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What Vitamin Deficiency Causes Sugar Cravings & How To Stop Them 2024?

Ellie Busby

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

what vitamin deficiency causes sugar cravings
Certain vitamin deficiencies might trigger intense sugar cravings. Photo: wirestock/Freepik

Cutting back on sugar is great for weight loss and health, but sugar cravings can get in the way. 

Sugar cravings usually get worse the more you eat sugar, but what causes them in the first place? If you’re craving sweets, you might not know that certain vitamin deficiencies can be the culprit.

Certain vitamin deficiencies can affect blood sugar balance, leading to fatigue, muscle pain, weakness, and even mood swings, and might trigger intense sugar cravings.

This article covers what deficiency causes sugar cravings, which vitamins you need to take, other reasons you’re craving sugar, and how to overcome your carbohydrate cravings.

What Deficiency Causes Sugar Cravings?

The main nutrient deficiencies that can cause sugar cravings are:

  • Vitamin D.
  • Vitamin K.
  • Magnesium.
  • Iron
  • Chromium

What Vitamin Deficiency Causes Sugar Cravings?

Some nutrient deficiencies can trigger intense cravings for sugar because they negatively affect glucose metabolism. Here are the most important ones.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency[1] is associated with reduced insulin release, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. 

Unfortunately, 24% of adults in the United States[2] are classified as vitamin D deficient and 40% of Europeans are deficient. This varies by age with the lowest levels of vitamin D seen in children and the elderly. 

If you have diabetes, supplementing vitamin D is one of the main vitamins shown to reliably improve blood sugar balance.

Vitamin K Deficiency

Daily intake of vitamin K seems to improve glucose metabolism,[3] and low intakes could be involved in type 2 diabetes pathophysiology. Combined vitamin D3 and K2[4] supplements are common, as these vitamins work together and can improve blood sugar levels.

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium Deficiency
The mineral magnesium is crucial for balancing blood sugar. Photo: yuliyafurman/Freepik

Magnesium is a crucial mineral for blood sugar balance because it’s involved in carbohydrate metabolism,[5] and affects insulin secretion[6] and insulin sensitivity. However, much of the United States population does not reach the recommended intake for magnesium.[7]

Recent polls suggest that half of all Americans are magnesium deficient. The recommended intake for magnesium is 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men.

Strong evidence suggests that supplementing oral magnesium significantly improves glucose tolerance[8] and blood sugar in those with diabetes. In addition, low magnesium makes vitamin D ineffective.[9]

In fact, chronic magnesium supplementation might even delay the onset of type 2 diabetes,[5] suggesting that a magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for diabetes.

Iron Deficiency

Iron doesn’t directly affect blood sugar balance. Still, a lack of iron can lead to anemia and fatigue, which might increase the craving for sweet foods for a quick energy boost.

If you feel tired a lot despite getting enough sleep, get a blood test with your doctor to check for other potential causes, such as iron-deficiency anemia.

Chromium Deficiency

Chromium is a key nutrient involved in sugar metabolism and insulin regulation and one of the minerals that help maintain hydration status. You may crave sugar instead of feeling thirsty when you are not properly hydrated. 

One study of depressed people given 400-600 micrograms of chromium for eight weeks found a reduction in their depressive symptoms as well as a decrease in their carbohydrate cravings.

Causes Of Sugar Cravings

Many factors increase the risk of sugar cravings aside from vitamin deficiencies, including poor gut health, mental health problems, and poor sleep.

Here are the main causes of sugar cravings:

Eating Too Many Refined Foods

Unsurprisingly, sugar cravings are more prevalent in those with a sweet tooth eating more refined carbohydrates[10] such as white bread, pasta, rice, and cakes. 

And it’s not just about the sugar content. Unfortunately, refined foods have many nutrients stripped out of them, including the ones we need for better blood sugar balance. Certain essential nutrients are important to regulate sugar metabolism. Dietary fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and trace elements all play a role. 

For example, refined foods tend to lack dietary fiber, and a lack of fiber in the diet negatively affects the gut microbiome.[11] In turn, an unhealthy gut microbiome can increase the risk of experiencing sugar cravings because our microbes help regulate blood sugar control.

Refined foods are also much lower in essential minerals than their whole-grain counterparts. Some minerals are important for blood sugar regulation, especially zinc,[12] and magnesium, while others, such as selenium, are important for gut health.[13] Studies show that obese children with insulin resistance[14] were more likely to have mineral deficiencies in trace elements such as molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.

Type 2 Diabetes And Pre-Diabetes

Sugar cravings are a common symptom of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, which is the point at which your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar balance has gotten out of hand. 

Insulin resistance can lead to blood sugar spikes and lows, making us addicted to high blood sugar levels and leading to cravings when our blood sugars are low.

A whopping 38% of Americans struggle with prediabetes,[15] where insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation are already not functioning adequately, and increased food intake results — be it sugar, carbs, or simply excess calories.

Not Eating Enough Fruit

Studies show that your gut microbes are important producers of certain B vitamins, which help regulate blood sugar balance. 

One study found that eating more fruit increases the microbial production of vitamins B1[16] and B2, which helps balance blood sugar and lowers the risk of diabetes.

Unfortunately, many people trying to lose weight also cut down on natural sugar from fruits. However, not eating enough healthy whole-food sugars might increase sugar cravings, leading to more unhealthy eating habits.

Eating Too Much Sugar

Eating Too Much Sugar
Eating excess sugar is likely to trigger food cravings. Photo: wayhomestudio/Freepik

High-sugar foods are some of the most addictive[17] foods, so having a sweet tooth and eating excess sugar is likely to trigger food cravings and even bingeing behavior. 

Sugar itself is highly palatable and rewarding,[18] leading us to eat more of it when we taste it. However, overeating sugar triggers an increase in dopamine in the brain, which leads to maladaptive reward systems and the risk of sugar addiction, leading to impulsive eating. 

And, of all the sugary foods, it seems the most addictive is chocolate. It doesn’t take a scientific study to tell us that our chocolate cravings are worse when it’s got a higher sugar content.[19] But chocolate is unique because of the interaction between the sugar and the theobromine: an increase in sugar content makes chocolate more psychoactive and stimulating, leading to greater addictive potential than sugar alone.

Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

What about sweeteners as a replacement for sugar? Most studies suggest that consuming sweetened foods does not increase sweetness preference[20] or energy intake, indicating that switching from sugar to sweeteners might help curb sugar cravings. 

However, recent studies show that artificial sweeteners also alter the gut microbiota, affecting sugar absorption in the gut, and insulin response, leading to a worsening of glycemic control.[21]

So, before recommending to make the switch, further research is needed to understand the long-term effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on sugar cravings.

Being Overweight

Obesity contributes to reduced sensitivity to sweet taste[20] and hormonal changes in our hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin, negatively affecting appetite and leading to an increased craving for sweets.

Poor Sleep

Worse sleep is associated with a higher intake of free sugars[22] and refined carbohydrates. As you can imagine, when you’re tired, you seek a quick energy source, i.e., sugar. 

However, it’s worse than that. A lack of sleep is linked to poor glycemic control, and it’s those blood sugar highs and lows that lead to snacking more on sugary foods. Conversely, sleeping longer is linked to healthier diet patterns.[23]

Poor Mental Health

Anxiety[24] is significantly associated with higher refined carbohydrate and sugar intake. Studies show that sugary foods significantly improve mood and positive emotions[25] immediately after eating and are associated with experiencing fewer negative emotions one hour later.

However, these effects don’t last long. Three hours after consuming sugar, you’ll crave more sugar to get that high again.

Anxiety is also linked to lower protein and fruit consumption, as well as a lower intake of magnesium, selenium, and zinc — nutrients we now know are important for blood sugar balance.

Not getting enough protein is also associated with feeling more hungry, so this could increase sugar cravings too. 

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is associated with a greater sugar intake.[26] As Parkinson’s is associated with lower or dysregulated dopamine levels in the brain, scientists think eating more sugar might be a form of self-medication to increase dopamine.

Genetics

A mutation in a gene called SLC2A2 causes individuals to prefer sweeter tastes,[27] meaning they tend to eat significantly more sugar.[28]

How To Fight Sugar Cravings?

Here are some tips to combat sugar cravings.

Eat Less Sugar And Refined Foods

Of course, eating less sugar is the first thing to do to curb a sugar craving. 

However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ll have to battle the symptoms of sugar withdrawal,[29] which will tempt you to eat more sugar, such as headaches, weakness, light-headedness, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

If you’re craving chocolate, try switching from milk chocolate to dark chocolate with a low sugar content.

Eat More Fiber

Instead of refined carbohydrates, aim to eat more fiber-rich whole grains instead. Opt for foods such as whole-grain bread, brown rice, and jumbo oats. 

Also, make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Remember, these are important to support your gut microbes that help balance your blood sugar.

Opt for whole fruits rather than fruit juice, though. Orange juice has very little fiber and many so-called free sugars, which are quickly absorbed and spike blood sugar. On the other hand, a whole orange has lots of fiber, slowing digestion and sugar absorption in the gut.[30] 

Eating more whole foods will also help correct any nutritional deficiencies. Whole grain wheat products are rich in zinc and 

Supplement Vitamin D

Many individuals in the United States are vitamin D deficient because there’s not enough strong sunlight year-round, and we don’t spend enough time outside. Although you can get vitamin D from fortified foods and fatty fish, the amounts are generally not enough to keep our vitamin D levels sufficient. So, most people should supplement daily.

Supplementing vitamin D without having adequate magnesium may not achieve vitamin D effectiveness, so ensure that you have adequate magnesium in your diet if you are low in vitamin D.

Eat More Magnesium-Rich Foods

Consuming more magnesium daily can improve blood sugar balance, reduce sugar cravings, improve metabolic health, and help vitamin D work.

Try to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods daily, including:

  • Beans and pulses, such as kidney beans.
  • Whole wheat products.
  • Whole grains, such as quinoa and buckwheat.
  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach.
  • Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds.
  • Dark chocolate.

Lead A Healthy Lifestyle

Apart from eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of physical activity, and good quality sleep is crucial to more stable energy and fewer sugar cravings. Adults should strive for seven hours or more of sleep per night.

Final Thought

The most important factor in curbing sugar cravings is balancing your blood sugar levels. 

A vitamin and mineral deficiency can negatively affect your blood glucose balance, especially a deficiency in dietary fiber, magnesium, or vitamin D. Vitamin deficiencies also affect the satiety center in the brain, altering pivotal appetite-regulating hormones in our blood.

If you experience sugar cravings, ensure you’re not eating too many processed foods high in refined sugar and saturated fats, and aim for a balanced diet rich in dietary fiber and magnesium. It’s also important to supplement vitamin D if you are deficient. Consulting a registered dietitian on vitamin D repletion may be advisable if you suffer from this nutrient deficiency.


+ 30 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

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Ellie Busby

Written by:

Ellie Busby, MS, RDN

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Ellie Busby is a Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT) and nutrition writer. She holds a bachelor's in Chemistry and a Masters in Nutrition. Ellie specializes in plant-based nutrition for health and fitness. She is also the Founder of Vojo Health, a personalized nutrition service based on genetic testing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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Trusted Source

Database From U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Governmental Authority
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Oxford Academic Journals

Oxford University Press

Trusted Source
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Taylor & Francis Online

Peer-reviewed Journals

Academic Publishing Division of Informa PLC
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WHO

Database from World Health Organization

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Journal of Neurology

Peer-reviewed Medical Journal

American Academy of Neurology Journal
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ScienceDirect

Bibliographic Database of Scientific and Medical Publications

Dutch publisher Elsevier
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Wiley Online Library

American Multinational Publishing Company

Trusted Source
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. National Public Health Agency

U.S Department of Health and Human Services
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Trusted Source

Database from U.S. National Library of Medicine

U.S. Federal Government
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U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Federal Agency

U.S Department of Health and Human Services
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PubMed Central

Database From National Institute Of Health

U.S National Library of Medicine
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