Ah, food cravings. You ever have one of those moments when you want a chocolate Ritter Sport bar so badly, that you NEED it? You must have it so badly that you will get out of bed in your jammies and drive down a windy mountain road to get to the store minutes before they close – just so you can fulfill your burning desire for sugary milk chocolate enveloping buttery shortbread?
No, me neither. But if you've ever experienced a craving where your body and mind seem to be commanding you to find and eat a particular food, you may have wondered why. We have a tendency to write off our food cravings as the result of evil addictions, but in reality it's probably your body telling you that actually need something.
So what do your food cravings really mean? Let's have a look…
Salt – actually does a body good.
Salt, ladies and gents, is not evil. Every cell in your body requires salt, and countless functions depend on the presence of sodium, including everything from circulatory health and blood sugar regulation to bone density. Because we lose salt constantly during the day through when we pee or sweat, it’s important that we replenish it.
Aside from simply needing sodium, cravings for salty foods might also indicate that your body requires minerals or you simply have not been consuming enough hydrating foods and drinks, as salt helps your body to utilize water – rather than it just passing on through. Instead of fearing and limiting salt, I recommend replacing the processed, powdery white stuff with high-quality, mineral-rich salts – this one is my favorite and many folks like Himalayan pink salts. You can then liberally season your food to suit your taste buds without blowing up like a stay-puff marshmallow.
The perfect way to address dehydration, salt and mineral deficiency all in one go is to drink a glass of water with a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon when you have a craving, after lots of physical exertion or sweating, and generally as you drink water throughout the day.
Read more about why salt is important for your health here.
Sugar and carbs – not the same as heroin.
Everyone LOVES to demonize sugar and its horribly addictive nature, but carbohydrates are actually an essential macronutrient just like fat and protein, and sugar is the simplest form of a carb.
Occasional craving sugar or comforting carb-heavy foods may indicate that your body simply needs fuel and is asking for the fastest source. In the long-term, your sugar cravings may be a sign of chronic stress or even adrenal fatigue.
Of course, constantly fulfilling your body's request for energy with foods that provide no other nutritional value is not wise. To combat sugar cravings and naturally boost your energy levels you need to keep your blood sugar even. The best way to do this is to give your body adequate fat and protein at mealtime with moderate amounts of carbs.
Nutrient-dense foods from pasture raised animals such as raw milk and cheese, full fat yogurt with some berries and a drizzle of raw honey, hard-boiled eggs, or nut butter spread on apple slices are a great alternative to the quick surge and crash that sugar offers. To take the place of carb laden foods like pasta, bread, and cake, introduce more non-starchy vegetables (like this spaghetti squash alfredo or zucchini zoodles with your favorite tasty sauce).
When properly fueled, your burning need for sugar and simple starches should be screaming less loudly.
Chocolate – stressed or tired?
Many people experience chocolate cravings when stressed out, and chocolate is rich in magnesium – a natural stress reducer. Studies show that over 75% of Americans are deficient in magnesium.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic functions in the human body, and is crucial for overall health. Unfortunately, our modern food sources are lacking in this vital nutrient, and deficiency can lead to many types of imbalances including adrenal fatigue.
Another reason you may be craving chocolate is because you really want a pick-me-up. The combo of the sugar (a fast fuel source) and the caffeine (especially in dark chocolate) may be just the thing for a little boost – if napping or sleeping more is simply not an option. Eating an ounce or two of dark chocolate provides magnesium, potassium and iron and is low in sugar, so go ahead and indulge that craving as an occasional nourishing treat.
Soda – there's probably a better choice.
Until recently it was thought that the carbonation in soda was what made soda bad for you, but it's actually the sugar and phosphoric acid that causes nutrients such as calcium to leak out of your bones.
The more soda you drink, the more you are hooked on the empty fuel source, and the more calcium you lose.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that drinking milk or eating kale will provide you with calcium and make you stop craving soda…
If you would like to wean yourself from a soda addiction, you can simply enjoy sparkling mineral water with a squeeze of lemon or splash of juice. Or, better yet, try one of my probiotic-rich soda recipes: root beer, strawberry, apple ginger, or pomegranate.
Comfort food – you probably need a hug.
While there is nothing wrong with associating food with happiness, there is a fine line between feeding your soul and denying your feelings by stuffing your face.
If you find yourself constantly craving grandma’s cinnamon rolls after a hard week or indulging on huge plates of pasta when you're sad, you may need more support, exercise, or social contact to curb those cravings.
As a person who occasionally (ok, often) gets a craving for anything from potato chips and goat cheese to chocolate milkshakes – I try to keep myself in check by checking in with myself – is the food fulfilling a physical or emotional need? Or am I simply chowing down out of boredom or habit.
Cultivate your listening skills
The main point that I want to make here, is that if you're craving a food – even if it's technically a junk food – it doesn't necessarily mean that there's something wrong with you and you need to be better about eating. Food cravings are real and happen for a functional reason. You just need to learn to listen more closely and keep asking – “Hey body – what do you really need here?” Ask enough, and I promise you'll get some answers that will be even more fulfilling than a slice of chocolate cake.
What about you? What kind of food cravings do you have?