Let’s talk about cravings! Because who doesn’t have them? We crave different kinds of foods for various reasons, and many times, it’s not obvious what those reasons are. I believe that it’s important to figure out why we are craving certain foods because it can help us determine what our body is trying to tell us.
First, let’s talk about the difference between hunger and craving because those 2 can be confusing. When you get a certain hankering for a specific food, think of eating a giant bowl of vegetables like roasted broccoli or sautéed spinach. Do those also sound good to you? If yes, it’s likely that what you are feeling is hunger. If not, you are probably experiencing a craving. Of course, there are some gray areas but this is the basic rule I use to distinguish between the two.
While it may take some investigative work (just like all things when it comes to our health!), once we do figure out what our cravings mean, we can then adjust our habits and nutrition to get rid of those cravings and feel much better. So, let’s get to it!
Blood sugar imbalance
This is probably the most common reasons for cravings. Most people crave sweets or crackers and chips. Sweets may be obvious but crackers and potato chips are also a sign of a sugar craving because those high carb chips rapidly turn to glucose in the body giving you that sugar high.
When you are on a high sugar diet, your blood sugar is constantly rising and dropping dramatically, making you crave more sweets to get your blood sugar back up. You’ve probably experienced that rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness, and needing something sweet in order to get your energy back. And after you do consume something high in sugar, you feel tired and lethargic (sugar coma). This is a classic sign of blood sugar imbalance and usually means you would probably benefit from a sugar detox to get your blood sugar back in balance and reset your taste buds.
Yes, leaky gut and imbalances in your intestinal bacteria will greatly influence your cravings. There are trillions of microbes in our gut, and in a healthy body, they all work in harmony keeping our digestion flowing optimally. However, stress, sugar, toxins, medications, and other lifestyle habits can all throw these microbes off in balance, causing the “bad” microbes to grow faster than the good kind. And guess what these “bad” microbes feed on?? Sugar!
Whether you have Candida, SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth), or other imbalances in your gut, your biggest cravings will be carbs and sugar, because that’s what those “bad” microbes want in order to grow and proliferate. The important next step is instead of feeding them, starve and kill them by eliminating sugar and the cravings will disappear. This can be a slow and difficult process but so worth it in the end. Sugar detox programs like the Whole30 are a great place to start.
Food allergies and sensitivities
As crazy as this sounds, sometimes your biggest cravings are the foods you are allergic to or have sensitivities to. Many times, we actually end up developing food sensitivities to foods that we eat all the time. This is because in our modern world, many of us have compromised immune systems and many foods actually irritate our guts slightly. However, when our gut lining is constantly exposed to the same food over and over again, the slight irritation can turn into a sensitivity and even to a full-blown allergy. One of the questions I ask my clients when I try to figure out their food sensitivities is, “What is the one food that you eat all the time that you can’t give up?” Many times, sadly enough, it’s THAT food that they have to give up in order to feel better.
This is especially difficult because we become addicted to the foods that we are allergic to. When we are intolerant to a food, the inflammation triggers our body to release antihistamines and endorphins to protect the body. This protective response actually feels good to us and we can become addicted to that feeling, and associate that food to that response. We need to find out what our allergies and sensitivities are and address them, in order to prevent certain foods from damaging our gut and immune system even further.
I love this one because I think it’s so interesting! Did you know that when you crave certain foods, you may be deficient in the nutrients that are in that specific food? For example, if you are craving chocolate, you may be deficient in magnesium, which is found in the cacao plant. You can try to incorporate other magnesium-rich foods like dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, avocados, and bananas.
Also, if you are constantly craving salty foods like potato chips or you regularly over-salt your food, this is also a sign of mineral deficiency. You may also be going through some type of stress, because mineral depletion is one of the ways the body reacts to a stressful situation. This is because high-quality salts from nature that are pink or gray in color are chock full of minerals and nutrients that are so beneficial. If you are constantly craving salty foods, switch to a colorful Himalayan or Celtic sea salt instead of white table salt while addressing your stress, and you may find that your salt cravings may reduce.
There are other nutrient deficiencies that correlate to your cravings. If you ladies have PMS-related cravings, you may be deficient in zinc and it’s worth trying supplementing or incorporating seafood, especially oysters, into your diet. Want to chew ice all the time? This correlates to iron deficiency. I’m actually not sure what the science behind this is but if this is you, up your intake of meat, fish, seaweed, and dark, leafy greens.
Fatty foods and/or carbonated drinks? You may be deficient in calcium. Bread and toast? Possibly a nitrogen deficiency. This is why it’s so important to try to figure out your cravings because they may be telling us about what our bodies need.
There are 2 parts to this: habitual cravings and non-food cravings. Food is emotional, and this can work to our disadvantage many times.
Our habitual cravings are the foods that we must have because it’s a certain occasion. Popcorn at the movie theater, Grandma’s pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or hot dogs and beer at the ball game. These habits can be embedded in us from early as childhood and that’s why these craving are so powerful. I don’t necessary think that all habitual cravings are bad, especially if it’s a 1-2x a year occasion, but it does become a problem when you have specific health goals in mind but there’s an excuse to indulge every week. It’s important to figure out what triggers these emotions, and make healthier substitutions and work on shifting the way you think about food (easier said then done, I know!).
Non-food cravings are when you crave food for comfort, because you can’t fulfill an emotional or mental craving in your life (yup, I went there). This can be loneliness, boredom, stress, anger, frustration, etc. The list goes on and you should know better than me what you might be unhappy with in your life. I know that when I’m in a fight with a friend or upset about something, I grab potato chips because that’s what gives me a type of satisfaction that temporarily fulfills my emotional needs. Your emotions and nutrition go hand in hand and this is just one of the countless examples of this.
As you can see, your cravings can tell a powerful story about the needs of your body and your emotions. This is why it’s so important not to shrug them off, but really delve into where they are coming from, especially if you are experiencing health issues.
What are YOUR biggest cravings? Comment below!