By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
While cravings can mean a number of things including psychological reasons, a strong craving usually indicates your body is low in a specific nutrient, vitamin or mineral. The craving is an indication that it wants to make sure it gets what it needs. The difficult part these days is we have so much processed, unnatural food at our disposal that we often get confused about what our bodies are actually asking for. The foods you crave may NOT contain that nutrient and often the person eats unhealthy empty calories in place of nutrient-dense wholefoods.
Having some knowledge about what our cravings can mean, may help us to reduce unhealthy habits and poor food choices.
Overeating can also be attributed to stress, loneliness, low serotonin and dopamine levels, depression, low blood sugar, boredom and more. I talk more about this in this article, hunger versus appetite. This is also a huge focus in all of our Guided Reboot Programs. Learn more about our weight-loss programs and how it can help you overcome unnecessary cravings.
There have been a number of studies that have shown sugar can affect the same brain regions as drugs and alcohol. People can experience a momentary mood improvement from sugar that will then be followed by a serious drop in mood and well-being; this is where people tend to reach for that sugary snack again. This pattern will set them up for an addictive cycle. Here is more information on added sugar versus natural sugars.
Food or sugar addiction often goes unnoticed because the food choices change although the essential components are the same. Let’s take for example, a person rises in the morning, drinks a glass of bottled juice (high in sugar and low in nutrients), has a processed white flour and sugar-based cereal for breakfast, mid-morning they eat a few biscuits or a muffin, then for lunch it’s a sandwich, pasta or noodles, then afternoon tea they crave a sweet for a quick afternoon pick-me-up, then it’s time for dinner and it’s off to grab something quick such as a hamburger or slice of pizza.
White flour and sugar made up the majority of this person’s food intake with some bad fats for good measure. This person may see their food choices as different but essentially they were the same and they will often have strong cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugar on a daily basis and may not even realize this because it’s so natural to them.
What you eat regularly will also be closer to what your body will tend to crave. When a patient tells me that they never crave vegetables but they often crave sugar and salt, this person often doesn’t want them because their body, to some degree, has forgotten that they need them. You can’t really crave something that you eat rarely. So committing yourself to a Guided Reboot will engage and remind the body what it actually wants and needs. Often people who have juiced regularly for some time will find that if they stop they really miss it and will notice a difference in their energy levels, thoughts and vitality.
The danger with unhealthy food cravings is it can stimulate binge eating in some individuals. This can be a serious health concern as it will contribute to obesity and poor health.
So here is a basic guideline as to what your body may actually need when you are cravings certain foods.
What your food cravings mean:
Reaching for the chocolate bar may indicate the need for magnesium, chromium, B-vitamins and/or essential fatty acids. Chocolate is high in magnesium so it is best to reach for the 100% cocoa in smoothies or snack on nibs or eat the darkest chocolate you can find. Here is a post about beating those chocolate cravings. Chocolate is also metabolized to serotonin, a mood boosting hormone so cravings can also be related to an emotional need. Besides healthy cocoa or dark chocolate, reach for a loved one, friend, pet or any activity that makes you feel good.
Craving processed flours may indicate insulin resistance, hypoglycemia (blood sugar fluctuations), chromium deficiency or fatigue. This is separate to sweet cravings, often it can go unnoticed, people often crave crackers, savoury biscuits, noodles, white breads, chips, etc. Including more fiber in your diet for better blood sugar control and eating more chromium and magnesium rich fruits and vegetables such as bananas, apples, apricots, capsicum, spinach, beetroot, avocado, broccoli, celery, chard (silverbeet), carrot and parsnip will help overcome this craving.
Oh, sugar. When you want it, this may indicate blood sugar imbalances and mineral deficiencies such as chromium and magnesium. Giving into biscuits, cakes, lollies, soft drinks 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. Here is more information on how to manage your sugar intake while rebooting. Sugar cravings are also more common when you are dehydrated and may signal a need for more water.
Need that bag of chips? This can be aggravated from stress hormone fluctuations and low levels of electrolytes. Here is more information on how to increase electrolytes in your diet and during a reboot. B-vitamin rich foods are important during periods of stress. Consume foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Similar to sugar cravings, salt cravings can result from under hydration.
Craving fried foods and other oily foods can indicated a simple essential fatty acid deficiency, simply eating more good quality fats will solve this in a flash. Here is more information on what fats and oils to consume for a healthy diet.
This can also indicate an essential fatty acid deficiency as above.
Cravings for non-food items such as ice, clay, dirt and chalk can often mean an iron deficiency or mineral deficiency in general. Consume plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds for the prevention of pica. This is more frequently seen in children and during periods of greater nutritional need such as pregnancy.
Note: This list is only an indication; cravings can mean different things for different people.
Looking to break that sugar craving? Frustrated by your inability to stop eating sweets once you start? Check out our special Guided Reboot for Sugar Addiction — led by Coach Rachel, this Reboot is devised to help you learn strategies to overcome your sugar cravings and retrain your body to want healthier foods (like produce!). This Guided Reboot starts on September 29 — sign up today!