Many people are convinced that if you crave a certain food, then your body must “need” it. While this may be true sometimes, it may not always be true. Sometimes cravings can indicate a specific deficiency and on other occasions, it may not. In fact, sometimes the body’s response (the craving) may provide incorrect information.
For example, a food craving for pickles or chips, which may be believed to indicate a need for sodium, may be triggered instead by a potassium deficiency.

What Your Cravings Could Mean?
Carbohydrates

If you crave carbohydrates; such a craving can indicate low levels of serotonin and endorphins. According to some studies, carbohydrates initiate a chain reaction that theoretically can change levels of neurotransmitters influencing mood.
Research with carbohydrate-cravers suggests that cravings for sweets may come with negative or depressed feelings that could be relieved as those levels change, but this idea is not universally accepted.
Many people doubt the serotonin/carbohydrate link because most people don’t crave just carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread or pasta. They want some sweet, high-fat foods.

Alternatives AKA Supplementing

Instead of loading up on carbohydrates try supplementing your diet. Possible “crave busters” include:
● Ginkgo biloba (also helps memory and brain function)
● Acetyl-L carnitine (also helps burn stored fat)
● St. John’s wort (helps raise mood/serotonin levels)
● Vitamin B-6
● NADH (vitamin B-3 derivative)
● S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe, also helps raise mood)

Replacing carbohydrates

Try eliminating sugar and all high glycaemic foods after 6 pm at night. High glycaemic foods and sugar alcohols spike your blood sugar levels, lower GH levels, and will keep you in a vicious circle of craving more carbohydrates.
From a weight-management perspective, the one thing you do not want to do is snack on high-carbohydrate foods before bed. This simply ensures that you go to bed with a high circulating level of insulin and virtually guarantees that the body won’t burn fat while you sleep.
Replace the carbohydrates with protein or some high-quality fats which will keep your blood sugar levels more stable and keep cravings at bay. Also, eliminate regular alcohol intake as alcohol consumption contributes to lowered levels of serotonin & negatively effects your weight-management efforts.
For reasons that are not completely understood, the supplement L-glutamine (an amino acid), may curb sweet cravings. Also, include a good quality casein protein drink fortified with peptide glutamine with allows for better assimilation of the glutamine.

Exercise is also an excellent approach since it has been proven to have positive, mood-elevating effects, helping your body to process insulin & blood sugar & decrease your dependency on carbohydrates for energy.

Fatty Foods

If you crave fatty foods, it could indicate that your body is deficient in essential fatty acids (EFA’s). There are two essential fatty acids – commonly referred to as Omega-3 and Omega-6 that are indeed essential for life as they are involved in the proper functioning of every cell, tissue, and organ in the human body.

EFA’s fulfill many functions such as:
● Keeping hormone-producing (endocrine) glands active
● Lubricating joints
● Producing prostaglandins (hormone-like substances that regulate blood pressure, platelet stickiness, and
kidney function)
● Regulating oxygen use
● Electron transport
● Energy production within our cells
● Helps form hemoglobin (regulating oxygen in the blood)
● Cholesterol transport
● Help generate electrical currents (makes our heart beat in an orderly sequence)
● Help our immune system fight infections

So, for good health, and to cut down sugar cravings, you can supplement your diet with Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFA’s, flaxseed oil or just try eating more fish (such as salmon).

Chocolate

There are many reported reasons why people crave chocolate. One belief is that your body may be deficient in magnesium (chocolate contains magnesium).
Note: A chocolate craving for women may be from hormonal changes before and during women’s menstrual periods. Some believe chocolate may raise brain serotonin levels. Others believe a shortage of B vitamins can trigger a craving for chocolate.

Therefore, a craving can again, be confusing. Which one is it? Is it more than one? All? Since stress also burns B Vitamins, supplementing your diet with a good B Complex is a very good idea.

Where Does the Craving Come From?

The next time you pick up a food that you are craving ask yourself why you are eating it. Many cravings are in fact due to psychological causes (such as stress, and anxiety) and not actually as a result of a nutritional deficiency.
Try to become aware of your emotional triggers for eating so these triggers can be avoided, or at least addressed. If you know that stress causes you to crave and overeat, then try to find an outlet to relieve the stress.
Are you craving because you are bored? Find an activity to occupy your time.

If you notice that the craving is always linked to a certain activity (such as with a cup of afternoon coffee or watching television), try changing your routine. Something as simple as reading a book may help.
Try changing the activity altogether, go exercise. Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called endorphins and improves your mood.

Take a warm bath, call friends and family, or just wait it out for 15 minutes. Often you will find that the craving has lost most of its desire by the time the waiting period is up.

Some cravings for food are thirst in disguise. Many of us walk around party dehydrated, half the time what we perceive as hunger is thirst. You can test that by drinking a couple of glasses of water. Again wait a few minutes to let the craving pass.

When Do You Crave?

Knowing when you have cravings is important because it may indicate fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels. If your cravings are at night, eat smaller low GI carbohydrate meals throughout the day to level out your blood sugar levels that will curb the need for sweets at night.

Importantly, do not try to curb cravings by eating too few calories, especially if you are exercising. It is almost impossible to control sugar cravings at night if you lack calories.

Controlling Night Cravings

The following is a list of suggestions that may be of assistance in controlling the “infamous night cravings” that often derail many people from reaching their health & weight loss goals:
● Eat large portions of green vegetables and moderate portions of lean protein, whole grains, beans, fruits
and nuts.
● Avoid eating carbohydrates by themselves. Instead, mix them with some protein and fat, but watch the
quantity.
● Throw out any temptations in your pantry. Replace them with good food options.
● Keep busy so you will be distracted from thoughts of food (try working with your hands).
● If you are very “oral” and need to keep your mouth busy, try sipping warm non-caffeinated herbal tea like
chamomile. This can also have a stress-reducing effect that may get you to bed earlier, thus reducing the
chances of binging.
● Delay at least 10 to 15 minutes before you eat so that your action is conscious, not impulsive. Most
cravings will dissipate after 15 minutes. If you still crave the food, determine how important it really is
for you to eat the craved food vs. the impact it will have if you eat it.

You do not want to find yourself feeling low and depressed afterward. This will then feed the culprit rather than stopping it (the all too common vicious cycle of stress and depression eating).

Be Careful About Moderation

For some, eating what they crave in moderation will stop the binging. For others it can start the binging process, making them feel guilty and crave the food even more.

Conclusion

By evaluating your cravings, identifying your emotions and triggers, you will have the knowledge (and the power) that you need to control cravings, so they no longer control you!

Yours in Health, Fitness & Nutrition
Megan Seymour
Movement & Nutrition Coach at Sandown SWEAT