What your food cravings really mean - and how to cure them
Food cravings are a little strange, right? One minute you’re midway through that report your boss needed, like yesterday, when suddenly you literally can’t type another word until you eat something sweet.
And how about that want-chips-need-chips urge on your walk home from the pub? Or the literally can’t function until I’ve had a chocolate fix?
But why exactly do we crave certain foods at certain times and is there a way to cheat our way into not succumbing to our salty or sweet must-eats?
Leading food psychologist Christy Fergusson from Seasonal Berries, believes that by providing the body with quick solutions it is possible to lower the amount of healthy food our cravings cause us to consume.
The key, she says, is maintaining healthy levels of the ‘happy’ brain chemical serotonin.
“Serotonin is our feel good happy brain chemical which keeps our moods high and our cravings at bay,” she explains.
“When our serotonin levels plummet, we can find our energy drops, our moods turn and the sugar cravings kick in. Relying on high sugar foods, biscuits and crisps to keep us going can leave us riding the blood sugar rollercoaster.”
So whether your carb cravings are off the scale or your urge for the sweet stuff is taking its toll on your healthy eating regime, here’s our guide to understanding your common food craves and how to cure em.
You’re trying to eat healthily but somehow you can’t resist those sweets, cakes and biscuits. But succumbing to the sweet stuff simply sends us riding the wave of a sugar rush, before crashing back down. “We feel buzzed for a spell but soon our energy, concentration and mood can plummet,” Fergusson explains.
According to Fergusson the body needs essential glucose for energy, but it needs to be at a steady rate. “To ensure the body is fed glucose every three to four hours, we should be stocking up on strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries as these fruits contain fructose (fruit sugars) which are released slowly into the blood stream,” she says. “Eating these regularly will keep moods consistent and energy levels steady throughout the day.”
Fergusson says that fresh berries are one of the best foods to snack as they are loaded with antioxidants as well as being highly nutritious. “You could say they are nature’s brain food. They pack a serious nutritional punch for every calorie consumed. This makes them the ideal way to supercharge your system with nutrients, without escalating your blood sugar levels.”
And they can help with concentration too. “If you find yourself losing focus and the brain fog descending as the afternoon wears on, bust out a punnet of fresh berries and the antioxidants will help sharpen your mind.”
Struggle to start the day without a caffeine hit? We feel ya! But according to Chrissy Fergusson this may mean your body needs a boost of catecholamines. “Catecholamines, adrenaline and dopamine, help to energise and motivate. This means the body really wants Tyrosine – as this supports the production of catecholamines,” she explains.
Rather than drinking coffee Fergusson suggests increasing our intake of tyrosine-rich foods such as bananas, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and oats.
When you’ve got an urge for something salty and nothing but a bag or crisps will do, Fergusson claims that what your body actually wants is minerals. “The body needs minerals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc to stay healthy – if you are deficient in any of these you will think you want salt,” she explains. “Similarly, craving salt can be a sign of dehydration, as sodium works by keeping water in the body to hydrate cells.”
Rather than opting for salty nuts or crisps, which are sprinkled with table salt, Fergusson says we should try to opt for Himalayan pink salt of Celtic sea salt which are rich in minerals. “And always drink plenty of filtered water,” she says.
While we’re still waiting for summer to get its hat-on, a lack of sunshine can have an effect on more than just our mood. “Lack of sunshine leaves most of us deficient in our feel-good brain chemical serotonin,” explains Fergusson. “As our serotonin levels drop, our brain seeks balance and we crave carbs.”
“Refined carbohydrates – such as white rice, white bread or white – spike our blood sugar levels causing amino acids to get shunted out of our cells giving tryptophan gets a free ride across our blood/brain barrier,” Fergusson continues. “This gives a temporary boost in serotonin. The problem is that refined carbs are often nutrient deficient and lack the building blocks we need to create serotonin. So when our blood sugar plummets again, the craving comes back, but what the body really wants is serotonin.”
To keep our brain brimming with serotonin without spiking our blood sugar levels, we need to eat good quality protein. “Turkey, fish, chicken, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, seeds, beans, and pulses all provide your body with a good supply of amino acids including tryptophan,” explains Fergusson.
But beware of serotonin sabotages. “Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and artificial sweeteners as these deplete the body of nutrients essential for converting tryptophan to 5-HTP to serotonin.”
Yeah so munching your way through a cheese board every night is far from ideal, but if your body is craving cheese this could be a sign of an essential fatty acid deficiency. “These are good fats which the body can’t manufacture itself – omega 3 and omega 6,” explains Fergusson.
Sidestep the baked brie in favour of tucking into foods high in omega 3 and omega 6, such as nuts and seeds, as well as oily fish such as tuna, salmon and trout.
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