Can we talk about food cravings? Some people associate them with pregnant women. Other people describe their cravings as a sort of unspoken law they must abide by for the sake of sanity. You may have heard someone declare, “If you’ve got a craving, don’t suppress it!”
Technically, all of these are valid. Is it valid for me to blame my cravings on ridiculously good looking pictures of food on the internet? To my delight—it just might be, and so I encourage you to read on.
What Science Says
What’s behind the tendency for cravings in general? It comes down to the evolution of basic human needs. Our brains are programmed to trigger behaviors that keep us alive, such as eating. We do this by responding to cues. This innate motivation is what propels the need for cravings. Except, cravings in this regard might be better served if referred to as hunger.
What occurs naturally is a reward system in the brain that becomes activated when we do the things our body tells us that we need. So if we’re feeding ourselves when hungry, our reward system responds. The areas of the brain responsible for memory and behavior respond by releasing dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure. This is then remembered by the brain as an action to repeat.
Throughout time, and with the integration of the expansive food industry, this system in the brain has evolved. For many people, it is easily warped and influenced by lifestyle choices.
It seems not all cravings are equal. Sometimes they are physiological and other times psychological. Physiological cravings tend to come about as a result of some lacking in diet. Often, these kinds of cravings can arise during dieting when the body is being deprived of certain nutrients.
Alternatively, more psychological cravings tend to have more to do with evolution, sense, and association. As it turns out, the reason behind the craving can be determined by the food at hand.
Cravings sugar shares a link with possible addiction. Research alludes to the neurobiological similarity between sugar addiction and drug addiction. Though, this is simply a comparison, it is not a far-off one. Sugar can be quite addictive.
If one turns to sugar to cope with certain negative feelings and makes a habit of doing so, they will create a psychological association with it this way. This then enables both a mental and physiological addiction to sugary foods.
However, sugar cravings may also come from blood-sugar or hormonal imbalances. A diet high in sugar, alcohol, or processed foods can lead to a blood-sugar imbalance. Hormonal imbalances may often occur in women who experience low levels of serotonin and endorphins during their menstruation, or women in perimenopause.
What to eat to fight sugar cravings: Berries, fruits, carrots, chia seeds, yogurt, nuts, and sweet potatoes.
If you’re craving the savory goodness of a salty treat, you could be looking at a few different things. One, it’s possible that it’s a result of stress. Often, salty foods are also comfort foods. Similar to sugar or any psychological craving, the same concept with a positive association in the brain applies.
However, a salt craving could come as a byproduct of low levels of electrolytes or dehydration. Have you ever craved salty foods just after the beach? The combination of sweating, losing water, and salt, causes depletion. Your body wants to make up for it by replenishing sodium levels. In addition, a condition called Addison’s disease may cause salt cravings.
What to eat to fight salty cravings: Hummus, edamame, cottage cheese, and nuts.
Craving Fatty foods
Cravings of high-fat foods like fried food is another common psychological association, especially with comfort foods. Craving fatty foods may happen due to a shortage of fats. In this case, consuming essential fats instead is best.
What to eat to fight fatty food cravings: Cook with coconut or olive oil, avocado, eggs, nuts, seeds, and salmon.
Another craving that can occur from low levels of blood-sugar is carb cravings. Most carbs are metabolized as sugar in the body. Understanding what carbs do for the body is simple, it’s all about energy.
If you’re craving carbs, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re low on energy. It’s important to note that the carbs you select matter, for example, highly-processed carbs are low in nutritional value, which can make you more tired. Indulge in healthy carbs instead.
What to eat to fight carb cravings: Sweet potato, fruit, brown rice, oats, chickpeas, and whole grains.
If you’re craving something you’ve never craved before (and you’re not pregnant), you may have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Dieting or weight loss may provoke the onset of cravings as certain foods are cut.
If you’re experiencing ongoing cravings, consult with a physician. The bottom line is, we’d all love to be masters of our bodies, but sometimes we need data and measurable check-ins to assess why we crave certain foods on an individual level.
One thing is for certain, most reasons for craving can be influenced with lifestyle changes. Even what you find appetizing in general can be modified with strategic diet changes.