There are a number of dietary theories out there regarding food cravings and why we get them. For some, it is a matter of addiction. Yes, we can become addicted to certain food types, particularly those laden with sugar, bad fats and preservatives/chemicals which perpetuate addictive eating behaviors, such as MSG. For others, food cravings may be triggered by hormonal changes, stress, depression, boredom or a general need for comfort and satisfaction. Other theories suggest that when we experience a particular craving, it is because the body is lacking in some important nutrient or set of nutrients contained in the craved food.
Check out this list of common cravings and suggested alternatives:
- Sweet: Next time you feel that sugar craving coming on, opt for a piece of fruit instead. You’ve heard the statement before, sugar is empty calories. This couldn’t be more true! Table sugar and HFCS contain absolutely nothing of nutritional value. Fruit, which does contain natural sugar, is an unprocessed whole food, containing fiber and water as well as a number of other micronutrients providing a significant list of health benefits. Another alternative? Stevia! Stevia is a natural herb which is said to be 10x sweeter than table sugar. A few drops of stevia in coffee or tea and you have a deliciously sweet drink which not only contains zero calories, but also improves digestion and gastrointestinal function, helps to stabilize blood sugar and also contains iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, rutin (a flavonoid), true vitamin A and Vitamin C. Can’t say that about sugar, now can we?
- Alcohol: Alcohol has become somewhat of a controversial subject within the world of nutrition. Some folks tout that a glass of wine a day provides some benefit whereas other state that any alcohol consumption whatsoever is detrimental to health. Aside from the fact that alcohol depresses the central nervous system, there are other negative factors to consider. A lot of alcohol products (whether beer, wine or liquor) contain synthetic chemicals and preservatives, as well as additional sugar (above and beyond the fermentation process)! Uh, oh – there’s that “S” word again! As an example, brandy on it owns has no sugar but sugar syrup is added to make it sweeter. Many vodkas, tequilas and other spirits contain artificial flavors, colors and additional sugars, as well. Here’s my take. If you are at your ideal weight, nutrition and fitness level, than moderate alcohol consumption is okay. If you attempting to lose weight, however, continuing to consume alcohol, even moderately, will signficantly diminish desired results. If you use alcohol in attempts to ease anxiety, depression or stress, opt for a relaxing herbal tea instead. Consider also including these supplements into your overall nutritional plan: L-Theanine, 5-HTP, Gaba, Valerian and Ashwaganda.
- Soda: You don’t need me to tell you how bad soda is for your body, but I will anyway. Soda is nothing but sugar, chemicals (including caffeine) and sodium. Recent research from the University of Bangor and Bristol suggests that drinking soda can actually trigger sweet cravings by dulling your sensitivity to sweet tastes, sparking a vicious cycle of eating sweet foods and drinks. As a result, soda consumption has been linked to the rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. By the way, diet sodas aren’t any better! In fact, studies have shown that diet soda has the same effect as regular soda in perpetuating sugar addiction, not to mention the negative side effects that occur as a result of consuming fake sweeteners. Instead of soda, drink WATER! Now, a lot of folks tell me, “I don’t like the taste of water,” which I find a little confusing as water really has no “taste”. But I think it’s moreover the “non-taste” that folks don’t care for as their taste buds have become overruled with syrupy sweet beverages and sugary snacks. Here are some alternatives to soda. Flavor your water with real slices of fruit, cucumber, lemon or fresh mint (yum). Purchase natural seltzer water and flavor with a few drops of liquid stevia (which you can find in an array of natural flavors such as orange, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa, peppermint, etc.). Drink green or herbal tea! Yes, here we go with the tea again…but you can find so many healthy tea varieties, that soda pales in comparison in both taste and nutrients. I have even found an all natural herbal tea that tastes like chocolate!
- Greasy/Fatty: I actually believe that when we crave “fat”, it’s because our bodies are low on the good fats and likely too high on the bad fats. So, when you’re craving something fatty or greasy, my suggestion is to eat more fat…as long as it’s the good kind! Examples of good fats are: Omega-3’s as found in salmon, flax seeds and walnuts. Recent statistics indicate that nearly 99% of people in the United States do not eat enough omega 3 fatty acids. Other options? Slice up an avocado with lime and salt, throw some coconut oil into your breakfast oatmeal or make a homemade salad dressing with organic flax-seed oil. To further, cut out the bad fat, primary of which is what we call trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. The molecular structure of trans fat has been altered to where there are significant proven health disadvantages if consumed. Trans fats are mostly found in processed and pre-packaged baked goods, margarine, commercially produced peanut butters, crackers, chips, fast food and deep-fried foods.
- Salty: Did you know that the average American consumes 15 lbs. of salt per year – the weight of an average bowling ball? Most authorities agree that salt should be limited as sodium plays a role in hypertension and may also be detrimental to your bones. As a society we have become accustomed to eating really salty foods, so just like sugar, salt is addictive as our taste buds have become completely desensitized as to the real taste of real food. Additionally, we may find ourselves craving salt as a result of dehydration or exhaustion. Salt (sodium) is an electrolyte that your body needs. Electrolytes are minerals that dissolve in water and can carry electrical charges. Pure water does not conduct electricity, but water containing salt does. In order to harness the energy we need, our electrolytes must be in balance. If you find yourself craving salt after extreme exercise or illness (such as diarrhea or vomiting), you likely need to rebalance your electrolytes, however, this would also include upping your intake of potassium. The proper ratio of potassium to sodium is 3:1. If in general you find that you’re always craving salty foods, then you might suffer from adrenal fatigue. The adrenals play an important role in helping the body respond appropriately to changes caused by stress. The adrenals need salt (sea salt), healthy fats, vitamin C and copper to run effectively. If the adrenals are overworked, your body may crave more salt in order to help sustain and maximize adrenal function. So, the bottom line is if you crave salt, make sure to drink at least 3 liters of water a day, cut down on processed salt and processed foods that contain salt and increase your intake of healthy fats and foods rich in vitamin C such as chili peppers and bell peppers, guava, dark leafy greens, kiwi (my favorite Vit C source), papayas and citrus fruits. If you feel you might suffer from adrenal fatigue, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss. One more tip, instead of dousing your next meal in table salt, try a little sea salt and/or use real herbs and spices!
Crush those cravings for good by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, cutting out the processed junk, refined sugar, simple carbs, bad fats and table salt!