Cravings are something everyone deals with at some point in life. It would be very simple if the exact foods you had cravings for fulfilled your body’s need for nourishment. Instead of an intense desire to eat a chocolate fudge brownie you might actually choose a grilled steak with leafy greens and avocado and be better off for it.
Cravings are not quite the same as hunger - they couldn’t be more different. Hunger is controlled by the stomach, but cravings are controlled by the brain. Hunger is all about your continued survival, but cravings are all about your body communicating with you.
The human body is more aware of its conditions than what the brain is able to convey resulting in misunderstanding what cravings actually refer to. Common food cravings are associated with a nutrient deficiency disguised as the brownie which feeds the need for a temporary and immediate mood regulator but not the innate health or nutritional concern at hand.
With a little knowledge you can begin to understand what your cravings really mean and make the best food choices to satisfy your desires. This is turn will prevent cravings from hijacking your thoughts.
Causes Of Cravings
Sometimes, when your body craves sweet or salty foods it’s really craving the pleasurable response that comes from eating a certain food. Other times your body may be asking for a nutrient or element within that food. There are also times when your body may be trying to tell you something.
Addressing the reasons behind food cravings will support the cravings become less frequent along with improve the body’s healing abilities. Nutrient deficiency is a significant problem that must be addressed to improve total health and well-being. A few of the major reasons why you may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies or emotional responses triggering those unhealthy food cravings may include.
Even within the structure of a Paleo diet, the body can be deprived of nutrients from certain whole, fresh foods. This could include antioxidants and fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables and a lack of high-quality proteins resulting in too few essential amino acids, insufficient healthy fats and vitamins.
The food industry relies on the deep science of cravings to keep you coming back for more. Studies have examined the meticulous designing of food products to make them as addictive and irresistible as possible. Processed foods are crunchier, sweeter, saltier and more satisfying to your reward receptors than anything you would find naturally in nature. Sadly, this can even include foods manufactured with Paleo friendly ingredients.
Improve your nutrient intake by including ethically raised proteins a variety of vegetables and healthy fats at the majority of your meals. You could also focus on consuming probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut and limiting your intake of the Paleo equivalent of processed goods and treats.
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The gut is often referred to as your second brain. The connection between the brain and the gut is known as the enteric nervous system. Millions of neurons line the gastrointestinal tract receive input from the brain and relay signals back. Following the activation of sensory neurons stimulated by taste bud receptors, the brain can be rewarded with the release of serotonin or it may be told to inhibit food intake from signals received by leptin.
Poor gut conditions contribute to emotional changes including food cravings and emotion based eating. Chronic stress weakens the body’s ability to function optimally whether the stress originates from sitting in traffic or poor eating habits inducing gastrointestinal distress. Stress also inhibits digestion increasing microbiome imbalances, causing constipation reducing nutrient absorption.
By the time you feel thirst, your body is already dehydrated. Unquenched or ignored thirst transmits signals that are masked as hunger. Lack of optimal hydration can lead to an electrolyte imbalance increasing the desire for salt. Dehydration can also be at the root of sugar cravings as the body struggles to release glycogen stores which may have been drained from an intense workout lacking healthy fluid intake.
Drink water consistently throughout the day to hydrate your gut, improve nutrient absorption and stave off food cravings.
Studies show the smell of food is tied psychologically to memory, having the ability to create nostalgia, and cravings. Foods such as warm apple pie, pastries, and fresh-baked bread can subconsciously remind you of happy memories from can trigger serious cravings for comfort food. This may seem charming in theory, but can be harmful for your health. This is where mindfully recreating and consuming a few family or childhood favorites with real, whole-food ingredients can be helpful in re-establishing the ‘norms’ for a given nostalgic food.
Low stomach acid may be to blame if you are craving acidic foods like pickles and citrus fruits. The poor release of stomach acid is associated with many conditions including IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut, systemic health concerns like allergies, and nutritional deficiencies including vitamins, minerals and proteins.
When stomach acid is low, gut motility slows, nutrients cannot be properly broken down or absorbed by the body and inflammatory conditions arise. Improve your stomach acid by drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 30 minutes before a meal or eat more fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut.
Deconstructing Your Cravings
Craving salty foods can indicate you may be struggling with adrenal imbalance or trace mineral deficiencies. These can lead to inflammation and disruptions in the body’s equilibrium. Hormonal imbalances, especially with the adrenal hormone aldosterone, which changes fluid viscosity leading to low blood pressure and the poor release of digestive juices can also result.
When salt cravings surface, reach for rich sources of trace minerals:
- Bone Broths: A good bone broth can help your adrenals recover from stress faster because it is an excellent, bioavailable source of the minerals calcium, magnesium, sulfur, silicon and phosphorus. Prepare soups and stews with Pete’s Paleo organic grass-fed bone broths or sip on warm bone broth throughout the day. Nourish your body with our slow simmered bone broth. Get yours >>>>
- Himalayan or Rock Salt: The flavor and trace minerals in pink salt will have you requiring less salt for your desired flavor. Pink salt contains zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium.
- Sea Vegetables: Vitamins and sea minerals like iodine, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus are abundant in sea vegetables. Enjoy some roasted seaweed sheets with olive oil and sea salt or get adventurous with wakame, akame and dulse.
- Bacon: Bacon made from humanely raised, pastured pigs and real salt is a delicious addition to any meal and perfect for crushing those nostalgic, salty cravings. Get yours here >>>>>>
Blood sugar imbalances are most often to blame for those urges to eat something sweet. Although a Paleo diet naturally eliminates high glycemic, processed and refined carbs and simple sugars, it may not be sufficient to balance your blood sugar leading to the highs and lows of sugar cravings
Balancing your blood sugar levels is critical to curbing your hankering for something sweet. Reducing sweeteners, even the Paleo friendly ones, and reach for low-carb fruits like a small handful of fresh or frozen berries when you crave something sweet.
A lack of chromium may also contribute to sweet cravings. Chromium is only required in small amounts for regulating metabolism but is linked to glucose intolerance and can create symptoms of anxiety accompanying the cravings. Adding more chromium rich foods can support balancing blood sugars and reducing sugar cravings:
- Raw onions
- Green beans
- Romaine lettuce
Chocolate cravings may be a subtle, but highly important symptom to note of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiencies are one of the most common and overlooked nutrient deficiencies affecting an estimated 80% of Americans. Hundreds of physiological processes rely on magnesium including fueling muscle movement, hormone production, cardiovascular health, central nervous system function and stimulate digestive processes.
You might crave chocolate because chocolate that is at least 70% cacao contains 58% of the recommended daily value of magnesium in a single serving. Along with chocolate, other food sources for restoring magnesium levels in your body include:
- Raw leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wild-caught fish
- Raw, grass-fed dairy products
If you are craving a cheese (or any dairy) you may be lacking essential fatty acids like EPA, DHA, ALA, and GLA. These fats are critical to the health of your nervous system and brain development.
Essential fatty acids can be found abundantly in:
- Wild caught fish
- 100% grass-fed beef and lamb
- Wild game
- Pasture raised eggs
Non-meat sources contain fewer amounts of essential fatty acids but include
- Ground flaxseed
- Hemp seeds
- Blue-green algae
Craving red meat is common during a woman’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy as the body is depleted in iron, vitamin B-12, zinc and the amino acid acetyl-L-carnitine. These nutrients support the body in producing energy by improving heart and brain function, muscle strength and stimulating the immune system.
- Wild-caught fish
- 100% grass-fed beef and lamb
- Wild game such as bison and venison
- Organ meats including pasture-raised chicken liver and grass-fed beef liver
- Dark greens including Swiss chard, spinach and blue-green algae
Cravings are a window into your inner landscape. By deciphering the real meaning of your cravings and the true nutrients your body is calling out for, you can get insight into what’s truly gnawing at you from within.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com