Learn what your body is trying to tell you
We all know what it’s like to crave a certain food. Often, the cravings are STRONG…and not necessarily for something healthy. (I mean, when is the last time you craved broccoli?)
Sometimes, as I discuss on page 4, your food or drink cravings can be SO powerful that they turn into an addiction. But most of us suffer from cravings that are much subtler.
Either way, do you ever wonder what they mean? Let’s talk about it…
The anatomy of cravings
Psychologists tend to group food cravings into two categories: physical and psychological.
Physical cravings usually occur when your body is instinctively trying to heal itself or add missing nutrients.
For instance, you might crave oranges when you have a cold because your immune system requires the extra vitamin C to fight the virus.
Indeed, the body is a miraculous thing, built to know exactly what it needs for optimal function. And it sends signals to your brain telling you what to eat for nourishment. Often, your brain interprets those signals as cravings.
Psychological cravings have to do more with emotions, thoughts, or experiences you attach to food.
For instance, you may crave pasta fagioli when you miss your Italian grandmother, or ice cream when you reminisce about your college sweetheart.
These cravings may be of questionable nutritional value, but incalculable for your mental and emotional well-being. The key is to figure out what you’re really yearning for, and if food will truly fulfill that.
Because often, it won’t. And the craving can be replaced with a healthier option like taking a walk…talking with a friend…or meditating on your feelings.
Now, the answer to physical cravings tends to be more straightforward. But here’s what some of the most common food cravings may be trying to tell your body…and what you can do about them.
Four common cravings—deciphered
Chocolate. Interestingly, the American Chemical Society reports that chocolate contains the cannabinoid molecule anandamide—which may actually create cravings.1
Cannabinoids, of course, are found in marijuana. But many other plants also contain these natural chemicals, which have been shown in some studies to help reduce pain and induce euphoria (plus other less positive effects).
There are cannabinoid receptors located throughout the human body. So, chocolate cravings may be your body and brain’s way of saying you need this healthy food.
For instance, chocolate is rich in magnesium, zinc, and a type of plant antioxidant called flavanols. Both minerals are vital for heart function. And several studies have found that chocolate flavanols reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood circulation to your heart and brain.
Flavanols have also been shown to improve brain health and cognitive function. Plenty of research shows that eating chocolate naturally boosts levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
Plus, other research shows that this sweet treat may decrease your stress hormones.
So, if you have a chocolate craving, go ahead and indulge…without guilt.
Just make sure the chocolate you choose has at least 70 percent cacao, which has more of the beneficial ingredients and less of the added sugar and fats. And don’t overdo it—you can get all of chocolate’s health benefits by eating just 1 to 2 ounces a day (about 1 to 2 squares).
If you’re having repeated chocolate cravings, make sure you’re getting sufficient minerals like magnesium (400 mg daily) and zinc (40 mg daily).
Burgers or steak. Craving red meat may also signal a mineral deficiency. Meat is high in iron, selenium, magnesium, calcium, and other essential minerals.
Meat cravings may also suggest you’re not getting enough complete protein in your diet.
“Complete” protein contains all of the amino acids essential for human nutrition and health. Some of these amino acids are missing from plant sources, so if you eat a vegetarian diet, you may not be consuming adequate levels of protein.
Of course, you can get some protein, as well as minerals, from plant sources such as beans, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Plus, taking 250 mg of vitamin C twice daily can increase absorption of iron from these non-meat foods.
In any case, you need to get your iron (and calcium) from food—not supplements. Calcium and iron supplements are downright dangerous for your health, as I often report.
So if you find yourself craving a burger or steak, fire up the grill and get the nutrients you need straight from the source.
Salty snacks. With all of the unscientific salt restrictions being pushed by the government and its co-dependent consumer health groups, you may have fallen victim to a “low-salt” diet.
But as I just wrote in July’s issue of Insiders’ Cures…don’t believe the hype. Your body NEEDS salt. So, this is one craving that’s as straightforward as they come.
Studies have shown that cutting salt is not a solution for high blood pressure or heart disease for most people. In fact, as I’ve reported before, researchers have found that a lack of salt can actually create cardiovascular and metabolic problems.
And that’s not all. An interesting research review reported that salt deficiency can result in a condition called anhedonia—which occurs when you can’t get any joy or pleasure from activities that normally make you happy.2
Anhedonia is one of the main symptoms of major depressive disorder. (So even if you’re not craving it, consider boosting your salt intake if you’re having mood issues.)
The question, of course, is how much salt should you eat, and from where?
The government’s puny and dangerous recommendation of 2,300 mg a day isn’t nearly enough. I think you can go as high as 4,000 mg a day (nearly 2 teaspoons). As I’ve noted before, Koreans routinely eat this much salt—and they have some of the world’s lowest rates of high blood pressure and heart disease.
But make sure that salt isn’t from chips, crackers, or other packaged, junk foods. Instead, try a handful of salted nuts or seeds (pumpkin seeds are a great choice this time of year). Both are highly nutritious and great for your health.
And don’t be afraid to add salt (in moderation) to vegetables, meat, or other healthy foods when you’re having a craving. Dark chocolate with sea salt may even satisfy two cravings in one!
In fact, I recommend sea salt, which, unlike regular table salt, has minimal processing. Plus, sea salt has trace amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Sweet treats. A simple premise is that if you’re craving cookies, candy, or other sugary substances, your blood sugar may be low.
But indulging in desserts can make your blood sugar spike—and then plummet. That can lead to Type II diabetes, obesity, and other serious diseases.
A better solution is to eat at least two servings a day of whole, fresh fruit.
Not only does fruit contain the natural sugar fructose, but it also has fiber—which helps your body absorb the fructose more slowly, without the spikes associated with the cane sugar found in many sugary foods and beverages. And, of course, fruits contain a wide range of nutrients.
But if your sugar cravings are frequent and fruit doesn’t satisfy them, consider seeing your doctor to be evaluated for possible diabetes or an endocrine disorder like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
The bottom line is that your body is constantly communicating with you. And food cravings are just one example.
So, pay attention to what your brain and body are telling you. “Giving in” to your cravings in a healthy way can help keep you well-nourished…and physically and psychologically satisfied.
2“The biopsychology of salt hunger and sodium deficiency.” Pflugers Arch. 2015 Mar; 467(3): 445–456.