When was the last time you were hit hard with a sudden urgent craving for a certain-specific-something that you couldn’t shake out of your mind?
Lots of different things can trigger the coming of an intense craving. For one: Hunger (although, interestingly, actual physical hunger isn’t usually the culprit behind specific cravings). A lot of people are emotional eaters, whose food cravings are actually stimulated by emotional needs rather than physical ones (learn more about how to recognize emotional eating and how to get it under control here. And often, sudden cravings hit because you’ve just been assaulted by an all-out raid of glossy food advertising, passed by a fast food restaurant carefully engineered to draw you in, or clicked into an artfully delicious looking Pinterest board.
Then there’s the common but largely ignored craving culprit: Thirst. Many health experts estimate that about 80 percent of the world’s population is chronically dehydrated, and since the symptoms of dehydration are so similar to those of hunger, many people confuse thirst for munchies. That’s why, when any kind of food craving hits, begin by drinking one or two tall glasses of pure water and waiting 15 minutes before you start hunting for food. Quenching your thirst is often what you really needed, and is enough to quench that sudden desire to eat as well.
On the other hand, many types of food cravings are really warning signals that your body is trying to give you about your health. The cravings themselves are often for “naughty” foods that come with a hefty price tag of weight gain and health problems if indulged in too often. However, paying attention to patterns in the specific foods you tend to crave can help you decode which nutritional or hormonal imbalances they may actually be hinting to, so that you can stop the cravings from coming by fixing the actual root of them.
Take a look at what some of these common food cravings might indicate about your health.
Chocolate is high in magnesium. Cravings for chocolate could indicate that your body is low in magnesium, which is a common deficiency.
Unfortunately, succumbing to your chronic chocolate mania doesn’t actually work to balance out the magnesium deficiency that stirred up the craving in the first place. Boost up the magnesium in your diet by eating more magnesium-rich foods, like nuts, seeds, fish and dark leafy greens.
And for the times when you just can’t fight the feeling: skip the milk chocolate and white chocolate, and satisfy that craving with a scoop of organic cocoa added to your healthy protein smoothie, or have a consciously portioned piece of organic dark chocolate that’s 70% or higher.
Cravings for cheese or pizza could indicate that your body is deficient in fatty acids, or is experiencing an imbalance in the ratios of different fatty acids. While eating some natural cheese in small, portioned quantities every week is fine, eating too much can jack up the sodium, fat and cholesterol in your diet.
Quit that cheese craving altogether by upping your intake of foods that are high in healthful fatty acids and omega-3s, such as wild salmon, raw walnuts, ground flax seeds and chia seeds.
Sweet cravings often indicate fluctuating blood sugar levels and/or an insulin imbalance. Dropping blood sugar levels lead to low energy and intense sugar cravings, as your body attempts to quickly fuel itself by bringing your blood sugar back up.
However, if you respond to that craving with refined sweets, cookies, ice cream, cake and other sugared-up fare, you’ll make your problems even worse. Feeding a sweet craving with simple refined sugars winds up sending your blood sugar levels on an even more tumultuous roller coaster ride that leads to even more nagging sugar cravings, weight gain and health problems.
When your sugar tooth starts hollering, the best thing you can do is answer it with fiber. Foods that are naturally sweet and also naturally high in fiber – like berries, apples, pears, carrots and other fruits and vegetables — manage to give you that flavor you’re desiring while also preventing any more blood sugar spikes. Sugar cravings also indicate that you should raise the fiber in your diet overall, with foods like beans, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, whole grains, etc.
Cravings for salty foods like chips, pretzels, popcorn, etc., are often associated with fluctuating stress hormones, like cortisol, and worn out adrenal glands. You can help to support your adrenal glands by eating more foods that feature vitamin B5 (such as avocados, sunflower seeds, portabella mushrooms, salmon, lentils, duck, eggs, broccoli, etc.), vitamin C (such as papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, etc.), potassium (like avocado, spinach, sweet potato, coconut water, kefir, white beans, banana, etc.), and iodine (like seaweed and sea foods).
Adaptogens are a group of herbs that have been used in ancient medical practices for centuries to help support adrenal glands, lower stress hormones and quell sugar cravings. Learn more about those here.
Ultimately though, the key to correcting this type of hormonal imbalance is not just finding healthy ways to manage stress physically, but also to manage it mentally and emotionally as well. Studies have shown that adopting stress management techniques like meditation and breathing exercises can significantly lower high stress hormone levels while also reducing salty food cravings.
If you’re going to eat meat, try to lean towards organic lean cuts. But keep in mind that meat-heavy diets are commonly associated with a variety of health problems, and that animal foods should only account for about 15 percent of your total diet. Plant-based foods that are high in iron include beans and legumes, unsulphured prunes, figs and other dried fruits. You can substantially increase the amount of iron that your body absorbs from a food by eating a vitamin C rich food at the same time. To maximize the iron absorption of your meal, pair your iron food with bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, berries or citrus, etc.
If you find that you’re craving all sorts of different types of goodies around the clock, constantly wanting to snack throughout the day and can’t seem to fill up, no matter how many cravings and calories you’ve chowed down, this can indicate that you’re not eating properly balanced meals of the right size and/or on the right schedule.
You can help to nip this bad snacking lifestyle in the bud by making sure that every meal you eat contains the right macronutrient balance – that is, the right proportion of protein, healthy fatty acids and high-fiber carbohydrates. Find out how to properly balance your meals to kill cravings and help with weight loss here.
Eating only as much and as often as your body is able to efficiently digest is also key to preventing the blood sugar and hormonal spikes that trigger cravings. The best way to calculate what, how much and how often you should be eating is by taking the total amount of calories that your diet recommends, and dividing that number into 5 (for 5 meals a day). This tells you about how many calories to allot for each meal. For each meal, portion 30 – 40% for lean protein, 40 – 50% for high-fiber carbohydrates and 10 – 20% for healthy fatty acids.
Eat 5 meals a day, about 3 hours apart. This gives your body sufficient time to completely digest the last meal before starting on the next one. This type of meal schedule also helps to keep you feeling satiated and energized all day long. Preventing hunger and cravings from hitting hard and overwhelming you makes it far easier to keep your will power muscled up and to stay true to your good health and weight loss aspirations.