Can't stop reaching for the salt shaker? Is that tub of ice cream constantly calling your name from the freezer? And why does that block of chocolate keep testing your willpower?
Is it really the food itself that’s the cause of our cravings or is it actually a clue as to what’s going on inside our bodies? Here's a guide as to what it means when you can't stop thinking about indulging in the following foods - as well as how to resist the cravings lure.
Sugar cravings often mean you’re in need of a quick burst of energy. Unfortunately, using high-sugar foods as a pick-me-up will cause a spike in your blood sugar, which will rapidly drop as your body releases insulin to bring your blood sugar levels back to normal. Or you might be in need of a feel-good burst, as sugar activates the release of dopamine (happy hormone) from the brain - this is what makes sugar so addictive. An imbalance in gut bacteria may also be the cause. An overgrowth of sugar-loving Candida can send signals to your brain via the vagus nerve causing you to crave more sugar.
How to curb your sugar cravings
Eat a well-balanced breakfast that contains protein, fibre, and healthy fats, to balance your blood sugars and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Increase your intake of chromium-rich foods such as broccoli, grass-fed beef, carrots, beans, and turkey. Chromium increases your cells uptake of glucose to be used for energy. Eat a variety of fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh to increase the diversity of bacteria in your gut.
Salt cravings are often a sign of mineral deficiency, particularly calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Over-exercising or excessive sweating can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, causing salt cravings, as your body tries to correct this. They may also be a way of your body trying to deal with chronic stress and burnt-out adrenal glands. However insatiable salt cravings accompanied by symptoms of exhaustion, weight loss, and skin discolouration could be a sign of Addison's disease.
How to curb your salt cravings
Boost your intake of potassium-rich foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, avocado, and yoghurt to restore your bodies potassium and sodium balance. Reduce your stress levels through meditation, breathing, and yoga. Swap the salt shaker for the pepper grinder, or if you have to add a little salt, choose Himalayan or Celtic sea salt that are higher in trace minerals.
Chocolate is high in magnesium, so if you’re always craving chocolate you may be deficient in this important mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including boosting your mood and calming the nervous system. Serotonin (feel-good hormone) deficiency may also be the cause as chocolate will spike your blood sugar increasing the available tryptophan (a pre-cursor to serotonin) in the bloodstream.
How to curb your chocolate cravings
Eat magnesium-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, quinoa, oats, and millet. Take a powdered magnesium supplement - magnesium glycinate or citrate are well tolerated and absorbed (just watch for loose bowel movements if you take too much). Add a cup of Epsom salts to your bath. And if you have to reach for the chocolate, choose a dark 80% plus.
You’re not getting enough healthy fats (omega-3s) in your diet. Fats are crucial for a healthy body - they create a protective layer around our cells, repair wall linings when they become damaged, are one of the main components of our brain cells and are involved in hormone production (especially those responsible for energy). Emotional stress, depression, anxiety and hormonal changes may also be the cause.
How to curb your fatty food cravings
Avoid low-fat diets because when you don’t eat enough fat, your body is more likely to crave it. Include good-quality healthy fats with every meal like olive oil, avocado, nuts, grass-fed meat and wild-caught oily fish.
Caffeine is a stimulant, so you’ll be craving it when your energy levels are low. Increased consumption of caffeine can have the opposite effect and cause a constant rise in cortisol (stress hormone), leaving you feeling tired but wired. Adrenal fatigue caused by too much stress over a long period may also be the cause of your cravings.
How to curb your caffeine cravings
Adopt some lifestyle changes to reduce your stress such and meditation, breathing and yoga. Gradually cut back on your caffeine intake and try drinking dandelion coffee or herbal teas. If you do have a coffee, keep it to one a day and make sure it's before midday.
Starchy carbohydrates aid the transport of tryptophan to the brain, which then converts to serotonin (happy hormone) and also melatonin (sleep hormone). Increased stress can cause tryptophan deficiency and trigger cravings for starchy carbs.
How to curb your starchy carb cravings'
Increase your intake of tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, red meat, chicken and eggs. Have some basmati rice with dinner - this low GI rice will aid the transport of tryptophan to the brain, without causing a spike in blood sugar.
When it comes to dealing with food cravings, don’t resist them all together as this may leave you feeling deprived and depressed and increase the likelihood of completely over-indulging. Instead, the next time they hit, check in with your body and listen to what it might be trying to tell you, because managing food cravings is a lesson in self-examination and self-discipline.