by Dr. Will Cole
Think about what you crave on a regular basis. Do you have a sweet tooth and just need chocolate sometimes? Do you hound for a bag of chips or a bowl of pasta? Have you ever wondered why you have those cravings in the first place or if your cravings could be a hidden message from your body about what you really need?
My job in functional medicine is to get to the root cause of health issues, and calming cravings is a major factor to losing weight, balancing your mood, and gaining freedom from food addictions. So let’s get to the bottom of it!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the information on the internet.
The internet is filled with awesome content, but there is so much conflicting information out there that it can be a little overwhelming. “Dr. Google” is a fickle, fickle man. One popular picture floating around social media is a chart showing unhealthy food cravings a sign that you are deficient in certain minerals – for example, if you’re craving sugary foods, you’re craving bread and pasta, you’re deficient in nitrogen and should eat high-protein foods like chicken, nuts, or beans.
The problem is, there is actually no substantial research to back up these claims. Does that mean it’s not true? No. Scientists are always discovering new truths. Just because something isn’t proven yet (by science) doesn’t mean it’s invalid, but for now, the jury is out on this one.
If our cravings were due to simple nutrient deficiencies, we would all be craving kale salad and wild-caught salmon! And something tells me that if you’re craving a candy bar, broccoli won’t satisfy that urge so easily.
We crave food for a lot of reasons.
So let’s dig a little deeper into why you crave the foods you crave. Here’s the lowdown on why you get intense food cravings, according to science:
Studies have found that the part of your brain that handles stress and the hunger hormone leptin both activate when people get a bad case of the munchies.
2. Too many refined foods
Eating lots of processed foods, with their empty calories and refined carbohydrates, puts the human body in a blood sugar and leptin roller coaster. The result? A ravenous beast who wants its next fix.
3. Scent memory
Fascinating research has looked at the link between the smell of food, nostalgia, and our cravings. The findings? Scent is tied psychologically to memory. Foods such as warm apple pie, pastries, and cotton candy can subconsciously remind us of happy memories from our past and ignite serious cravings for comfort food.
4. Poor sleep
Not getting enough quality sleep can do a lot to wreck your health. Studies have shown that a bad night of sleep increases your cravings!
5. Designer foods
The food industry relies on the deep science of cravings to keep you coming back for more. Multiple studies have looked at the meticulous designing of the food products we eat to be as addictive and irresistible as possible. In case you needed another reason to stick with real food.
Here’s your guide to crushing cravings.
While craving sugar is probably not a sign that you are low in chromium, your body is alive because of brilliant biochemistry, and the foods you eat have a powerful ability to nourish your body.
When talking about calming your cravings, you want to remember three things: to nourish your brain, balance your blood sugar, and lower your stress levels.
This is more about what you do regularly than what you do in the moment. Make sure you are getting a variety of the following brain boosters, blood sugar balancers, and stress reducers:
1. B Vitamins
B vitamins are uber important for so many reasons. These water-soluble nutrients are essential for your brain to handle stress and work in tiptop shape. B vitamins are specifically needed for methylation, a massive biochemical superhighway that makes for a healthy brain and gut, detox pathways, and protect your DNA. B vitamin zappers? Chronic stress, processed sugar, alcohol, and medications like NSAIDs and birth control pills.
What to eat: Grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, leafy greens, avocados, and egg yolks.
2. Healthy fats
Your brain is about 60 percent fats, and diets low in healthy fats have been linked to poor brain function. Getting an adequate amount of healthy fats is one of the best ways to curb hunger and cravings.
What to eat: Omegas EPA and DHA are highest in wild-caught fish. Pasture-raised egg yolk is also a rich source of these healthy brain fats.
Low zinc levels make being stressed out even worse, you need this vital nutrient for neurotransmitters!
What to eat: Shellfish such as oysters are the zinc superstars. Nuts and seeds are decent options as well.
4. Clean protein
A lack of quality protein throughout the day can cause dips and spikes in your blood sugar, creating a craving storm that will eat any salty or sugary food you can get your hands on. No bueno.
What to eat: If you are prone to getting low blood sugar, start with getting 15-25 grams of clean, organic protein such as wild-caught fish, chicken, beef, nuts, and seeds with every meal. If you get hangry before the next meal, you didn’t eat enough for your body.
Being low in iron will leave you feeling exhausted and craving any sort of energy you can get your hands on.
What to eat: The best and most bioavailable source of iron is grass-fed beef. To maximize iron absorption, eat it with a source of vitamin C like leafy greens.
Magnesium is responsible for a lot of super-important pathways to keep you healthy – and deficiency is very common. Magnesium is the original chill pill, ,so when you are stressed, this is definitely a nutrient to consider.
What to eat: Spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate (watch out for too much sugar!), and pumpkin seeds.
7. Stress reducers
Science is pointing to the impact stress (and boredom) has on your brain and hormones and its ability to affect your level of hangryness. Stress management is essential to curbing the cravings.
What to do: Yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation are on my list of ways to Zen out your life. Also, because tiredness increases cravings, make sure you are getting at least eight quality hours of sleep at night to be the vibrant balanced soul that you were born to be!
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.