I know many people who self-medicate with cookies, chocolate or cupcakes. But there is always a close link between feeling down and craving carbs. It’s not always clear if a dip in your mood is the excuse for your recent junk food binge, or if it’s the other way around, but specific nutrientsa are behind many cravings.
When you hear your tummy growling or you get this "urge," the problem is deciding whether you’re craving a food for emotional or physiological reasons or whether your body is truly hungry for food it needs.
However, many dieters think of food cravings as a weakness, but more than 90 percent of participants in a calorie-restriction study experienced food cravings at the start. And even more had cravings six months after dieting, nutritionists at Boston’s Tufts University say.
In fact, accepting food cravings and keeping them in check may be an important component of weight management, explains Susan Roberts, an energy metabolism expert at the university’s Human Nutrition Research Center.
Allowing yourself to have the foods you crave, but matching those cravings to healthy sources, may be one of the most important keys to successful weight control. Some of the most commonly craved foods among are those with high sugar plus fat, such as chocolate, and salty snacks, such as chips and French fries.
For example, a craving for chocolate may signal a need for magnesium, which can be obtained from raw nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. Cravings for oil snacks and fatty foods may be a sign that you need more calcium from turnip greens, broccoli, kale, and raw cheese.
When someone has anemia caused by iron deficiency, a host of other symptoms usually occur before such strange cravings appear. To correct a low-iron status, eat iron-rich foods such as raisins, fish, poultry, beef, eggs, peas, beans and whole-grain bread. You can also take iron supplements. For best absorption, avoid taking them with calcium supplements or calcium-rich foods such as milk, and take them on an empty stomach with vitamin C.
Women experience greater sense of cravings than men and are more frequently on diets or restricting their diets. They also have more unstable weight, feel more frequently too heavy and want more frequently to lose weight.
Carbs, sweets, caffeine, chocolate, pop, candy, pastries, or chips; constant cravings for these non-nutritional foods point to unstable blood sugar. Not everyone with cravings is protein deficient (otherwise we would really be looking at a country-wide epidemic!), but protein deficiency and unstable blood sugar are intimately linked.
Mood is also related to food cravings but in a different way according to gender. A majority of female cravers experienced a more (depressed) mood state during the day, and a negative mood--such as annoyance, boredom, and depression--preceded the craving episodes. In contrast, men more commonly indulged in food craving in association with a feeling of happiness.
Chromium improves the body’s response to insulin -- in fact, the symptoms of a chromium deficiency are similar to those with metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. In one study conducted at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, researchers demonstrated that glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and HbA1c levels (which measures blood sugar levels over time) improved in patients with type 2 diabetes after they received chromium supplements or consumed foods high in chromium.
What biological factors may be at play to cause women to crave food more than men do?
"The gender difference observed could be due to a higher degree of weight concern in women. Social pressure for thinness--more pronounced in women--may (cause them to) more frequently restrict their diet and to follow a diet to lose weight. As these practices are associated with food cravings, they could be one explanation,"' said Lionel Lafay, from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France.
Another possible explanation could be that women experience a different relationship between food and mood. However, the relationships between food and mood are very complex, as is their underlying biological and psychological determination, Lafay noted.
For example, Lafay said, food craving does not appear to be a simple product of the need for calories and energy.
A chocolate craving means you have a magnesium deficiency since chocolate has one of the highest levels of magnesium as a food. Since the chocolate craving occurs just before the period, this means the chocolate craving is related to your hormones.
If you take the correct magnesium supplement or foods high in magnesium, the deficiency will go away temporarily and the chocolate craving just before the period will also go away.
People who report being hungry often crave salty foods more frequently.
Food craving may be related to a 'desire' and not to a 'need', which indicates a psychological factor requires satisfying. However, for those individuals who have deficiencies in specific nutrients, the following chart summarizes the craving, the nutrient the body requires, and the food sources that effectively satisfy the food craving.
Strong cravings for starchy, sugary foods often go hand in hand with being overweight, chronically tired, feeling blue or other symptoms of ill health. They can be the result of out of whack blood sugar levels, Candida (yeast overgrowth), and adrenal fatigue. These imbalances can potentially cause disease, premature aging, and us to feel far less than our most fabulous selves.
"You crave what you eat, so if you switch what you're eating, you can weaken your old cravings and strengthen new ones," says Marcia Pelchat, PhD, of the Monell Center.
Research shows that even after 5 days you will find that your body will yearn for your trigger foods far less, and after two weeks the cravings are nearly gone.
On a physical level, your blood sugar will begin to balance out, so your body won't be crying out for foods that it falsely thinks will balance things out. On an emotional level, you will know that it is possible to live without those foods, and you will most likely notice some improvement in your wellbeing, which will keep you motivated.
6 Low-Calorie Snacks To Help You Manage Cravings
A bowl or two of broth-based soup rather than higher-calorie cream soups works well. Add your favourite cut-up veggies, plus a protein such as beans, so you have all the elements of an energy-dense, satisfying meal. Due to its thick consistency, soup takes longer to absorb keeping your tummy full for a longer time. In the winter, it is especially satisfying and comforting.
2. Dried Fruits and Nuts
89 calories gets you eight almonds and four dried apricot halves. A pretty good deal considering you’re getting something sweet, savory, chewy and crunchy. Not only that, but nuts we'll keep hunger on the wayside than almost any other snack.
3. Smoothies and organic cottage cheese
A glass of apple or banana smoothie will surely gratify your hunger for a while. It will have a mild impact on your blood sugar levels that helps delay hunger cues and enhances weight loss. Try using coconut milk and adding chia seeds and other seeds and nuts to help control your hunger.
4. Organic Popcorn
Popcorn has the volume effect. If you have a tub of popcorn and don't add fats (caramel or butter) to it, you can consume it without any guilt. Moreover, it gives you a lot of sensory satisfaction. Try and pop your corn in a pan with coconut oil for maximum health and results. Always make sure your popcorn is non-GMO organic. You can also munch on baked or roasted snacks such as khakra (crisp roti) without worrying about adding additional calories.
5. Raw fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories per gram compared to denser foods. To increase satiation, consume a cup of chopped water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, kiwi, celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, leafy greens and water chestnuts. If you don't like it plain, prepare a fruit or veggies salad by adding a few drops of vinegar and low-fat salad dressing to it. Also, kamut or spelt pasta with your favourite sauteed veggies provide higher satiety.
Legumes, such as split peas, lentils and beans, contain a unique blend of protein and fibre. One cup serving of cooked split peas or lentils provides up to twice as much fibre as other fibre-rich foods, such as barley, whole wheat pasta, raspberries and pears. Naturally low-fat and cholesterol-free, legumes are heart-healthy. Nutritious legume-based dishes include lentil soup, split-pea soup and chilled bean salads.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.