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By Dr. Maiko Ochi, N.D., L. Ac.
Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about ice cream, and nothing else will do …. There’s nothing quite like that first bite of cool creamy sweetness. But sometimes we get specific cravings because we’re missing key nutrients in our diets. Read on to decode what your cravings may mean.
Cravings in general: If you’re not hungry but can’t stop thinking about a certain food, it may mean that you’re dehydrated. About 80% of us are chronically dehydrated. Drink a glass of water and wait half an hour to see if your cravings disappear.
If you’re always feeling “snacky,” it could be a sign that you don’t have a well-balanced diet. Make sure you’re eating whole foods as much as possible. Stay away from processed and packaged foods that are low in nutrients. Avoid sugar and white or enriched flour, bread, rice, and pasta as much as possible. Eat small amounts of whole grains, and combine with protein and healthy fat to increase satiety. Eat a rainbow variety of fruits and vegetables.
Sweets: If you’re craving something sweet like candy, chocolate, or pastries, it may mean that your blood sugar is low. Instead of indulging in sugary foods that will cause your blood sugar levels to roller coaster and make your sugar cravings worse, eat a combination of complex carbohydrates with some lean protein and good fat. This could be whole grain crackers with some cheese, celery sticks with hummus, or plain yogurt with some berries and nuts mixed in. To reduce sugar cravings, take one spoonful of L-glutamine mixed in a glass of water. You may also be low in chromium; take 200-400 mg chromium picolinate three times a day.
Find out the cause of your sugar cravings. Take a step back and look at what time and why you're craving sweets. Skipping lunch or eating a low-calorie lunch without enough protein and complex carbs will worsen your sugar cravings. Include healthy protein in your lunch, like beans, chicken, or fish. If you feel sluggish, you may also be lacking in sleep or simply be dehydrated. A recent study showed that people who slept less experienced more desire for fatty and sugary foods the next day. Make sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep.
Chocolate: Wanting chocolate suggests you might be deficient in magnesium, which is a water-soluble vitamin and doesn’t get stored in the body. About 80% of Americans are lacking magnesium, since we get most of it from dark leafy green vegetables. If you indulge in chocolate, make sure you eat the dark kind, which is lower in sugar and is higher in antioxidants.
Salty: Craving salty foods means that stress is overworking your adrenal glands, which make hormones that help your body deal with stress. Managing your stress is essential, not just to tame your salt cravings, but also for your health in general. In one study, it was shown that people who took time to practice deep breathing or meditate brought down their stress hormones by 25% and their salt binging by half.
You may be deficient in sodium, chloride, and iodine. Eat more sea salt, sea vegetables, and fish.
Dairy: If you’re craving milk or other dairy foods, what you need is calcium. Eat more cheese, yogurt, or vegetarian sources such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, legumes, and sesame seeds.
Cheese: Can’t stop thinking about pizza? You may be deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, which is very common thanks to our modern diets. Most of us get way too many omega 6 fatty acids, which tip the body towards a pro-inflammatory state. To have a more balanced omega 6 to 3 ratio, eat less vegetable oil, soy oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil, and more seafood, especially wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, and certain nuts and seeds like walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
Your diet may also be low in other good fats such as monounsaturated fats (olive oil and avocados). Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat that contains medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily used by the body and help optimize metabolism.
Red meat: Wanting a burger or a steak is usually a sign of iron deficiency. Liver from grassfed beef is also a great iron source. Vegetarian? Non-meat sources of iron include beans and legumes, blackstrap molasses, and unsulphured figs, prunes, and other dried fruit. Make sure you eat foods rich in vitamin C such as berries, tomatoes, peppers, and citrus fruits when you eat vegetarian sources of iron to ensure that you absorb the iron.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may also be suffering from low vitamin B12 levels. Try eating more eggs, green leafy vegetables and peanut butter, which contain B12.
If you’re a late-night snacker: Typically, late-night snackers eat because they’re bored, not because they’re hungry. This can end up as a lot of additional calories for the day. The goal is to eat more during the day when you are up and moving. Ideally, you should stop eating about two hours before you go to bed to allow your body enough time to digest food and reduce the risk having indigestion. If you work late hours, bring healthy snacks with you, like whole-wheat crackers and string cheese, hummus and veggies, or apple slices and peanut butter. Consuming protein- and fiber-rich snacks will help you feel more satisfied and less hungry so you won’t be tempted to load up on calories before bed.