I am sure there’s not a single person in the world who hasn’t experienced a food craving. If cravings weren’t on the brain, advertisements full of tasty treats wouldn’t be plastered all over billboards, magazine covers, and t.v. screens. We wouldn’t base our next meal on “what we’re hungry for,” wouldn’t eat when we’re not really hungry, and where we’re going to eat and what we’re going to eat wouldn’t consume a large percentage of our thoughts.
If cravings weren’t a big deal, you wouldn’t send your man out to the store in the middle of the night to get “the baby” ice cream and pickles. You wouldn’t down a bottle of wine and “have” to eat all things chocolate during your favorite time of the month, and you wouldn’t dive into a bag of salty tortilla chips after work or eat way more carbs than you should while you’re studying for a test.
Cravings are annoying and can derail even the hardest efforts to eat healthy. They can make us feel defeated, overwhelmed, and at the bottom of the bottomless pit we sometimes turn into. But the truth is, there’s a reason and a purpose for that craving and if you know what a craving really is, why you have it, and how to satisfy it properly, you can control your cravings instead of letting them control you.
What is a craving, anyway?
A craving is simply an overwhelming desire to consume a certain food (and sometimes non-food) item. It’s your body’s way of telling you it needs something…a vitamin, mineral, protein, or nutrient to function properly. A craving can also have a chemical component to it, which is why cravings are more common when someone is depressed or emotionally upset.
Your body stores an impression of everything you’ve ever eaten – every flavor, texture, and chemical make-up of what’s gone into your mouth. If your diet isn’t full of a wide variety of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality protein, and flavors (beyond salty and sweet), it will crave the only source it knows of to obtain what it needs…brownies, cookies, chips, anything fried, and everything bad.
Because these foods only contain a trace amount of what your body really needs, you’ll have to eat a whole lot more of it to meet the quota. For example, one serving of butternut squash might supply you with an entire day’s worth of magnesium, but it would take an entire box of chocolate brownies to give you a just a fraction of the daily requirement.
This is why you go through a whole bag of chips before you feel “satisfied” and why that craving comes back the next day. This is why you’re told to satisfy your craving with something “healthy,” because it will take less of that healthy food to make you feel full and can turn that craving off.
What’s really causing your cravings?
Now that you know a craving means you’re lacking something in your diet, how do you figure out what you’re lacking? Below is a list of the biggest cravings, what causes them, and the healthy options you can choose to kick them so you won’t demolish a bag of chips or an entire batch of cookies:
Chocolate cravings are associated with deficiencies in magnesium and copper. Around “that time of the month,” the body uses up more magnesium which is why many women experience PMS and chocolate cravings. To curb the craving, try a magnesium supplement, eat more yellow foods like butternut squash, non-GMO corn, apples, apricots, bananas, and nuts. Still want some chocolate? Substitute with carob or add a teaspoon of raw cacao to your smoothie.
- Tortilla Chips
One of two things could be at the root of this craving: a magnesium deficiency or an over-consumption of sugar. When you swing sweet, your body wants salt. If you’re not a big “sweets” person, then you may be deficient in magnesium. Focus on the yellow vegetables or try my favorite magnesium supplement.
- Dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream, or pizza)
A craving for dairy has a simple answer: calcium. Hook yourself up with some organic butter, raw cheese, and leafy greens.
A craving for nuts is a clear sign you’re body needs essential fatty acids (or protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian). EFAs are essential to all of the cells in your body. Unfortunately, most of the nuts on the shelf are dead – pasteurized, void of enzymes, or rancid, so you’re going to want to get unpasteurized raw nuts from a good source. Try cashews, walnuts, or almonds. You can also get on an awesome EFA supplement like Udo’s Oil.
A salt craving could be caused by several things: a diet that is too sweet, a deficiency in sodium, or too much potassium. Cut the sweets, avoid table salt, and opt for Himalayan salt or celery juice to remineralize the body.
- Sweet and Sour Cravings (pickles, lemons, limes, or a combo of sour and sweet)
These cravings are associated with liver congestion. Want a simple fix? Add lemon to your water on a regular basis. If you think you might need something a little more than lemon, try a liver cleanse supplement or milk thistle.
- Sugar and Starches
A craving for starches and sweets can be caused by numerous things but the most common causes include a candida overgrowth, a neurotransmitter (often serotonin) imbalance, or a lack of glucose (the brain’s optimal source of energy). If you’re craving sugar while studying, it’s because your brain burns glucose for energy. These cravings usually go away once you eat. If you crave sugar after chow’n down on some chips, it’s because you ate too much salt. If you’re depressed, look into serotonin and healthy ways to boost it via exercise or a serotonin precursor like 5-HTP. If you crave sugar literally all the time, you need some probiotics, fiber, and a good candida cleanse.
A dirt craving is often associated with a deficiency in trace minerals and is very common during the third trimester of pregnancy. Make sure you’re eating enough vegetables and consider a trace minerals supplement.
- Fried foods
Not all fats are bad, and a craving for fried foods is a sign you’re lacking the good fats your body needs to function properly. Ditch the “taste good but bad for you” fried foods and up the olives, avocado, coconut oil, seeds, nuts, and Udo’s Oil.
- Spicy foods
A spicy food craving is associated with a thyroid imbalance or sulfur deficiency. Eat garlic, horse-radish, curry, cayenne, etc. and make sure you source organic. MSM is one of the best supplements to address a sulfur deficiency.
A craving for chalk is associated with an iron, calcium, or trace mineral deficiency.
Your adrenals are exhausted or you have a neurotransmitter imbalance. Cut back on the stress and try licorice root, vitamin B5, and a B complex that contains support for the adrenals. If you have had your genetics tested and are homozygous for the CY1AP2 gene, some caffeine may be medicinal.
People who crave nicotine often have unresolved emotional issues and a B vitamin deficiency.
Alcoholism always has an emotional root, but an L-glutamine deficiency (especially if alcoholism is genetic) and a neurotransmitter imbalance could be contributing.
You might have a deficiency in protein (rare in this country), iron, amino acids, or phosphorus.
An ice craving is most commonly associated with an iron deficiency. An iron deficiency though, can be caused by low iron, folate, or B-12. Try to incorporate more iron rich foods into your diet, or try a raw iron or supplement, a supplement that increases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen (required for iron absorption), like liquid chlorophyll, or a methylfolate/B12 supplement.
If you’re craving tuna, your body is probably looking for a source of omega 3 fatty acids. If you can find some mercury-free or sustainably sourced tuna, go for it. If you can’t, try an omega 3 fish oil supplement.
- Carbs (after a long day at work)
People crave carbohydrates and magnesium at the end of a busy day to calm their nerves. You might also crave carbs if you resistance train on the regular (to restore glycogen.) Take magnesium right before you leave work so you won’t attack the junk food and tortilla chips when you walk through the door, eat every 3 hours, and look to satisfy your cravings with healthy carbohydrates.
Cravings are a big deal. We have drugs to chemically curb our willpower, eating support groups, constant struggles with our waistlines, obsessions with dieting, and we constantly struggle to eat the way we should eat. Use this list as a guide for understanding what might be underlying your food cravings and what you can do the next time you’re hit by them.