Burgers aren’t my thing. So when I’m suddenly craving a juicy cheeseburger, I notice. I wonder if my body is trying to tell me something.
Our bodies are physiological masterpieces, with cells sending messages all day long. And guess what: Some of these messages manifest in the form of a craving.
Cravings aren’t usually associated with real nutrient deficiency (not having food for a long time can make you long for it, though). But there’s a whole network of parts of the brain that link emotions, hormones, memory, stimulating smells and tastes, and social factors to food cravings. Let’s a take a look at what certain cravings say about us and how you can feed them without giving in to junk food.
The No. 1 craving of women in America, chocolate has a lot going for it. It’s packed with magnesium for a start, so craving chocolate could help with magnesium deficiencies—and most of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets. Chocolate also has some feel-good properties, and it might be the good feelings you are missing. It’s been proven to help relieve stress, increase good moods, help us to feel joyful—and it also has phenylethylamine, a chemical associated with romantic love. So go ahead and have that one piece of dark chocolate (the 70-plus percent stuff, not the kind with lots of sugar). But don’t try to get all your magnesium that way!
Curb your craving with: Dark leafy greens (you can eat a lot of ’em), seeds and nuts, and beans (like pinto, soy or black beans) are great sources of magnesium. And spend some time with someone you love!
Steak and Burgers
If you’re like me, red meat isn’t really your go-to protein. Craving a grilled steak or burger might mean my body wants more protein or iron.
Curb your craving with: Lean meats like chicken or fish for protein; tofu, lentils and garbanzo beans for iron; eggs for both.
Pasta and Bread
When you eat the refined carbs in white pasta and bread, a bunch of chemical processes in your body create serotonin. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because serotonin is what helps give you a feeling of well-being and happiness. Craving a plate piled with pasta is about craving sugar (that’s what carbs turn into), and it could really mean you want to feel happier.
Curb your craving with: Whole grain pasta or bread—they’re better for you and will keep you fuller longer. Put some peanut butter on the bread to keep your energy level up. Or how about some whole fruit?
When we’re craving our favorite ice cream, is it because of its creamy texture and soothing ability, because of that sugar urge again—or is it because we need more calcium? If we go into ice-cream overdrive, look for less sugary forms of calcium.
Curb your craving with: Have a glass of milk and gauge your body’s reaction before heading to the freezer. Eat a piece of cheese. Try a healthy alternative to ice cream in frozen yogurt instead. Better yet, broccoli, greens and edamame can boost your calcium too.
When I drink a glass of wine, I often get a craving for chips shortly thereafter. What my body is really telling me is that it needs salt in order to retain water, and what I should really be reaching for is a glass of H2O. A lot of us just love salt so much. But craving salt is sometimes associated with adrenal insufficiency (though that shouldn’t be your first guess about what’s happening!) If this is the case, you may be experiencing symptoms of fatigue as your adrenal glands go into overdrive and flood your body with cortisol to keep you going. One thing that helps: vitamin B12.
When cheese comes to mind we don’t think it’s our body’s way of telling us that we need—or want—sugar…heck, that’s news to me. But cheese contains natural milk sugars. I’ll be paying attention next time my body urges me to make the ultimate grilled cheese! Cheese is also rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Curb your craving with: A glass of milk (to help with calcium levels), eggs or—get this—sardines. Or sit in the morning or evening sunshine for 10 minutes a day to increase your vitamin D.
This is definitely one to watch. Candy’s bad in so many ways, for your teeth and for making your blood sugar levels jump all over the place. Craving candy could just be another simple conditioned sugar craving. But if you eat a lot and you have an increased urgency to pee, it can be your body’s way of signaling a prediabetic state. If this is the case, seek medical guidance.
Curb your craving with: Cut-up fruit—behold, our best fruit salad recipes. Keep it ready to go in the fridge so it’s as easy to get to as candy.
It’s comforting to know that our body knows us well! So treat it right and pay attention. Try these simple substitutes to curb cravings and I guarantee you, guilt will not be on the menu.