood sugar gets out of whack! You are more likely to crave sugar, coffee or feel hungrier just because you’re under-slept—even if you eat the same amount of calories as the day before.
The gut-blood sugar-sleep connection is multi-directional too!
The more balanced your blood sugar is during the day (ie. Eating enough calories, protein and balanced meals), the better your ability to sleep through the night. Insomnia is often a sign of blood sugar imbalances and gut dysbiosis (your gut bugs actually have their own circadian rhythm. If they are out of sync, then your circadian clock and sleep-wake cycle also gets out of sync).
#5. Supplement Smart (Including a Quality Probiotic & Short Chain Fatty Acids)
There are tons of supplements out there claiming to “kick cravings,” balance blood sugar, give you more energy and burn fat or weight.
However, if you focus on just treating the symptoms, instead of the root cause behind your food cravings and imbalanced blood sugar, you will end up with a cabinet full of half-used supplements!
You need to focus on gut support!
The gut microbiome is completely different in patients with Type 2 diabetes compared to healthy individuals—demonstrating the fact that folks with imbalanced blood sugar, pre-diabetes or diabetes and signs and symptoms (like food cravings)—need a gut “reset” in their gut bacteria.
The majority of individuals who experience frequent food cravings, sugar craving and/or blood sugar imbalances can benefit from some “gut reshaping” via prebiotics (fiber), probiotics and short chain fatty acids (like butyrate).
Probiotics and butyrate aid in decreasing inflammation to strengthen the liver’s ability to regulate insulin (the blood sugar hormone), cultivate microbial balance, increase glucose tolerance and reduce oxidative stress in the gut as a whole.
For example, studies in nearly 3000 pregnant women—a population at risk for developing diabetes during pregnancy—show that women who take probiotics during gestation are significantly less likely to develop insulin resistance. Probiotic consumption, compared with placebo, significantly reduces fasting glucose and insulin levels. Bifidobacterium species in particular (often low in patients with diabetes) may be beneficial if you tend towards high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
Be warned however, not all probiotics are created equal!
My top general picks include:
- Seed Probiotic
- Triple Probiotic Therapy (by Dr. Ruscio)
- Therbiotic Complete by Klaire Labs (find on Full Script)
- Thrive Probiotics by Just Thrive (find on Full Script)
- Orthospore IgG by Orthomolecular (find on Full Script)
If you have hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) frequently, berberine may also be helpful, paired with your probiotic for lowering blood glucose levels. Check out “Glycoberine” by Apex Entergentics on Full Script). As for butyrate, I’ve been digging Tributyrin-X lately!
Lastly, for the BEST results, book a consult with a functional medicine practitioner to get the right, customized formulas and strains for your body and needs.