Cravings are a major cause of dietary indiscretions…as well as the source of a big pile of guilt we feel everyday. But to me, a Nutritionist, they’re an important piece of the puzzle of health. What, when, and why we crave food tells me a lot about nutritional imbalances, blood sugar imbalances, and deficiencies. Without these cravings my job would be much harder. “If only I had the strength to say no to my sugar cravings I would be able to eat a healthy diet”.
This is a statement I hear everyday. We tend to feel as though it’s our lack of willpower that stops us from eating enough veggies and fruits everyday. It’s our fault we’re “weak”. Well, this is, happily, just plain wrong. Cravings are a voice from our body telling us about something that’s off, an imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Your body is always going to ask you to eat something absolutely delicious to rebalance this imbalance because it wants to make sure you do it. For example; if your blood sugar is crashing, your body isn’t going to ask you to eat an apple, it’s going to ask you to grab that cookie you know is in your cupboard. Both will rebalance this state of low blood sugar, but you’re much more likely to eat the cookie.
Let’s look at some underlying imbalances that can cause cravings:
Demanding sugar cravings – Blood sugar imbalances are the most common cause of sugar cravings, particularly mid-afternoon cravings. These cravings are demanding and can make us feel frustrated or impatient. Add some healthy fat and protein to your breakfast and lunch and watch these cravings disappear!
Constant bread and sweet cravings – Do you ever dream of candy, cookies, or chocolate? Do you ever find yourself munching away on a cookie without remembering how it got into your hand? Do you feel tired or under the weather anytime you try to remove refined flour and sugar from your diet, even for just a few days? These cravings are frequently caused from an imbalance in your gut bacteria. This large ecosystem has a direct line of communication to your brain and will always ask for what it wants. “Bad” or unhelpful bacteria are fed on undigested sugar…namely your favourite sugary treat (since your diet created this ecosystem). See the March/April 2013 edition of The Good Life to learn how to rebalance your gut bacteria.
Chocolate cravings – Oh chocolate, how do I love thee? This is my most potent craving, and my body can become deficient in magnesium due to my busy lifestyle. Magnesium is frequently the underlying imbalance when your body is asking for chocolate, and raw cacao (raw chocolate) happens to be great source of magnesium (our body is so smart)! It is actually asking you to eat chocolate (yippee!), dark chocolate or raw cacao (not milk chocolate, it will only make the craving worse). Other symptoms of low magnesium are muscle cramps and tension, low energy, and ticklishness.
Salt cravings – Do you prefer savory over sweet? Are potato chips or pretzels your favourite comfort food? Do these cravings increase when you’re under stress? Do you have low blood pressure? Salt cravings can be a true craving for salt…and salt is what your body needs. It needs healthy, good quality sea salt, not refined table salt. Unfortunately, the salty foods we tend to eat when we crave salt are high in refined salt and this can increase our cravings. Your adrenal glands (which produce cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones) need additional sodium when you’re under stress to keep your blood pressure balanced. Many of my clients are surprised when I recommend adding extra sea salt to their diet, and then feel much better once they do. Be cautious, too much of a good thing can be harmful! Only add large doses of sea salt to your diet under the recommendation of a trained practitioner, and always follow your doctor’s advice if he/she has recommended a low sodium diet.
Instead of cursing your cravings, embrace them! Look at them as helpful clues to guide you to your unique-to-you healthy diet. If you’re unsure what your cravings mean, meet with a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and he/she will help you discover your body’s inner language.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my body has put in a request for a few squares of dark chocolate.
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who eats dark chocolate each and everyday. She provides one-on-one consultations and teaches workshops in the Okanagan. To find out the underlying cause of your symptoms, or to find the diet that helps you feel your best, visit www.EatMoreRealFood.com or call 250.869.9434.