If you thought your food cravings were just an annoyance, think again; they may be telling you something useful. Let’s have a look at some of the more common cravings, what they could mean and how you can address them in a more helpful way.
- Refined sugar / carbohydrates
If you’re a carb or sugar-fiend, you’re not alone. Who hasn’t given in to the donuts being passed around the office, or indulged in a big bowl of pasta after a long day at work?
There can be various factors at play here, which – thankfully – also means there are several ways we can tackle the cravings.
- Blood sugar dips. If your blood sugar drops too low, you will crave more refined sugar or carbohydrates as fast energy for your cells. Unfortunately, blood sugar dips can be caused by eating these foods in the first place, due to the ‘rebound’ effect of insulin quickly taking all that sugar into your cells. In other words, it’s a vicious cycle. Avoiding refined and processed foods, switching to more natural sugars and eating whole foods with plenty of protein at each meal can help remedy this.
- Stress. Stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol, whose purpose is to help your body cope with stress. But because our DNA hasn’t caught up with modern lifestyles, your body still thinks that stress means ‘fight or flight’, which requires immediate energy – hence, cortisol triggers cravings for sugar and carbohydrates as that easy energy source. So, another way of tackling your cravings is to address your stress in whatever way you can.
- Low mood, or lack of ‘feel-good’ hormones. Of course, refined sugar and carbohydrates are typical ‘comfort’ foods. We may turn to them when we’re feeling down, bored, lonely, or just lacking joy in our lives. They help us feel better – albeit temporarily – by increasing feel-good hormones and chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins. So, to really address the cause, look for other ways to make yourself feel good – whether it’s spending time with friends, reading a book, or doing some exercise.
- Hormone balance. Most women know that the time of the month can dictate their cravings for sugar or carbs. If this is you, then first of all work on balancing your blood sugar with the same approach as above. Taking a multivitamin and mineral designed for women can help too, by providing essential hormone- and blood sugar-balancing nutrients such as vitamin B6, zinc, chromium and magnesium.
- Salty foods
Craving salt or salty foods can be a result of stress too. This is because the adrenal glands, which produce our stress hormones, also produce a hormone called aldosterone that helps the body hold on to sodium (salt). As a result of long-term stress – or a single very stressful event – the adrenal glands may start to produce less of these hormones. So as well as feeling more tired, your body may be getting rid of more sodium than it should.
If your blood pressure is on the low side – especially if it’s towards 90/60 mmHg or lower – this is particularly telling. In this case, it can be beneficial to eat more salt to help correct the balance (unless otherwise advised by your doctor, of course). But this is not a reason to give into junk food like crisps – instead, use a natural salt such as sea salt or Himalayan crystal salts in your home cooking. And balance it by eating plenty of vegetables, which are a good source of potassium and other minerals. You may also feel more energetic as a result!
Now, if you’re craving a typical high-sugar milk chocolate or a white chocolate bar, then this can simply mean you’re craving refined sugar. See point 1 above!
But if you’re specifically craving dark chocolate, this could be an indication you’re lacking magnesium, which cacao is rich in. Make sure you eat plenty of leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale – ideally two servings a day – as they’re fantastic sources of magnesium. And there’s nothing wrong with indulging in dark chocolate – especially if it’s raw chocolate, of course!
If you’re craving a drink, this could also be indicative of blood sugar imbalances. So, if you want to cut down, think about better managing your blood sugar with the same tips as above. And when a craving hits, try having a small snack containing complex carbohydrates and protein to get your blood sugar back on an even keel.
- Fried foods
Now, if you could murder a bowl of chips, then it could be just those pesky carb cravings again. But if you’re hanging out for anything greasy or fatty, then you could be lacking healthy fats in your diet. Not all fats are bad – we need ‘good’ fats for our brain, heart, eyes, and in fact every cell in our body. So, instead of giving in to takeaway battered food or fish and chips, eat more avocados, nuts and seeds and coconut, and use good-quality olive oil in dressings.
We hope you find these tips useful. What have you found helpful for combatting your cravings?