Cravings, we all get ’em, we all try to supress ’em, and more often than not we simply give in. Instead of suppressing and only receiving short-term gains, we need to identify and address the underlying cause.
The term “craving” is often used in the context of chocolate, am I right? Well if that is you, just know you are not alone! The word crave basically means to feel an intense desire for something and in the context of all you foodie lovers, the most commonly reported cravings are for chocolate, foods high in sugar, salt and carbohydrates.
So why exactly do we get these cravings, like that powerful desire to grab a piece of chocolate? There are a number of psychological and physiological factors linked to food cravings that often get overlooked.
First and foremost, to eliminate the craving we must dig deeper and find the root cause of the craving, here are some factors to consider:
- Which foods are you particularly drawn to?
- When do you find you are craving these foods?
- Why? – Is the urge to eat in response to boredom, stress, habit, an emotional response, nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, brain chemistry/neurotransmitters (e.g. – low serotonin or dopamine), or due to an imbalance in our gut flora?
- Addiction? Foods high in fat and sugar have addictive properties, due to their ability to release mild opiates. 1
When we are having a bad day we often crave comfort foods to deal with elevated cortisol (stress hormone) and low serotonin (neurotransmitter responsible for mood balance). In fact one possible reason for craving carbohydrates is due to elevated cortisol levels. Long-term stress raises our cortisol levels, while also depleting energy levels and increasing our motivation to eat comfort foods.1 When our body is constantly being put in situations of stress, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, the body responds with fluctuating adrenal hormones which ultimately leads to exhaustion of the adrenals among many other symptoms.2
In cases where our adrenals are fatigued or our blood sugar is low, the craving for carbohydrates also occurs, as carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. Another reason for carb cravings could be caused by candida/ dysbiosis (microbial imbalance in the gut).
How to address carbohydrate cravings
Increase consumption of complex carbohydrates: whole grains, vegetables, legumes/ beans, nuts/seeds
- Stress management
- Support the adrenals – Bs (whole grains, brewer’s yeast, Portobello mushrooms), Cs (kiwi, bell peppers, oranges, asparagus), Mg (dark chocolate, spinach, pumpkin seeds)
- Increase Omega-3 fatty acids – flaxseed oil, raw walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, hemp hearts, cold water fatty fish, chia seeds
- Protein and fiber with every meal
If you are more the salty chip kind of person, just know you are not alone. Cravings for salt are among the most common cravings and also tie in with the health of the adrenals. The adrenals play a role in managing aldosterone, a hormone involved in the regulation of sodium; when this function is compromised you may crave salt as the body tries to re-establish fluid balance. Other possible reasons for salt cravings include low iron levels, and an imbalanced glandular/endocrine system. 1
Address salt cravings
- Optimize thyroid health – ensure adequate selenium, copper, zinc and iron are being consumed
- Support the adrenals
- Replenish electrolytes – high quality pink Himalayan salt and coconut water
- Consume sea vegetables (such as kelp, nori, and dulse) daily
A variety of factors are linked to cravings for sugar, from the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with reward motivated behaviour, to an imbalance in gut microbes. An overabundance of “bad” gut microbes is referred to as “dysbiosis” and can lead to candida, both of which contribute to a whole host of negative consequences such as cravings, chronic inflammation, blood sugar imbalance and leaky gut. Candida thrives on undigested sugar/ carbohydrates, and it can signal the body to crave more of these very things. 2 Despite these multi-faceted underlying factors, the most common reason for sugar cravings is blood sugar imbalance.
How to address sugar cravings
Avoid refined, sugary, high glycemic foods as much as possible – these cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels and a corresponding surge in energy, followed by a drop as the body scrambles to balance your blood sugar levels
- Consider supplementing with chromium to reduce sugar/ carbohydrate cravings. Chromium works by enhancing insulin function for proper use of glucose in the body
- Include protein and fiber with every meal to keep you full for longer
- Consider supplementing with vitamin C, B complex, and zinc
- Support guy health with fermented foods (kimchi, saurekraut, kamboucha, miso, tempeh), prebiotics, probiotics and bone broth
- Support the liver – the liver supports blood glucose in conjunction with your adrenals and pancreas – incorporate: milk thistle, burdock, dandelion, cruciferous vegetables, lemon water, turmeric, garlic and onions
To find helpful resources to tame your cravings and other helpful tools, visit my website:empowereats.wordpress.com
- Tsakos, L. (2016). The Weight Battlefield A Holstic Approach to Weight Management (2nd Edition). Bedford, NS: Nu-Vitality Health & Wellness.
- Perrault, D. (2015). Nutritional Symptomology (14th Edition). Richmond Hill, ON: CSNN Publishing.
- Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition, rev: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (21st Century Edition). New York, NY: Celestial Arts.
Lisa is a Toronto-based photographer, recipe developer, and nature enthusiast.
After completing an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Integrative Biology and Health Studies, Lisa branched out into the fields of Homeopathic Medicine and Holistic Nutrition. Her main goal is to empower individuals to take health into their own hands with the guiding principles of plant-based nutrition.
Scroll through her feed on Instagram: @empowereats
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Photo By: Brooke Lark