People are forever sharing their food woes and commonly it tends to come down to cravings. Everyone experiences them at some point, some more often and more intensely than others. From pregnant women, to sugar junkies to those who forever yearn for salt; when it starts to affect your health be it physically or mentally then it’s probably something you should try and address.
I’m by no means saying that if you crave the odd piece of chocolate or that indulgent slice of cake that it’s an issue and of course we all need a bit of what we fancy but when it becomes a regular habit that you can’t seem to control that is actually starting to bug you or prevent you from achieving your goals such as weight loss, or improving an aspect of your health there are ways and means to over come it and kicking the craving to the curb!
I’m a living example of someone who went to the extreme end of not being able to control my cravings, going from binge eating to bulimia and letting it overtake my life for the best part of two years. I’ve come through the other side and now know the difference between a real craving and one that is induced because of my own actions such as skipping a meal or missing out on certain nutrients.
The two most common food cravings people tend to suffer from are for…
- Salty Foods – crisps, salted nuts, cured meats, cheese, crackers, savoury biscuits, popcorn…
- Sweet Foods – chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits, and pure sugar be it loaded in to tea or coffee or sprinkled on cereal.
What do my cravings mean?
- Nutrient Deficiency – Salt cravings could indicate a nutrient deficiency namely magnesium and potassium.
- Menstruation – Fluctuating oestrogen levels can induce salt cravings.
- Dehydration - Dehydration is the loss of water from the body. If too much water is lost, the body will begin pulling the nutrients it needs from other sources. One of these nutrients is salt (sodium) and this will cause a salt craving.
- Excessive Sweating – Too much water (and salt (sodium) is lost through the leaving you craving salt.
- Addison’s Disease – a rare hormonal disorder where the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol which causes the body to crave salt.
- Blood sugar imbalance – the more sugar you eat the more you’re likely to crave. When you eat sugar your pancreas produces insulin which acts as means to allow the sugar (glucose) in to your cells to be used. The more quickly it’s released the more your blood sugar will rise and the steeper the subsequent drop and impending sugar craving.
- Weak adrenal glands – cortisone produced by the adrenal glands helps convert proteins and fats to sugar. Many people have weak adrenal glands and therefore low cortisone production which can cause sugar cravings.
- Low Chromium – It’s a trace mineral that many people are deficient in as it’s not found in many foods. It plays a role in the metabolism of sugar. Supplementing with 600mcg can help curb sugar cravings.
- Stress – Being stressed puts a strain on the adrenal glands which as mentioned above can cause sugar cravings. It’s also a vicious cycle whereby the more stressed you become the more stimulants you are likely to crave, sugar being one of them.
- Hormonal Fluctuations - As levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, women become more prone to insulin resistance (results in low uptake of glucose by the cells in our body). This can cause sugar cravings to soar, leaving you tired and irritable. As hormone levels change, the body attempts to raise levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, and since sugar triggers a serotonin release, this can cause you to crave sweet things.
- Digestive Ailments – Imbalances in the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract can lead to overgrowth of yeast and fungi. These undesirables have high sugar requirements and cause increased sugar cravings in people with yeast and fungal overgrowth.
- Habit/Addiction – Sugar is a stimulant and just like caffeine and tobacco among others can be addictive. We literally can develop a “sweet tooth” ; our tastebuds get used to a certain level of sweetness and crave it. It’s a learned habit that can be overcome….though it might not be easy it can be achieved with perseverance and will power.
- Nutrient Deficiencies… Zinc, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and Manganese all play a role in the metabolism of sugar and it’s regulation in the body. A diet devoid of nutrient is likely to cause sugar cravings fuelled even more by the processed foods chosen as opposed to the nutrient dense foods which would prevent the cravings in the first place.
Tips for healthy snacking
- Prepare snacks in advance and carry them with you. If you have a healthy snack at the ready you will be less likely to succumb to unhealthy offerings that you might otherwise pick up while on the go or even in your place of work.
- Choose Low GI options. You can find out more about low and high GI foods here. A general rule of thumb is to choose a whole food, high in fiber and when in doubt add protein or fat to lower the GI. The lower the GI the lesser impact the snack/food will have on your blood sugar helping you to keep it on an even keel and preventing you craving more when your blood sugar rises and subsequently dips.
- Incorporate flavours and foods you love…but in lesser amounts.
- Drink a glass of water first. You might not actually be hungry but merely a little dehydrated so before you reach for the snack as certain whether you truly need it.
- Healthy balanced meals. Ensure your meals are balanced, healthy and likely to sustain you. There is nothing wrong with snacking if you’re hungry but if it’s because you’re loading up on empty calories at meal times, or missing out on protein, fiber and healthy fats that will keep you satisfied for much longer then you could be just setting yourself up for failure.
- Don’t choose light snacks. The “diet” or “fat free” option is likely to leave you less than satisfied and suddenly you’ve eaten the whole packet of low calorie biscuits.
- Choose whole foods. Snacks just like meals should ideally supply some nutrients. Foods that are in their natural state devoid of additives will give you a true boost and supply you with longer lasting benefits and satiety.
Snacks to beat cravings the healthy way
Dried Apricots and Prunes – these will give you the sweet taste without the immediate sugar release of dates as they are lower GI…they have have a lesser amount of pure glucose.
Cinnamon – Not only does it taste sweet it helps to regulate blood sugar levels lessening cravings. Sprinkle it on fruit, stir in to yoghurt or incorporate more of it in baked goods if you want to reduce the sugar content. It’s also great in oats and just 1/2 a tsp provides 1/3 of the ideal daily antioxidant intake.
Choose Fiber – eat high fiber whole grains which will provide you with a steady release of energy and prevent your blood sugar from rising and falling too steeply. Oat cakes, wholegrain bread and low GI fruits such as pears and apples and berries are good options.
Increase your protein and fat intake – One sure fire way to slow down the rate of glucose absorption is to include protein or a good healthy fat from a whole food source such as nuts, seeds or nut butters. They will also ensure you’re left feeling much more satisfied as well as being a great source of trace minerals. Plain full fat natural yoghurt is a good option paired with nuts/seeds and some fresh fruit.
Eat regularly – if you are someone who suffers from sugar cravings eat regularly. Leaving long gaps between meals will result in your blood sugar levels dropping that is likely to result in you reaching for the quick sugar releasing snack!
Seaweeds – seaweed and seaweed supplements such as kelp are a rich source of many of the minerals, notably that your lacking in and have been shown to significantly reduce salt cravings.
Garlic, Leeks and Onions – Packed full of flavour, incorporating plenty of these three in your cooking will help to reduce your salt cravings.
Olives - Naturally salty, olives are rich in nutrients that will protect you from heart disease, support gastrointestinal health and reduce the symptoms associated with asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Although olives are high in fat, they are a good source of monounsaturated fat, which is a healthy fat. Olives are low in calories and high in iron, vitamin E, dietary fiber and copper.
Sunflower seeds – a rich source of minerals these tasty little seeds are a great alternative nutrient dense snack that will help cut salt cravings; high in vitamin E, vitamin B1, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, B5 and folate.
Choose whole foods over processed – processed packaged foods for the most part are laden with salt. As with sugar the more you eat the more you will crave as it is addicting. Cook using fresh ingredients, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables that will provide your body with adequate sodium (salt) in balance with other nutrients.
Potassium – choose foods that are high in potassium. If you’re not getting enough your body will retain it and at the same time retain sodium (salt) and water causing bloating. Bananas, avocados, dried apricots and dark green leafy vegetables are great sources. Try whipping up a smoothie with almond milk incorporating all of the above!
On a final note, don’t let your cravings control you, you have the power to overcome them, improving your health and happiness in the long term!