Ever wonder how nutrient deficiencies trigger cravings? Doesn’t it feel so right to snack on warm, buttery popcorn or crunchy chips and salsa while watching a movie or bingeing on Netflix?
It’s OK to admit it. Cravings for junk foods are soooo normal!
As we covered last week though, the real issue is why you have them—and more importantly, how you deal with them when they hit. Eating a pint of ice cream doesn’t actually make the cravings go away. In fact, it keeps the cravings come back again and again.
Why? Believe it or not, lack of willpower is not to blame!
Here’s the deal: one of the main reasons we get cravings is because our body needs certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can come in the form of cheese, red meat, fried foods, pastries, and chocolate, but those essentials would be much healthier coming from real, whole foods.
Our body is wired for survival, and its pretty easy for junk food to take the wheel over your instincts; that’s why it feels so addictive (because it is!) So, you often won’t crave what your body necessarily needs, and a sweet pastry in the break room will often trump the magnesium-rich Greek yogurt you should eat instead.
That is because foods high in sugar and fat quickly release serotonin into our blood stream, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter we discussed last week. This is the chemical that makes feel happy, sometimes even euphoric. So it’s no surprise that sugar-laden foods are the most highly craved foods in the world. We want to feel better as soon as possible.
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you know that I think sugar is a big sneaky trickster. It makes us feel nice in the moment, but that feeling doesn’t last long. And the sugar crash is no joke!
To help you curb your cravings before they start and ensure you get the nutrients your body really needs to run at primo levels, here are the most common cravings and what they actually mean!
My name is Moniqua, and I’m a Choco-holic.
No surprise here! Chocolate is the most widely craved food in the world! And seriously for me, nothing beats a few bites of dark chocolate and a glass of red wine after a long day. It makes me feel relaxed and mellow. But, it may also surprise you to know that this craving isn’t about lack of love or sex as is often claimed; it’s about lack of magnesium.
The main symptoms of magnesium deficiencies are irritability, anxiety and insomnia. When you feel stressed and chow down on too much sugar, you can deplete your calcium and magnesium, which ultimately makes your cravings worse. So it’s a vicious cycle of feeling bad and still feeling bad.
Now I’m all for eating a few squares of 70% (or more) dark chocolate, but it’s way better to get your main magnesium fix from dark, leafy greens, fish, seeds, nuts, and even blackstrap molasses (who knew!)
Sugar and Spice Is Nothing Nice
Since addictive sugar is in almost everything these days (from bread to spaghetti sauce to soup), we can start to look haggard pretty quickly when our diet is unbalanced. Too much sugar can literally sap the collagen from your skin, deplete your energy and weaken your bones and joints.
It’s tough to break up with sugar, but it’s not as hard as you think! More than anything, I suggest looking at your diet as a whole, so you can find simple ways to bring your body back into balance.
Here are three nutrients that you need more of on your dinner menu to combat sugar cravings.
According to the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, even “balanced diets designed by dietitians can contain far less than the 120 micrograms of chromium daily recommended.” But this mineral is so important to your body. It is part of the transportation system that turns glucose into energy, so without it, you feel sluggish and weak.
Luckily, it’s easy to up your chromium intake! Whole grains and brown rice are excellent sources, as well as broccoli, mushrooms, and green beans. Sounds like the makings of a delicious stir-fry!
Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the body, and it’s essential to creating the protein that makes up your sexy skin and strong muscles and joints. It’s also a heart helper – “sulfur builds flexible cells in the arteries and veins – the opposite of ‘hardening of the arteries’.” Once again, a good source of sulfur is cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, but also cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy and kohlrabi. Eggs are also rich in sulfur, with the whites being the most concentrated, so order that omelette with your Sunday brunch.
Ah, the mineral most commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner, but no one knows what it really does aside from making you sleepy.
Tryptophan is a actually biggie because it regulates serotonin. It’s an an essential amino acid, and in addition to helping you catch some Zs, it has a natural calming effect that can reduce anxiety and quell your sugar cravings. It literally makes you feel comforted: “An important byproduct of tryptophan is 5HTP (5-hyrdoxytryptophan), which works in the brain and central nervous system to boost feelings of well-being, connection and safety.”
So instead of a cozy blanket, reach for wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry, spirulina, sesame seeds, cashews, walnuts, eggs and bananas.
Full confession: this one is a big one for me. When I’m feeling sick or run down, there is nothing I crave more than a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. Cravings for bread, pasta and other baked goods is usually a sign that you are deficient in nitrogen.
Nitrogen is so crucial to our bodies, it’s even in our DNA. We need it for cell growth, protein synthesis and to help carry oxygen in our blood. And that’s just on the inside; on the outside, nitrogen deficiency can manifest as hair loss, delayed wound healing, muscle wasting. Yikes!
So, yeah, nitrogen is kinda a big deal. 🙂
To get more in your diet, add in high quality wild-caught fish, radishes, rhubarb and spinach and see if your cravings start to subside.
Are You a Salty Dog?
A craving for salty foods usually indicates a deficiency in silicon and chloride that you can get from nuts, seeds and fish—instead of that bag of chips! But this may also indicate low levels of Zinc. Pretty much everyone in the world who is under any kind of stress is low in Zinc, which doesn’t necessarily make you crave salt, but it does mess with your sense of taste. So you might end up over-salting your food to get the satiation you’re looking for from your meal.
There is a reason drugstores sell zinc lozenges; it aids in a well-functioning immune system and your susceptibility to colds and the flu.
This mineral may be a good one to supplement if you’re vegetarian or vegan, as it is a little hard to get enough from non-animal sources. If you’re a meat lover, dark chicken meat, crab, liver and oysters are a good place to start.
Pass the Cheesy Fries!
I’m French, so give me anything cheesy and saucy, and I’m stoked! If you find yourself devouring a plate of cheesy fries at 11pm like I’ve done in the past, you may actually be deficient in calcium or Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
I curb my cravings for these fats and oils by adding more calcium to my diet in the form of broccoli, greens and high quality sheep’s milk yogurt or kefir. If you can’t do dairy at all, calcium is plentiful in foods like almonds, kale, salmon and chia seeds. And for my Omega-3 fix, I add in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, or pasture-raised eggs.
Best Burger in Town
Let’s face it, ladies, when it’s that time of the month, a burger or steak is sooooooo tempting. There’s a reason that steak is staring you down, you can get a lot of iron from red meat, chicken and some fish, or cashews, pumpkin seeds and dried fruits. Low iron is especially common in vegetarians, vegans and yes, you guessed it, premenopausal women.
But before you head in to the chophouse, a word of caution: we absorb iron best when it is combined with Vitamin C, so eat that steak with a large spinach salad.
I want to do a special shoutout to B-vitamins as well. A lack of these babies doesn’t necessarily cause you to crave certain foods, but these vitamins are the superheroes that help you deal with stress by keeping your adrenal glands happy and in tip-top shape. When we go through periods of high stress, our bodies run through these vitamins lickety-split, making us more susceptible to the effects of stress. So besides supplementation, you can get B vitamins from dark, leafy greens (yes, they are pretty much good for everything!), egg yolks, avocados (yes, they go with everything!), salmon, chicken, yogurt and kefir.
So now that you’d got the key for all your cravings, you can map out a healthy, balanced diet that leads to a stronger, more badass bod and happier, calmer mind. That might just be better than a treasure chest of gold!
What cravings do you experience on the regular? How do you deal with them? Do you head to the drive-thru or plan out some healthy snacks? (No judgement either way!) Share your experiences in the comments below.
LOVE + conscious cravings!