Have you ever ever found yourself in a daydream-frenzy, repeatedly thinking about indulging in a sugary chocolate bar or devouring a large plate of salty fries? Have you ever had an itch for a certain food so badly that you couldn't think straight, or you were willing to drive great lengths to get it from the supermarket or drive-thru? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, then you've experienced what is called a craving.
While cravings can be triggered by a number of different things, they usually arise when our bodies are experiencing a nutritional deficiency. Low amounts of certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can spark our brain into making us feel an urgent need for specific foods. The most common cravings are for foods which are salty, sweet, fried and greasy, or rich in carbohydrates. To help you better understand why you might be having a craving and what you can do about it, we've outlined some of the most common cravings, and healthy snack solutions for them!
Carbohydrates: Pasta, Bread, Pizza
Craving carbohydrate-rich foods can be a sign of decreased energy levels, or a drop in blood sugar. This makes sense, as carbohydrates are generally known for fueling our bodies with energy. However, our body's need for energy often leads our brain to crave the wrong carbohydrates: heavy, easily-digestible, empty carbs that are full of starch and can make us feel even more sluggish and lead us to crave more. While this type of carbohydrate will bring our blood sugar levels back to normal, it will not keep us full for long.
Shoot for foods hearty in whole grains and oats. These are healthier carbohydrates that are not easily digested by the body. They will not only burn more calories during digestion, but they will satisfy your craving, fill you up, and keep you from reaching for more 15 minutes later.
Sugar and Sweets: Chocolate, Candy, Cake, Donuts
If your sweet tooth begins to act up more than normally, it might be your best option to use your willpower and ignore it.
Sugar has the ability to signal a release of serotonin in the brain. A surge of serotonin can greatly elevate the mood, creating an association in your brain between eating sugary foods and feeling good.
Craving sugar may also indicate a deficiency in essential minerals like chromium and magnesium.
Willpower! The next time you are craving something sweet, just hold on and remember that it's (most likely) all in your head. The more often you resist the temptation to indulge in a sugar-packed dessert, the less often you will feel that temptation. This is important, as the average American consumes about three times the amount of sugar suggested by the American Heart Association, leading to health problems like high cholesterol and diabetes, as well as a sugar-high that always ends in a crash.
If you must fulfill your craving, opt for:
- Sweet fruits like strawberries, grapes, or pineapple
- Magnesium-rich foods like beans and spinach
- Chromium-rich foods like broccoli and sweet potato
Salty: French fries, Popcorn, Dried & Salted Meats
Craving salty foods may also be an addictive association made in the brain over time, but it could possibly point to high levels of stress, or a sodium deficiency, too.
When we are stressed out, our adrenal glands release certain "stress hormones", such as cortisol. These hormones can kick-start the body into craving salty foods.
Low levels of sodium can also cause the body to crave salty foods. Sodium levels can drop due to a number of factors, including a woman's menstrual cycle and excessive sweating during exercise. This is why we often crave salty, fried foods after a workout, and why women often crave the same thing during their time of the month.
If you believe you are craving salt as a result of excess stress hormones, meditate. Practice breathing exercises and find time in your day to relax. See if this helps, and if not, try these salty - but healthy! - snacks:
- Chickpeas roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with Himalayan salt and herbs
- A handful of olives
- Shelled pistachios and sunflower seeds (Choose unsalted, and lightly salt them yourself with Himalayan salt)
- A small serving of whole wheat pretzels
Greasy & Fried: Onion Rings, Potato Chips, Chicken Nuggets, Mozzarella Sticks
If your body is craving greasy, fatty, fried foods, it is usually trying to make up for a lack of essential fatty acids, like omega-3. Omega-3 is a "healthy" fat that our body relies on to support both brain and heart function. Some other healthy fats that our body may be craving are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Foods that are rich in healthy fats, and not greasy or fried ones, of course! Instead of heading to your local drive-thru and getting a 10-piece nugget with a side of deep-fried onion rings, whip up a tasty meal with some of these healthy, fatty foods:
- Nuts like almonds, wanuts, and cashews
- Fatty, oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackeral
- Foods cooked in olive or coconut oil, rather than deep-fried