Food cravings: What they mean and what to do about them
Many of us experience cravings, whether it’s for coffee to get us going in the morning, a sugary snack at 3pm to give us a boost, salty, crunchy or fatty foods, sweets after eating, chocolate when your period’s due and so on.
We often reach for quick and unhealthy fixes to satisfy them or we might overeat, blaming ourselves for being mentally weak.
But what if our cravings meant something important? What if they’re not all in the mind?
Could cravings be messages?
Did you ever wonder where your cravings come from and what’s driving them?
From a nutritional standpoint, cravings may mean that your body needs an important element it’s lacking. In other words, they are a sign of mild malnutrition. Malnutrition is when the body does not get the right amount of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.
Also, did you know that dehydration may cause cravings and that by simply drinking 2-3 litres of water per day plus additional water for dehydrating drinks such as coffee, tea, alcohol, soft drinks, you may get rid of your cravings?
Cravings may not be the result of a weak mind. In fact, it’s possibly the other way around. A shortage of critical nutrients can actually cause behaviour problems such as under or overeating.
Rather than hate our bodies, we need to learn to listen to and trust them. We need to give feed them nutritious food, avoiding quick fixes that not only deplete them further but are toxic placing an additional burden on them.
Where there are psychological issues, we also need to acknowledge them and get appropriate support. Boredom, grief, particular moods, depression, suppressed thoughts and frustration may be behind some eating behaviours.
But remember, what we once thought was all in our mind we know is also be about our gut. It houses more brain cells than our actual brain does.
Some key cravings
Craving: Shortage - Healthy alternative source
Chocolate: Magnesium - Raw nuts and seeds, legumes, and fruits
Coffee or tea: Phosphorous - Chicken, beef, liver, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes
Coffee or tea: Sulphur - Egg yolks, red peppers, muscle protein, garlic, onion, cruciferous vegetables
Coffee or tea: NaCl (salt) - Sea salt, apple cider vinegar (on salad)
Coffee or tea: Iron - Meat, fish and poultry, seaweed, greens, black cherries
Fatty foods: Calcium - Mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame
Salty food: Chloride - Raw goat milk, fish, unrefined sea salt
Bread or toast: Nitrogen - High protein foods: fish, meat, nuts, beans
Sweets: Chromium - Broccoli, grapes, cheese, dried beans, calves liver, chicken
Sweets: Carbon - Fresh fruits
Sweets: Phosphorous - Chicken, beef, liver, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, grains
Sweets: Sulphur - Cranberries, horseradish, cruciferous vegetables, kale, cabbage
Sweets: Tryptophan - Cheese, liver, lamb, raisins, sweet potato, spinach
Alcohol or recreational drugs: Protein - Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, nuts
Alcohol or recreational drugs: Avenin - Oatmeal
Alcohol or recreational drugs: Calcium - Mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame
Alcohol or recreational drugs: Glutamine - Supplement glutamine powder for withdrawal, rawcabbage juice
Alcohol or recreational drugs: Potassium - Sun-dried black olives, potato peel broth, seaweed, bitter greens
Pre-menstrual cravings: Zinc - Red meats (especially organ meats), seafood, leafy vegetables, root vegetables
Overeating: Silicon - Nuts, seeds; avoid refined starches
Overeating: Tryptophan - Cheese, liver, lamb, raisins, sweet potato, spinach
Overeating: Tyrosine - Vitamin C supplements or orange, green, and red fruits and vegetables
When you shouldn’t listen to cravings – Sugar (and leptin)
Sugar is any high glycaemic food including all refined carbs. Sugar cravings can result from stress and a lack of sleep. Ongoing stress triggers the hormone or messenger cortisol, which depletes your adrenals just like eating sugar does. We are not meant to live in a constant state of stress or sleeplessness.
Sugar cravings can also signal addiction to sugar or refined carbs. Sugar produces opiate-like responses in the brain and is literally addictive. Brain scans show it is ten times more so than cocaine. This is not an addiction you want to give into as sugar causes inflammation which is associated with 90 per cent of diseases, including cancer, MS and Alzheimer’s.
Sugar addiction can also signal blood sugar problems. For example, if you’ve been eating sugar and refined carbs over years, your body may be tired and unresponsive to insulin, the hormone that tells your cells to uptake glucose or energy. After eating, your body is unable to get energy into the cells so it seeks quick and easy energy in order to get by in the form of sugar. Eventually this downward spiral leads to Type 2 Diabetes.
Cravings for sugar or refined carbs can also signal poor gut health. Every mouthful you eat feeds your gut bacteria. A diet high in sugar and low in healthy fats, proteins and fibre will feed the wrong kind of bacteria and lead to overgrowth or imbalance of bad bacteria. A poor diet will also lead to less diversity of gut bacteria. When these sugar-loving bugs set up shop in your gut, you may experience even more sugar cravings in a vicious cycle.
Poor gut health can also result in low levels of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter linked to mood, appetite and digestion. Eating sugar and refined carbs temporarily increases our serotonin, making us grab for more.
Related to eating sugar and refined carbs is Leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. Its main role is to regulate fat storage and how many calories you eat and burn. The problem occurs when your brain is tricked into constantly being hungry. The two causes of this are a diet high in sugar and refined carbs and excess body fat. Both stop the negative feedback loop from coming into play, causing your brain ignore leptin signals and stopping your from perceiving your true appetite.
How to stop your cravings
Hydrate with clean water
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense real foods
Eat a mix of raw and cooked foods
Eat a balance of healthy fats, proteins and complex carbs (mainly from vegetables)
Heal your gut to get rid of pathogens (disease causing agents), parasites, candida, bacterial imbalances including under or overgrowths
Get off sugar, all added forms of sugar and refined carbohydrates
Reduce your stress
Move regularly, it’s what you body is designed to do
Written by Nore Hoogstad
How to Cure Your Food Cravings by Dr Colleen Huber