Who hasn’t experienced the overwhelming desire to eat something specific, whether it be chocolate, potato chips, a burger, or some other food? We’ve all experienced cravings, but we should be careful about the way in which we satisfy them. By understanding what your body is actually deficient in (assuming it is a physical, not an emotional food craving) you can get to the root cause of the cravings, and eventually kick them all together.
There are numerous possible meanings of cravings, depending on the type of craving and your eating habits. Before you satisfy cravings, drink a tall glass of pure water. Quite often we misinterpret our body’s signal for thirst as a signal of hunger. By drinking a tall glass of water first, you may be giving your body exactly what it wants and alleviate the craving. Some experts estimate that up to 80 percent of the population is chronically dehydrated, so start with water before you try to decipher your cravings.
If you crave chocolate, it doesn’t mean your body has a chocolate deficiency, although I think most people would prefer that. Chocolate is high in magnesium. Cravings for it often indicate that your body is deficient in magnesium, which is a common deficiency. If you’re going to eat chocolate, choose organic cocoa and mix it into a healthy smoothie, or eat a small amount of dark chocolate. Because that is unlikely enough to deal with a magnesium deficiency, it’s also important to eat other foods high in magnesium, such as nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens.
If you crave sweets, you may be experiencing blood sugar fluctuations. When your blood sugar drops, your body may be trying to get you to give it more fuel to keep your blood sugar levels stable. If this is a chronic occurrence you may have hypoglycemia, which simply means low blood sugar. Whether your sugar cravings are sporadic or chronic, it is important to choose the right type of food to bring your body back into balance. Giving in to cookies, cakes, candies or other refined sweets will only make the problem worse and cause a blood sugar roller coaster that leads to more cravings. Instead, choose a piece of fruit when you’re craving sweets. In the interim, add more high-fiber foods like beans and legumes, and complex carbohydrates like whole grains to give you the fuel you need without the blood sugar spikes. If you’re really struggling with sugar cravings, you may also wish to supplement with the mineral chromium since it helps to regulate blood sugar levels and ward off cravings.
Cravings for salty foods like popcorn or chips often indicate stress hormone fluctuations in the body. Getting on top of the stress in your life is step one. The adrenal glands help your body cope with stress and, in our fast-paced, hectic lives, tend to become worn out, especially from stress-hormone production. Try meditation, breathing exercises, or other stress management techniques. Research at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City showed that people who take a break to breathe deeply or meditate before reaching for salty snacks reduced their stress hormones by 25 percent and cut the bingeing in half.
If your adrenal glands are worn out, you can also support them with a high-quality B-complex vitamin, with extra pantothenic acid (that’s vitamin B-5) and vitamin C. Eating more leafy greens helps to supply your body with minerals that support the adrenal glands, especially potassium.
Cravings for cheese or pizza often indicate a fatty acid deficiency, which is common in most people. Eat foods such as raw walnuts, wild salmon, flax oil; add ground flaxseeds to your diet. Supplement with a high-quality supplement that includes the beneficial fats, especially omega 3s. It should contain both EPA and DHA. Two to three servings of fish such as wild salmon or a small handful of raw walnuts or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds in a smoothie will often cut out cheese cravings altogether.
Not surprisingly, cravings for red meat usually indicate an iron deficiency. Often people crave burgers or steaks. Women of menstruation age are especially vulnerable to iron deficiencies. Eat more iron-rich beans and legumes, unsulphured prunes, figs and other dried fruits. If you eat meat you can also choose lean, organic red meat like beef or bison as a source of iron. Just remember to keep meat consumption to within 15 percent of your total daily diet. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so take vitamin C alongside your iron-rich foods. Alternatively, eat citrus, red peppers, tomatoes or berries which are high in vitamin C with your iron-rich foods.
If you often feel snacky, sometimes for sweets, sometimes for salty foods, it can mean you’re not eating a well-balanced diet and may be missing a variety of nutrients.
Reaching for junk foods or heavy foods at the onset of cravings will only satisfy them temporarily. Making dietary changes that address deficiencies or imbalances can help eliminate them altogether.
Adapted with permission from The Life Force Diet by Michelle Schoffro Cook, BSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM