Cravings - What They Actually Mean
Are you an ice muncher? A chocolate vacuum? A slave to the salty chips? Coffee-holic? Listening to your cravings before you munch away on a poor food choice is super important to our overall health as cravings are often a major indicator of a nutritional deficiency and you may be surprised to find that a healthy alternative may be close by.
Chewing ice and desiring it in every drink is often a sign of iron deficiency, or “anemia”. This strange yet very common addiction to ice, clay, soil or paper is very real and known as in the medical community as ‘pica’. To help increase your iron stores, beef up (literally) your red meat consumption to at least twice per week and it will be likely you will notice a change in energy and vitality levels (as well as an aversion to indulging in a glass of ice!). If you’re a vegetarian, make sure you are eating an abundance of dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, tofu, quinoa, cashews, and seeds.
Vegetarians need to ensure they are having plenty of vitamin C which increase iron in the body when consumed from vegetarian sources.
Are you mad for chocolate? This may be due to a magnesium deficiency and your body perhaps being low in antioxidants. Nutritionists call magnesium the great ‘calmer’ as it helps relax muscles, boost the immune system, keeps blood sugar steady, and may add to our serotonin levels - all reasons why we might crave this just before our periods. Go for the dark chocolate that is 75% or higher cocoa. This blend contains less sugar and is often way higher in antioxidants than milk chocolate or white chocolate (which you should steer clear of at all times). Nuts, seeds, and pulses along with leafy green vegetables are also rich in magnesium. If it is a hit of antioxidants you need, then go for your dark, rich-colored vegetables and fruit like beetroot, blueberries, and raspberries.
Whether it is salty chips, crisps or over salted veggies it may mean your body is really stressed. When our adrenal glands are overtaxed, cortisol will be running high and this is a process that requires lots of sodium to keep the adrenalin going. Firstly, it’s important to find stress-busting practices that work for you like yoga and meditation, which reduce the cortisol overload. Secondly, find natural sources of sodium in foods like dulse flakes, seafood, sea vegetables, celery, and artichokes, and avoid sodium-rich sauces and dressings that are often pre-packaged as it’s impossible to know how much salt you’re really adding to your diet.
There’s little doubt that caffeine is addictive but a sudden out of the ordinary desire to have espresso could be your body’s way of saying it requires more iron. This is quite common during a menstrual cycle. Iron brings oxygen to our cells and without it we can feel quite tired and seek coffee as a quick pick me up. Increase your iron stores with red meat and green vegetables. There are also a wide range of supplements on the market, but these should only be taken after a blood test.
If you are constantly seeking sugar, there could be a number of nutrients missing from your body. An adequate amount of whole real foods especially protein and good quality fat in your diet will dampen down your sugar cravings because often the first sign of an out-of-control blood sugar level is hunger. Chromium, the mineral which helps to control our blood sugar, is found in almost consistently in most unprocessed foods. Wholegrains like rice, quinoa, green beans, broccoli, nuts, and eggs are great sources of chromium. Foods high in sugar are low in chromium and may actually promote a chromium deficiency.
You may be feeling that you need a Coke or a Diet Coke but perhaps it is not the soft drink at all that your body wants - it is just the fizz. Instead, reach for a sparkling carbonated or mineral water for the ‘bubble factor’ and skip the sugar or the artificial sweetener for some fresh lime or lemon juice and a sprig of mint. Some believe that carbonated soft drinks lead to osteoporosis, but the research there is about the acidity of a soft drink, not the carbonation. There is no evidence that sparkling waters will lead to bone leaching, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Getting Rid of Cravings
Stave off cravings by eating a diet that includes protein, long-burning carbohydrates, and good quality fats - unpackaged and unprocessed most of the time. And when this doesn’t happen, it’s important to remember to not beat yourself up! Before giving in to a food craving, wait 15 minutes, and have something to drink to ensure you are not dehydrated. If the cravings don’t go away ask yourself if you are:
1. Tired? If you are, then eating a bag of sweets is not going to be as kind to you as an extra hour of sleep.
2. Angry? If you are, drinking a can of coke or soft drink is only going to make you angry at feeding yourself poorly.
3. Bored? If you are then, munching on chips isn’t going to excite your creative and mental abilities.
If you’re not any of those then chose a healthy alternative and eat clean, real food.
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