Food Cravings – What Do They Mean And How To Respond?
How confusing is it when nutritionists telling you to avoid sugary, processed foods and then asking you to listen to your body – all in a single breath? You know if you listened to your body you would be gobbling cake and ice cream all day.
So which one is it?
Well, actually there is a bit of a back-story (aka science) to all of it. How about I demystify some of the common food cravings we experience almost daily to help you understand what your body is really asking for? And through in some healthy food substitutes to help you satisfy your cravings without ruining your health goals. Sounds good? Let’s get on with it then.
Cravings – Pretzels and Chips
Your Body Needs: Sodium
When you body’s sodium level is low you end up craving salty foods. Go for home-made popcorn with a sprinkle of salt instead or pistachios.
Sodium helps absorb water long enough in your body to hydrate your cells. When you are dehydrated, because of lack of water or exercise, you need a little more salt to steady the electrolytes in your system.
Be sure to drink eight or more glasses of water every day and extra when you exercise. Surprisingly, celery juice is the healthiest way to satisfy a salt craving since it is a natural source of sodium and will replenish the electrolytes in a jiffy.
Cravings – Candy and Sweets
Your Body Needs – Glucose or Distraction
This is the tricky one, first figure out if your body is really craving sugar or you just want it because you are greedy like that? (It is always the latter for me) sugar is addictive (surprise!) so the more sweets you eat the more you are likely to end up constantly thinking about it.
If you know you are stuck in a constant pattern of sugar high and crash, and crave something sweet a few times daily, it is time to break the pattern. (you have got issues buddy) Wait it out and try to distract yourself. Drink a glass or two of water. Cliche as it may sound, it actually work. If you have been studying or working long hours or have had an exhausting day without much food and water it may mean your body is low on glucose. Try to you refuel your energy level with a proper meal or healthy sources of sugar such as a piece of fruit before you go all crazy on the candy.
Cravings – Burger or Steak
Your Body Needs: Iron
Craving meat could mean that your body needs iron. Iron plays a vital role in supporting the immune system and helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. It’s deficiency can cause us to become tired, lethargic and pale. (read: unattractive) If you are a meat eater, a healthy way to include meat in your diet is to eat organic meat once or twice a week. Make sure it is grilled or roasted and avoid fried meat, cold cuts and fast food options.
If you are a vegetarian (yaay! you the man!) suitable non-meat sources of iron are beans, legumes, nuts and dark leafy greens.
Cravings – Chocolate
Your Body Needs: Magnesium
Magnesium may well be the most important, the most overlooked (the middle child) nutrient for most of us. There’s a pretty good chance you don’t have enough of it in your diet and it’s adversely effecting body. Magnesium is the ultimate (mother of) nutrients required for balancing the nervous system, maintaining a healthy heart and hormonal health.
Magnesium deficiency often results in fatigue, insomnia, depression, cramps and even PMS – basically the ultimate FML scenario. Which explains why chocolate is the number one comfort food for many. So you best bet would be to reach out for a square of dark chocolate (70% of cocoa) or munch on Brazil nuts – just don’t go crazy with it. Eating chocolate actually also results in dopamine being released in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and is released when you experience anything that gives you instant pleasure—laughter, love, sex or drugs. In jest it is said to be the molecule behind people’s sinful behaviors and secret cravings. Get your dose of dopamine with positive activities without the disastrous side-effects of chocolate overload. Reaching a goal and intense exercise also result in high dopamine. Other foods that may help your body produce more dopamine include almonds, avocados, bananas, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
But in general try to always your magnesium level balanced by eating an adequate amount of leafy greens and nuts throughout the month. Avocado and watermelon are also great sources of magnesium and who doesn’t love watermelon? Yum. Also avoid too much caffeine and frizzy drinks since this can deplete your level of magnesium.
Cravings – Pizza
Your Body Needs: Fatty Acids
Craving for cheese or pizza may indicate a fatty acid deficiency. Reach for omega 3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and do not increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Add walnuts, flaxseed or salmon to your diet.
When you crave carbs, your body may be asking for nitrogen, choose whole grain sources such as brown rice or quinoa. You might also crave carbs if you have been trying to cut them out of your diet completely. (Sounds familiar? tsk tsk) You need to make sure you consume every food group in moderation to prevent the cycle of deprivation and binging later. Let’s compromise, why don’t you chuck the processed carbs but do eat whole carbs such as fruits and vegetables. They are after all the best source of healthy carbs that do more good than harm. So do we have a deal?
Cravings – Ice Cream
Your Body Needs: Calcium or A Pick Me Up Mood Booster
Ice Cream – The most cliche food to turn to during heartbreak – ever wonder why? It gives us that sugar hit that literally makes our brain go into a mild sense of euphoria – only to feel drained and depleted after an hour. And that how we all wanna feel at that point right? Happy and Numb. Occasionally having ice cream and the likes of it with family and friends is one thing It definitely perks up our mood and is the ultimate comfort food. However, if you find yourself craving it every night or especially when you are alone or down, ask yourself if you are just bored and looking for a bit of a pick me up. If the answer is yes, resist that urge! Don’t, just don’t. Instead do something else that could cheer you up. Call up a friend, watch your favorite movie, retail therapy anyone?
If the cravings still haunt you every night, it may mean you need calcium in your diet (and some fun in your life). Spinach, almonds and cottage cheese are my top suggestions great for calcium.
Guys, enjoy your food and enjoy life, but don’t let food rule your brain (I know it’s sneaky that way). Let me know if you have any other food cravings? How do you generally cope with it? If you have any questions leave them in the comments below.
Till next time, Bye!