What Do These 5 Food Cravings Mean?
Cravings are something all of us have dealt with at some point in our lives. Wouldn’t it be simple if the exact foods we had cravings for fulfilled our body’s need for nourishment? Instead of an intense desire to eat a salted caramel brownie we might actually seek out an omelet loaded with leafy greens and avocado and be better off for it.
The human body is more aware of its conditions than what the brain tells us and we often misunderstand what our cravings actually mean. Common food cravings are associated with a nutrient deficiency guised as the brownie which feeds our need for a temporary and immediate mood regulator but not the innate health problem at hand.
This article will serve as a cheat sheet guide to help you understand what your cravings really mean and how you can make the best food choices to satisfy your desires and prevent cravings from seizing your thoughts.
1) Salty Food Cravings:
Craving salty foods can indicate that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue and possible trace mineral deficiencies (1). When your body is lacking in essential nutrients it can lead to chemical imbalances which alter the pH of your tissues. It can also increase inflammation and disrupt and create hormonal imbalances as in the case of the adrenal hormone aldosterone, which changes fluid viscosity leading to low blood pressure and the poor release of digestive juices (5).
Reach for rich sources of trace minerals found in food when you crave salt. Craving salty foods is no excuse to splurge your diet on processed or fast foods containing excess refined salts. Consider the following foods to improve your nutrient deficiency: (2, 3 , 4)
- Bone Broths: Homemade bone broth can help your adrenals recover from stress faster because it is an excellent source of the minerals calcium, magnesium, sulfur, silicon and phosphorus that your body can easily absorb. Prepare soups and stews with organic grass-fed bone broths or sip on warm bone broth throughout the day.
- Pink 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: Contains vitamins and sea minerals like iodine, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. Enjoy some of my favorite SeaSnax which are seaweed sheets with olive oil and sea salt.
2) Sweet Foods:
Blood sugar imbalances are most often to blame for those urges to eat something sweet. Diets rich in high glycemic carbs and simple sugars are addictive and cause insulin spikes which trigger the release of a feel good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. The spike later leads to a drop in these neurotransmitters. When serotonin levels drop, your brain craves a sugar high again.
Balancing your blood sugar levels is critical to curbing your hankering for something sweet. Use natural sugar alternatives like stevia and monk fruit to sweeten foods and reach for low-carb fruits like a small handful of raw strawberries when you crave sweet foods.
Another reason for sweet cravings may be due to a chromium deficiency. Chromium is only required in small amounts for regulating metabolism but its inadequacy is linked to glucose intolerance evident in people suffering from diabetes and can create symptoms of anxiety accompanied by the cravings (6). Add quality whole foods into your diet and ensure you are eating chromium rich foods including: (7)
- Raw onions
- Green beans
- Romaine lettuce
3) Dark Chocolate Cravings:
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 (8). Hundreds of physiological processes rely on magnesium to fuel muscle movement, hormone production, cardiovascular health, central nervous system function and stimulate digestive processes (9, 11).
Remember, your body is smarter than you are or the thoughts that flood your brain for that matter. You crave chocolate because chocolate that is at least 70% cacao contains 58% of the recommended daily value of magnesium in a single serving (10). Along with chocolate, other top food sources for restoring magnesium levels in your body include:
- Raw leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wild-caught fish
- Raw, grass-fed dairy products
4) Cheese and Dairy Cravings:
If you are craving a cheesy pizza you may be lacking essential fatty acids like EPA, DHA, ALA, and GLA. These dietary fats are critical to the health of your nervous system and brain development amongst a long list of other benefits. Unfortunately, most of the foods we eat contain a greater concentration of omega-6 fats common in vegetable oils and conventionally raised meats than they do omega-3 fatty acids. (12)
Next time you find yourself with a cheese and dairy craving, squash it by eating foods rich in essential fatty acids. Wild caught fish, 100% grass-fed beef and lamb, wild game and pasture raised eggs pack a significant content of essential fatty acids. Vegetarian sources contain fewer amounts of essential fatty acids but include ground flaxseed, chia and hemp seeds as well as blue-green algae (13).
5) Red Meat Cravings:
Craving red meat is common during menstruation and pregnancy because the body is depleted in energizing nutrients like iron, vitamin B-12, zinc and the amino acid acetyl-L-carnitine. These 4 critical nutrients helps the body produce energy by improving heart and brain function, muscle strength and stimulating the immune system (14).
To overcome this deficiency, giving into your craving for red meat is partly the answer as long as you eat quality meats and do not over indulge. Incorporate these foods to increase your intake of iron, B-12 and L-carnitine: (16, 17)
- 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
Ignoring the reasons behind your food cravings won’t make your cravings become less infrequent and it will not improve the healing abilities your body is currently lacking. Research shows that individuals with nutrient deficiencies have more than an 80% risk of being overweight or obese.
With fewer Americans maintaining a healthy weight compared to those whom are overweight or obese, nutrient deficiency is a significant problem that must be addressed to improve total health and wellbeing. (18) Here are 4 major reasons why you may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies triggering those unhealthy food cravings.
1) Poor Diet:
The average American diet today consists of foods containing excessive and refined sugars, salts, and unhealthy fats that are void of adequate nutrition. The paradox is that we are a country that is overfed and undernourished. Sadly, many people view “fat-free”, “zero calorie” and “low carb” as healthy foods but this is too often simply untrue.
Our bodies are robbed of antioxidants and fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables and our choice of proteins lack essential amino acids, healthy fats and vitamins. Improve your intake of nutrients by swapping soda with herbal teas, consuming probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut and pickles and limiting your intake of processed foods. Following these recommendations will improve your digestion, starve off food cravings, increase nutrient absorption and relieve symptoms of nutrient deficiency.
2) Chronic Stress:
The gut is called the body’s second brain and it is a revolutionizing concept changing our understanding of how thoughts and emotions affect our health. The connection between the brain and the gut is known as the enteric nervous system. The vagus nerve is a direct connection between the brain and the digestive 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.
Although some of us may categorize ourselves as emotional eaters, scientists also understand that poor gut conditions contribute to emotional changes including food cravings (19). This means that chronic stress weakens your body’s ability to function optimally whether you are stressed from sitting in traffic or if poor eating habits induces gastrointestinal distress. Chronic stress inhibits digestion increasing microflora imbalances, symptoms of constipation, and as a result, reduced nutrient absorption (22).
If you are feeling thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. If you don’t quench your thirst with a glass of water your body transmits signals that are masked as hunger pains. Now you might be fixating your mind on cooling foods like ice cream or high water concentrated fruits.
Lack of optimal hydration can lead to an electrolyte imbalance increasing your desire for salt. Dehydration can also be the root of sugar cravings because the body is struggling to release glycogen stores which may have been drained from an intense workout lacking healthy fluid intake.
Avoid these misguided signals of cravings and do not only drink water when you are thirsty but drink purified water around the clock. Drink 32 ounces of purified water within the first hour of waking followed by at least another 32 ounces before noon to super hydrate your body. Aim to drink a gallon of water the remainder of the day to super hydrate your gut, improve nutrient absorption and starve off food cravings.
4) Low Stomach Acid:
Low stomach acid may be to blame if you are desiring acidic foods like pickles and citrus fruits. This health problem can be extremely threatening to your overall health. The poor release of stomach acid is associated with chronic conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut, systemic health concerns like allergies, and nutritional deficiencies including vitamins, minerals and proteins (20, 21).
Stomach acid is required for healthy digestion to disinfect and break down foods carrying pathogenic invaders. It is also important for protein and mineral absorption and for stimulating the proper release of bile and pancreatic enzymes. When stomach acid production is poor, gut motility slows, nutrients cannot be properly broken down or absorbed by the body and inflammatory conditions arise.
Improving Stomach Acid and Digestion
Improve your stomach acid by adding carminative herbs such as ginger, thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano, fennel and parsley to your diet, drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 15 minutes before a meal or eat more fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut.
It is also wise to hydrate well outside of meal times but drink very little water with your meals so you don’t dilute your stomach acid levels. You should have your largest meal when you are in your most relaxed state to activate the vagus nerve for optimal digestion.
Taking a few deep breaths, being in gratitude and praying can really help you improve vagal tone and active more stomach acid and digestive juices for optimal digestion. If you are busy, stressed or in a hurry, try doing a protein shake which is easy on the digestive system since the blender has already done the work.
Supporting Stomach Acid Levels
You really want to do everything you can to improve your stomach acid levels for optimal digestion. To do this, I also recommend eating your protein foods towards the beginning of the meal so they can fall near the bottom of the stomach and have the highest concentration of acids metabolizing them. If you eat a bunch of vegetables first, the meat will sit near the top of the stomach and get less of the acid.
The ideal way would be to drink about 4oz of water with apple cider vinegar about 10-15 minutes before your meal and chew on a bit of ginger root leading up to the meal. Have a few bites of sauerkraut or a pickle and then eat your meat. Follow this with your cooked or raw veggie dishes. You can also use a good supplement like our Super Digest HCL which adds extra stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzyme support.