The Unexpected Reason We Crave Baked Sweets

If you crave a particular taste, what you crave can say something about your emotional, mental, or physical health. Your brain knows how to quickly satisfy your needs well before the word "healthy" kicks in. Sometimes your cravings can come from your need for a particular nutrient (such as carbs for energy), and other times you can mistake thirst for hunger.

Are you craving something sweet or salty? When you're either hungry or stressed (or both), you probably reach for either of those tastes. Both are readily accessible in a vending machine or at the checkout at a convenience store, making it easier for us to give in to our food cravings. You could crave something sweet later in the day especially if you've restricted your calories earlier in the day. Stress might also have you reach for that cheese popcorn because your adrenal glands can't properly regulate your sodium levels, according to Cleveland Clinic

Beyond these reasons, according to a 2022 article in Addiction, one reason you might specifically be craving baked sweets could be that you're addicted to the refined carbohydrates in highly processed foods.

Can you be addicted to baked sweets?

The 2022 article in Addiction argues that highly processed foods such as baked sweets are similarly addictive as tobacco. For one thing, processed foods — rather than fruits or vegetables — are linked to binge eating. In other words, it's much easier to eat a sleeve of Oreos than two apples. And, even if you know eating a sleeve of Oreos might make you feel sick later, you sometimes feel compelled to eat more than just one cookie.

Sweets often trigger dopamine in the brain, which gives us a temporary "feel good" emotion. More than fruit or nuts, the refined sugars and fat in highly processed food work together to hike our brain's dopamine, making us turn to cakes and cookies to help change our mood. And, even if you feel full, it's still difficult to resist the urge to reach for something sweet after a good meal. The article adds that highly processed foods have flavor and texture enhancements that also make them more addicting.

How to curb your sugar cravings

Even though sugar might give you a physiologically positive response, it might not be physically addictive, according to UCLA Health. Still, you know you can't ignore the psychologically addicting qualities of baked sweets. 

If you can't go a day without something sweet, it might take up to four weeks to break your habit. That's not to say you have to go cold turkey. In fact, a "sugar detox" might make you crave sugar more and suffer a relapse, according to Cleveland Clinic. Instead, drink plenty of water and be sure to get enough sleep. Ghrelin is a hormone in your stomach that signals hunger, and it increases when you don't have enough sleep. That could be a reason why you crave something sweet when you wake up after having trouble sleeping. Also, because many breakfast products are laden with sugar, avoid added sugar during breakfast by eating something like eggs, nuts, and a small piece of toast (via New York Times).

Sometimes your craving for baked sweets stems from using food as a source of comfort, according to GoodRx Health. Therapy can help you better understand what triggers some of your emotional eating patterns.