Food cravings: where do they come from, and how do you control them?
Food cravings are an intense desire or urge to eat a specific food, and are something, we can all relate to.
Cravings creep by from time to time and can easily take hold. Whilst most people experience and give into cravings on occasion, when cravings are out of control they can pose a concern to health. Unfortunately, we don’t usually crave broccoli, boiled eggs and kale but instead calorie-rich decadent foods, which offer little nutritional value. Here I am explaining the ins and outs of common food cravings and providing an action plan to help you bypass cravings towards better health.
Sugar – Ice-cream, lollies and chocolate
Research has shown refined sugar is addictive and when we consume excess sugar it results in the release of endorphins, which make us feel good and send us back for more. If we continue to honour the feel good trick of sugar, the cycle of sugar addiction can overtake and make it more difficult to kick sugar to the kerb.
- Reduce sugar intake slowly, start by limiting the amount of sugar in tea/coffee, eat a piece of fruit instead of lollies or start reducing the quantity used in baking
- Eat a source of protein at each meal and snack to assist with regulating blood sugar levels and satiety
- Eat 5-6 smaller meals daily to prevent dips in blood sugar and excess hunger
- Increase chromium rich foods, chromium helps with regulating blood sugar levels and is know to help reduce sugar cravings – try apples, cheese, prunes, mushrooms and molasses
- Boost fibre – a diet high in fibre such as the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce binge eating and cravings – try adding ½ cup legumes to main meals and snack on fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds
Carbohydrates – bread, pasta, sushi
Ever get the feeling of wanting to sink your teeth into a hamburger or twirl your fork in a big bowl of pasta? Such foods are called ‘comfort carbs’ for a reason. Carbohydrates boost serotonin production (our feel good neurotransmitter), which explains why when times are tough we seek comfort in carbohydrates. Whilst carbs are not the enemy, choosing the most health supportive type of carbohydrate will prevent crashing and burning after a carb date.
- Opt for low-Gi slow releasing carbohydrates to keep blood sugar and mood stable (eg brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, pears, apples, wholegrain bread)
- Add a source of fatty fish to your plate which has been shown to improve mood or if vegan a teaspoon of flaxseed oil drizzled over vegetables
- Confide in a friend and walk it out – exercise is a proven method to send stress packing
Salt – chips, olives, salted nuts
When sodium levels are low such as after exercise or illness, such depletion evokes processes in our central nervous system that causes us to develop a taste for salt. Similarly,
when adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone cortisol, are depleted it can result in salt cravings and associated low blood pressure. This is a fair sign to slow down, breath deep and take some time out!
- Re-hydrate pre and post exercise and eat to support training
- Support the adrenal glands with vitamin C rich foods – citrus, tomato, capsicum, cauliflower, strawberries and kiwi fruit
- Avoid refined salt from processed foods and opt for natural sea salt
- Breath deep daily to reduce stress hormones
Sometimes we can pinpoint exact food cravings, it is theorised such cravings can relate to an underlying nutritional cause:
Chocolate: rich in the mineral magnesium, can be a sign magnesium levels need a top up.
Steak: rich in iron and zinc, can be a sign your body wants a serving up of the all-important blood forming and immune supportive minerals.
Yoghurt/Milk: rich in calcium, may be a sign your body wants to up its bone boosting calcium intake.
Vegemite: a source of B-vitamins, if our energy is a little flat we may crave the assistance of some energy supportive B-vitamins.
For a sweet yet savoury treat to curb sugar cravings and help support blood sugar try my sweet spiced dukkah recipe – the perfect weaning off sugar material!
- Avena, N et al 2008, ‘Evidence of sugar addiction: Behavioural and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake,’ Neurosci Biobehav Rev, Vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 20-39.
- Chao, A et al 2014, ‘Food cravings, food intake, and weight status in a community-based sample,’ Eat Behav, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 478-482.
- Hurley, S et al 2015, ‘The biopsychology of salt hunger and sodium deficiency,’ Pflugers Arch, Vol. 467, No. 3, pp. 445-456.
Article by Zoe Bingley-Pullin, Author, Nutritionist & Co-Host of Good Chef Bad Chef