Today we will talk about a well-known phenomenon. The need for something sweet after a meal. This “tradition” can be categorized as a habit or need, but it is indisputable that it is shared by a huge number of the population. But why does this need actually occur and is it necessary? The answer follows in the continuation of today’s article.

What happens in the body when we eat sugary foods?

Carbohydrates are one of the most abundant macronutrients in our diet. Generally, they can be divided into simple (eg white refined sugar) and complex (starch, fiber, etc.). 

Simple carbohydrates or sugars differ from complex ones in their construction and as the name suggests they have a smaller and less complex structure. This means that they are subject to faster digestion and metabolism by the body and as such, they are considered a good source of “fast” energy. This kind of energy is released quickly, which we do not always need at the moment, so simple sugars are associated with elevated blood sugar levels, increased body weight, etc.

When consuming sugars, the so-called “reward system” occurs – that is, the secretion of hormones that are associated with pleasure and happiness occur – primarily dopamine. This secretion of hormones leads to a kind of “dependence” between the intake of sugars and their effect on the secretion of dopamine. This mechanism of “reward” is considered to be built-in and necessary for the survival of our ancestors – that is, the brain in this way encouraged them to choose foods that are sweet and tasty, as opposed to bitter (taste that is associated with toxicity).

Why do we need something sweet after a meal?

It is important to note that this need for snacks is primarily “built-in” and completely natural, but still, we build a habit of consuming soft foods after a meal – most often lunch. If we regularly consume sweet foods after lunch, the body expects the intake of sugars and there is that “addiction” that will secrete the hormone dopamine. 

The intensity of the need for sweet food after a meal may depend on the meal itself – whether it was nutritious enough, whether it was tasty, whether it contained carbohydrates, and so on. Simple sugars lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar and the secretion of the hormone dopamine. But they are also rapidly metabolized, so blood sugar drops rapidly, which may necessitate a new intake of soft foods.

These strong sugar needs can occur at any given time of the day, but they are usually short-lived and there are ways in which they can be controlled and overcome, and that is exactly what we will talk about below.

How can we overcome this habit or need?

As we mentioned, the need for foods that contain sugars is natural and normal, but if we eat it daily after a meal – it is already a type of habit. The meal we have completed may contain more than enough carbohydrates which are of a complex type and will raise the sugar level gradually. Therefore, sweet food after a meal is considered a habit and something that is excess and can be avoided.

In this regard, the meal itself has the greatest impact, ie its macronutrient composition. Such “needs” for mild do not occur due to hunger but may occur due to lack of energy, carbohydrates, and the like. 

Therefore, try to make meals varied and contain more types of foods that will be the source of the three main macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. If you are hungry after a meal, it is better to reach for some protein rather than something sweet. Proteins are macronutrients that perfectly suppress hunger, and are useful and necessary for our overall health.

In addition, slower eating can be especially helpful. If we finish the meal in just a few minutes, we are reducing the pleasure we should get. Fast food does not give us a great opportunity to notice all the flavors and aromas offered by the meal. This can also affect the production of pleasure hormones, which we will then try to compensate with sugary foods. 

Slow eating allows the body to gradually raise blood sugar and secrete hormones that signal satiety so that after the meal we will feel full and will not need additional food. It is recommended to eat the meal for at least 15 minutes.

Other useful tips are:

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Avoid excessive stress – stress is associated with the consumption of processed foods and foods rich in sugar
  • Change your habits – do not associate the end of the meal with the intake of something sweet. Instead, drink a cup of coffee, tea, water, or practice some other habit.
  • Eat fruit instead of processed products – if you already decide to eat something sweet, practice it as something healthy – fresh or dried fruits are best.