This post is all about food cravings. I’m so frequently asked for my tips on how to control sugar cravings, and while cravings can crop up for many different reasons, your body may be asking for various nutrients that the brain interprets as cravings for certain foods – usually sugary, salty or fatty snacks.
Are you dreaming of sweet donuts or salty crisps? No matter how healthy and balanced your lifestyle is, almost all of us will face food cravings at some stage. But did you know that the type of foods you crave can tell a lot about the essential nutrients that you may be lacking? Your body doesn’t need a bar of chocolate, but it’s telling you that it possibly needs something that eating chocolate may be able to provide or relieve.
You may have simple hunger or thirst cravings to satisfy physiological needs, but food cravings can also crop up when you need emotional support or acceptance. Ever found yourself comfort eating?
Eating a diet that’s high in refined carbs, processed foods and nutrient-depleted foods will inevitably lead to food cravings, as your body struggles to get the wide array of nutrients it requires each day for normal and healthy function. These foods cause extreme blood sugar fluctuations, which can really impact mood, energy levels and food cravings. While you may be eating a lot, your body can still be malnourished because it’s not getting the nutrients it needs. So your brain tells you to keep on eating.
Being in touch with your body and food cravings can make all the difference to your health and achieving and maintaining your ideal body weight. When a craving rears its ugly head, it really helps to know why it’s happening and what foods can get rid of it without impacting your health or waistline.
If my body needs a quick energy fix, then I always crave sweet fruits like banana, pineapple or grapes rather than refined sugar or stodgy carbs. I find them perfect for a pre-workout snack, as they provide clean-burning, instant energy.
Wondering what your food cravings are telling you? Here’s a handy guide to why you might crave certain foods and the healthy alternatives to choose:
1. Craving Chocolate:
This is often a sign that your body is lacking magnesium, which is nature’s sedating hormone and essential for easing stress and anxiety, relaxing muscles, enabling energy production, building healthy bone and for proper heart function.
Instead of reaching for a bar of chocolate, try eating raw nuts and seeds, leafy green veggies or one of my healthier chocolate treats, such as these 4-3-2-1 Clean Chocolates. Raw cacao powder is a super source of magnesium and heart-healthy antioxidants.
2. Craving Sweets:
This may also be linked to magnesium deficiency. Try incorporating more nuts and seeds into your diet, as well as leafy greens. Almonds and avocados are both good sources of magnesium, and my Stress-Busting Avocado and Almond Shake is designed to fill your system with magnesium 🙂
Eating sugar releases endorphins that temporarily lighten your mood, and many people eat it when they’re feeling stressed. Stress management techniques are important to combat the related sugar cravings and you may want to check out my top tips on breaking the sugar addiction cycle.
Another cause for sugar cravings for women can be your menstrual cycle. To trigger menstruation, both oestrogen and progesterone levels must plunge, but this can also take down your brain serotonin levels. When serotonin is low, anxiety, irritability and simple sugar cravings tend to be the most common symptoms.
If I’m feeling tired or had a late night, for example, I often crave a sweet treat in the late afternoon of the following day. This is my body looking for simple carbs to help it produce serotonin, the feel-good brain neurotransmitter. I can pretty much predict it at this stage, but instead of reaching for commercial chocolate, I eat a handful of raw almonds, pumpkin seeds and raisins sprinkled with cinnamon, which work together in the same way to help produce serotonin and lift my mood. And it really works!
3. Craving Salty Foods:
You need a small amount of chloride each day for healthy bodily function, about a quarter of a teaspoon. So cravings for salty foods may indicate that you need a little bit of salt to balance levels. In that case, I recommend using a pinch of Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink rock salt rather than refined table salt, as they’re both richer in minerals and more natural than processed salt.
But salt cravings can also be related to stress. When you’re highly stressed or feeling under pressure, your adrenal glands produce excessive levels of cortisol. This stress hormone can make you crave high-fat, stodgy foods, including crisps and chips.
Stress management is so important for good health and achieving your ideal body weight. I’m a big fan of deep breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness to cope with stress, although I do find that exercise really helps me to unwind. I aim to do 10-12 minutes of transcendental meditation each day as it makes a huge difference to my stress levels and my ability to cope with various pressures each day. I took a course in it a few years ago and was given my mantra. I wholly recommend looking into it as it works wonders for so many people!
4. Craving Fatty Foods:
According to a Harvard Medical School study, “Once ingested, fat-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions.” This means that you tend to view fatty foods like chips and cheese as comfort food, and crave them when you feel sad or stressed.
Cravings for these fatty foods may also indicate that you’re lacking essential fats in your body, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats. To boost health and ease cravings for fat, try eating a handful of raw unsalted walnuts, or adding a tablespoon of chia seeds, ground flaxseed or hemp seeds to smoothies, porridge, soups and salads everyday. I love this Vanilla Chia and Buckwheat Pudding for a healthy dose of omega-3 fats 🙂
5. Craving Fizzy Drinks:
This may indicate a need for more calcium in your body and Irish adults require 800mg of the mineral per day. Scientists from the prestigious US Harvard School of Public Health have stated that “Calcium is important. But milk isn’t the only, or even best, source.” They further explain: “While calcium and dairy can lower the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, high intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. Plus, dairy products can be high in saturated fat as well as retinol (vitamin A), which at high levels can paradoxically weaken bones.”
Calcium can be found in dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, broccoli and collard greens, as well as in dried beans and legumes. Other good sources include tahini (sesame seed butter), dried figs, flaxseeds, chia seeds, calcium-fortified plant milks, oranges and almonds.
6. Craving Tea or Coffee:
Many of you love your daily cup of tea or coffee, and especially in the morning. But craving these hot drinks all day can indicate a deficiency of phosphorus in your system. Phosphorus is important for proper cell functioning, regulation of calcium, strong bones and teeth, and for making ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the molecule which provides energy to your cells.
Some of the best plant-based sources of the mineral include almonds, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, beans, mushrooms and sesame seeds. I love to use tahini as a salad dressing in dishes like my Seedy Superfood Salad, for the double-whammy of calcium and phosphorus 🙂
7. Craving Bread:
This tends to be a pretty normal craving! I used to be a total bread addict until I figured out that gluten was causing me digestive issues, bloating and spotty breakouts, so I had to sadly wave goodbye to it. Nowadays, I’m happy to bake gluten-free treats such as these Banana Muffins, when I fancy a baked snack.
Cravings for bread can come about when you’re stressed or trying to follow a low-carb diet, but another reason may be because your body requires more nitrogen. Nitrogen can be consumed in high-protein foods, including beans and legumes, nuts and seeds and quinoa (as well as animal-based protein, if you’re not plant-based). Check out my article on the best high-protein plant-based foods for more info on these protein sources 😉