Whether you’re craving a bowl of pasta or a Krispy Kreme, experts say cravings are the body’s way of telling us something is missing, helping us to better maintain a balance of vitamins, minerals and energy levels. But what does our desire for certain foods really mean?
Read on to discover what’s behind your cravings and how to beat them...
It means: Cravings for chocolate can indicate that your body is deficient in magnesium. Countless nutritionists agree that more than 80% of British adults are lacking in this vital nutrient (it is involved in energy production, so if you’re a gym bunny you may be more prone to a deficiency), which may explain why so many of us reach for chocolate. Magnesium levels are also lower during the pre-menstrual weeks of your period, explaining why PMS is often synonymous with chocolate cravings.
While chocolate can contain beneficial antioxidants, they usually come alongside plentiful amounts of sugar, so make yours a dark bar with at least 75% cocoa (this is lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants). Also make an effort to incorporate more magnesium-rich foods into your diet, such as nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens.
It means: Craving pure sugar is a good indication you’re either running low on energy or are feeling low. Sugar can cause our brains to release serotonin – a chemical which makes us feel relaxed and plays a role in regulating mood – which explains why we feel sweets give us an instant energy boost. Be sure to look at your sleep patterns too – when we’re tired, we often crave simple carbs like sugar, which are digested quicker than complex ones such as wholegrains and beans.
Instead, reach for a sliced apple with a tablespoon of nut butter or a handful of berries with unsweetened Greek yoghurt. If you’re feeling stressed or tired, be sure to include plenty of wholegrain (non-refined) carbs in your diet too, in order to keep blood sugar on an even keel. Taking a chromium supplement can also help.
It means: Cravings for salty foods such as crisps or popcorn often mean chronic stress may be taking its toll on your adrenal glands – the two triangular glands that sit atop the kidneys and give us energy to help us cope with stress. In order to cut your salty cravings, getting on top of your stress is key – try yoga, breathing exercises or meditation and make an effort to cut back on your caffeine intake. Very occasionally, a salt craving could mean your body is genuinely craving sodium; those on a raw food diet, which is naturally high in potassium, often need more salt to achieve electrolyte balance. Salt cravings can also be a sign of dehydration, so aim for at least two litres of water daily.
It means: Craving a bowl of pasta or white bread? Refined carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar in the body so cravings these may indicate some of the same issues associated with sugar cravings. However, hankering after stodgy carbs often goes hand in hand with mood, explaining why we reach for comfort food when anxious, depressed or tired. So instead of reaching for white pasta, bread or rice, look to oats, eggs, dairy, seeds and legumes – these are rich in the amino acid l-tryptophan, which is an important precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin. Don’t ditch the carbs entirely though – whole grain carbs, such as rye bread, brown pasta and brown rice, are rich sources of B vitamins, which help to support your nervous system and mood.
It means: Naturally high in fat, craving cheese could signal a fatty acid deficiency (most likely omega-3) and symptoms to look out for include dry or scaly skin; small lumps on the back of your arms; dry eyes and excessive ear wax. Rather than reaching for the cheese, try to include some rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids and include plenty of oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts in your diet. Cheese and dairy cravings could also indicate a calcium deficiency, so be sure to eat plenty of leafy greens and fish.
It means: Unsurprisingly, cravings for red meat usually indicate an iron deficiency as well as a need for protein and B vitamins, and this is especially true during or around that time of the month. Aim for a portion of protein at every meal and if you’re craving red meat, reach for a grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free cut for optimal nutrients. However, if you are vegan or vegetarian, aim for beans, legumes, dried prunes and figs, which are rich in iron.
To quash your cravings for good, make sure your diet includes plenty of the following...
B vitamins: These water-soluble nutrients are essential for the brain to handle stress and work in tip-top shape, but chronic stress, processed sugar, alcohol and the Pill can zap levels in your body. Eat plenty of grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, leafy grains, avocados and egg yolks to get your fix.
Healthy fats: Your brain is around 60% fat and diets low in healthy fats have been linked to poor brain function – getting an adequate amount of fat is one of the best ways to curb hunger and cravings. Aim for around 50g of healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds) per day.
Zinc: Low zinc levels can heighten feelings of stress so eat plenty of nuts and seeds and shellfish such as oysters.
Lean protein: A lack of quality protein throughout the day can cause dips and spikes in your blood sugar creating a craving for any salty or sugary food you can get your hands on. If you are prone to low blood sugar, aim for 12-25g of clean, organic protein with every meal. If you get hangry before your next meal, you’re not eating enough protein.
Iron: The best and most bioavailable source of iron is grass-fed beef – to maximise absorption, pair with a source of vitamin C like leafy grains; this combination will boost energy.
Magnesium: This nutrient is the original chill pill, so if you're feeling stressed, bear this in mind. Incorporate spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds in your diet to boost levels.