Sometimes cravings hit you when you least expect it. Ten o’clock on a Monday night after a perfect day of eating, mid afternoon directly after a healthy lunch, or sometimes you might even awake in the middle of the night with an intense urge to eat. Well before those helpless feelings of guilt, frustration, and weakness overwhelm you, let me inform you on what your intelligent body might actually be signaling to you.
Let us first rule out the cravings that are stimulated from the visual cues of juicy cheeseburgers, Dairy Queen blizzards, and mouth-watering pizza that we see on television commercials and all over social media. Let us also rule out the cravings that come from an emotional need of sadness, stress, depression and boredom. While these are real, they need to be addressed with recognition and a rather large dose of self -control. My best advice for these times is to drink a big glass of water and ask yourself, “why do I want this food?” If you realize that you want it because you are bored or thirsty and not because your body is signaling to you that you are actually hungry, then you can distract yourself with other things and go on with your day.
A lot of times however, when we are hungry and crave a specific food, it means our bodies are actually deficient in a certain nutrient. If you eat a decently healthy diet and crave a specific food type often, then there might be something you can do to fix it. Allowing yourself to have the foods you crave, but matching those cravings to healthy sources, may be one of the most important keys to managing your weight and health. Let’s take a look.
Chocolate: If you crave chocolate it does not mean that your body is deficient in chocolate, although I think most people would prefer this. Chocolate is high in magnesium meaning craving it could mean you are low in magnesium. This is a very common deficiency. Try eating a small amount of dark chocolate to satisfy the craving and then start adding in foods that are higher in magnesium into your everyday diet. Examples would be nuts such as almonds or pecans, seeds, fish and leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
Sweets: Craving sweet foods such as donuts or fruit is often a sign of low blood sugar or blood sugar fluctuations. When your blood sugar drops it is your body’s way of signaling to give it more fuel in the form of glucose. Try snacking on a piece of fruit instead of giving in to a cookie or piece of cake. Eating refined sugars could just cause your diet to spiral out of control and cause more intense cravings. Start adding more high fiber foods into your daily meals such as beans, potatoes and complex carbohydrates like whole grains to allow appropriate fuel without the blood sugar spikes.
Salty Foods: Craving potato chips, French fries and any bagged/ canned food is often a signal of hormone fluctuation in the body caused by stress. It could also be a desperate call for unrefined sea salt. The sodium that is in most of our foods is stripped of its magnesium and potassium, nutrients that are beneficial to our bodies. Try adding more fish, leafy greens, and high quality B-complex vitamins in your diet as well as stress reducing activities such as yoga and meditation.
Cheese: Cravings for cheese and pizza often mean that you have a fatty acid deficiency. This is very common in most people. Allow yourself a small portion of cheese to snack on and start adding in more foods higher in Omega 3s and 6s such as salmon, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and ground flaxseeds.
Meat: If you crave burgers or juicy steaks this could be a sign of an iron deficiency. Not surprisingly, women menstruating are often vulnerable to iron deficiencies and are urged to eat lean red meats, bison, and beans. Also getting an appropriate amount of Vitamin C in the form of citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes etc, will help with the absorption of iron.
If you feel that you are hungry all the time and want an excess amount of the foods listed above, make sure you are eating a well balanced diet and paying attention to the macronutrients you are in-taking. Although you think of it as just food, your body knows the difference and requires certain essential nutrients to function optimally.