Have you ever been to a dinner party and gone all in on the desserts? Or eaten two boxes of candy all by yourself at the movie theater? Or polished off an entire pint of vegan ice cream in one sitting? If so, you've probably experienced a sugar hangover. It's kind of a bizarre phenomenon, but feeling like utter crap when you've pounded all the sweets is a very real struggle. So how and why does sugar make you feel hungover after the fact, to the point where you feel like you just tossed back a shot (or five) of tequila?
In case you're one of the lucky ones who has yet to experience a sugar hangover, let me break it down for you: According to Healthline, when you go HAM on a box of donuts, you might experience headaches, mood swings, shakiness, fatigue, nausea, and even difficulty focusing as your body digests and absorbs all of the sugar. Sounds pretty similar to the hangover you get after a night out with your squad, right? Except, in my experience at least, I pretty much never see a sugar hangover coming, as it's honestly just too easy to get lost in the deliciousness of a pint of ice cream or a box of assorted chocolates.
Plus, as Lyuda Bouzinova, an ACE-certified fitness nutrition specialist, personal trainer, and co-founder of Mission Lean, tells Elite Daily over email, eating foods with a ton of sugar in them can give you a sugar high at first, which could explain why you don't see the sluggish side effects coming. You're riding high on your favorite flavors, but as the sugar clears out of your bloodstream, Bouzinvoa explains, you quickly begin to feel lethargic, lazy, and basically just really out of it.
But why does something so delicious have to do your body so dirty like that? Well, it has a lot to do with how much sugar you should actually have on a daily basis. According to the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, people around the world eat, on average, about 17 teaspoons of sugar every single day— but the American Heart Association recommends about six teaspoons of sugar a day for women, and nine teaspoons a day for men. In other words, most of us are eating way more sugar than our bodies can realistically handle, and as Bouzinova explains, when you load up on too much sugar, it triggers a rapid release of insulin in your body, which leads to a sudden spike in blood sugar. Then, once the glucose from the sugar you've eaten is finally absorbed into your cells, your blood sugar plummets — and that's when you start feeling like crap.
What's more, in case you don't already know this, sugar is legitimately addictive, guys. Now, if you have a serious sweet tooth (like yours truly), I know that that's probably kind of a bummer to think about, especially if you tend to crave sugar with the strength of a thousand suns during that daily afternoon slump. But it's important to understand those cravings and why they're actually happening in the first place. In part, it's because your brain's reward system is activated when you're eating the sweet stuff. According to Psychology Today, sugar increases your levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps to control your brain's response to pleasure and, the outlet says, even "motivates us to search for food." But if you're eating a lot of sugar at once, your brain basically begins to think it doesn't have to work as hard to produce dopamine. So, when you aren't eating sugar, the cravings kick in because your brain wants that dopamine. And when you finally get yourself that sleeve of Oreos, your dopamine levels rise yet again. See how that can create a cycle?
But listen, if you're in the midst of a sugar hangover right now, don't panic. There are plenty of things you can do to alleviate those sluggish symptoms, and TBH, it's a relatively easy fix. Healthline recommends hydrating with a sugar-free drink, eating foods that don't have so many added sugars (think eggs, nuts, and other protein-rich foods), and doing some low-key workouts like yoga or walking.
Additionally, Bouzinova tells Elite Daily that if you find yourself constantly feeling like crap after eating sugar, or if you feel like you're craving it all the time, you might want to consider weaning yourself off of the stuff, or at least finding some healthier alternatives to switch to on occasion. "There are lots of natural sweet alternatives to sugar," she says. For instance, she suggests eating dried fruit when a craving kicks in (just make sure to check the label to see if there are any added sugars).
Bouzinova also points out that bananas are super sweet, and they can even be used to replace sugar in some recipes. Similarly, she adds, depending on what type of food you’ll be substituting the sugar in, you can also use honey or maple syrup as healthier alternatives. "I find honey and maple syrup to be best for baking, [and] dried dates [are good] to just eat as 'candy' when you need a sugar fix."
BRB, filling my office drawers to the brim with dried fruit.