What your cravings really mean and how to overcome them.
We all crave ‘bad’ foods from time to time, but your cravings could signal more than you think. Check out these hidden meanings behind five common food cravings and find out how you can overcome them.
What you crave: Chocolate
What you need: Magnesium
Chocolate is one of the world’s most commonly craved foods and, while you may feel as though you are addicted to the sweet treat, it is believed that what many of us are craving when we are hankering after some chocolate is in fact the mineral magnesium.
Beat your chocolate cravings by eating more magnesium-rich foods
To help ease chocolate cravings, make sure that you are getting enough magnesium in your daily diet through healthy sources such as nuts, seeds and pulses. Also, when those chocolate cravings strike, try switching to 85 per cent dark chocolate. Although chocolate can be high in fat, dark chocolate also has plenty of health benefits due to its abundance of antioxidants. Some of the reported health benefits include its ability to slow down muscle ageing, fight disease, prevent wrinkles, boost brain health and prevent heart disease. If dark chocolate doesn’t hit the spot, try snacking on medjool dates, which are rich in magnesium and a natural solution to sugar cravings.
What you crave: Pasta and bread
What you need: Serotonin
Research has found that eating carbohydrates stimulates the brain’s production of serotonin – the happy hormone. This may be why many of us crave stodgy ‘comfort’ foods such as pasta and bread when we are feeling blue.
Healthy food swaps: Sweet potatoes, lentils, beans
To get a healthy fix of carbs (minus the blood sugar crashes and energy slumps) opt for nutritious and low GI carbohydrates which will release a steady supply of energy and keep you feeling full for longer. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include beans, lentils, oats and sweet potatoes. As well as switching your carbohydrate sources, you can also reduce cravings by boosting your serotonin levels through exercise and mood-boosting activities. Try using uplifting essential oils such as neroli and lemon which also stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain.
What you crave: Sugar
What you need: Chromium
We are all tempted by sugary treats and desserts from time to time. However, if you find yourself experiencing regular, intense cravings for sugar, this could be a symptom of low levels of the mineral chromium in your diet.
Healthy swap: Grape juice, whole grains, apples
To maintain normal blood sugar levels throughout the day and keep those cravings at bay, try to snack on foods rich in the mineral chromium. Apples and whole grains are good sources of chromium and can also provide healthier solutions to sugar cravings. Snack on apple slices or porridge sweetened with honey or dried fruit next time you are tempted to indulge. Try also replacing your sugary carbonated drink with a glass of antioxidant-rich grape juice, which is also a great source of chromium.
What you crave: Burgers
What you need: Iron
Craving burgers, sausages or steak? Intense and frequent cravings for red meat could be a sign that you are deficient in iron – an essential mineral which is required for the production of healthy red blood cells.
Healthy swap: Lean meat, fish, pulses, nuts
Unless you are opposed to eating meat for ethical reasons, craving meat is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as you make healthy choices. Rather than filling up on highly processed and fatty sources of meat such as burgers, opt for quality lean meat such as chicken or turkey. Alternatively, oily fish is a good source of iron and contains many other health-boosting nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. For those who wish to refrain from eating meat, vegan sources of iron such as beans, lentils and nuts can help to ease your cravings.
What you crave: Salty snacks
What you need: To relax
You may think that your cravings for savoury snacks are simply based on how good they taste, but research suggests your salt cravings could in fact be a symptom of stress. Research from the University of Cincinnati has shown that the sodium in salt blunts the body’s natural responses to stress by inhibiting stress hormones, meaning that your cravings for salty foods could be your body’s attempt to deal with stress.
Healthy swap: Popcorn, baked potato, edamame beans
The best way to overcome stress-induced salt cravings is of course to find a healthier way to deal with stress. Experiment with different relaxation techniques, such as exercise, meditation or aromatherapy, to find one that works for you. If you are still craving salty snacks, opt for those rich in nutrients and low in fat (such as lightly salted popcorn) for a healthier option. As potassium can help to reduce the harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure and the heart, choose foods which are rich in potassium too, such as salted edamame beans or a lightly seasoned baked potato.