Craving something sweet or decadent? No need to reach for processed food-like products. My 3 favorite REAL FOOD craving crushers will not only fill the void and allow you to indulge, but will be doing your body, and your mind, some good in the process too.
I know it comes as no surprise that coconut tops my list.
Coconut is now widely accepted as one of the most beneficial foods for both your brain and body. It is also one of the richest natural sources of the flavor compounds which produce a natural, safe, and powerful feeling of decadence and indulgence.
Studies on coconut have shown that it has therapeutic effects, boosts your metabolism, increases your body’s ability to burn fat, increases energy, kills harmful bacteria, protects against diabetes, promotes digestive health, prevents overeating, curbs cravings for sweets, reduces risk of heart disease and improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Decadent taste combined with all these health benefits make coconut an absolute key to scrumptiously conquering your cravings.
Consumption of coconut has also been shown to:
· Help prevent obesity by speeding up metabolism, providing an immediate source of energy with fewer calories than other fats. People who consistently use coconut products, report a stronger ability to go without eating for several hours with no affects of hypoglycemia.
· Improve heart health by providing short chain and medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) that are essential to good health. Close to 98% of all fatty acids consumed are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), which are very different from MCFA that have no negative effect on cholesterol ratios and help to lower the risk of atherosclerosis and protect against heart disease. Unlike other fats, the unique properties of coconut also contain a large amount of lauric acid, which is the predominant fatty acid found in mother’s milk.
· Contain high amounts of dietary fiber rivaling sources such as psyllium, wheat bran, oat bran, and rice bran. Coconut supplies an impressive 61% dietary fiber! Foods contain two types of carbohydrates – digestible and non-digestible. Digestible carbohydrates (soluble fiber) consist of starch and sugar and promote calories. Non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber) contain no calories that the body can absorb. Since the body cannot digest the dietary fiber in coconut, no calories are derived from it and it has no effect on blood sugar.
· Have a low Glycemic Index (GI) which is the measure of how fast available carbohydrates in food raise blood sugar levels. Coconut fiber slows down the release of glucose, therefore requiring less insulin to utilize the glucose and transport it into the cell where it is converted into energy. Coconut also assists in relieving stress on the pancreas and enzyme systems of the body, in turn, reducing the risks associated with diabetes.
· Reduces sweet cravings and improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose. The healthy fat in coconut slows down any rise in blood sugar and helps to reduce hypoglycemic cravings.
· Improve digestion and many of the symptoms and inflammatory conditions associated with digestive and bowel disorders, by supporting absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
· Provide a nutritious source of extra energy. Coconut is utilized by the body to actually produce energy, rather than to store it as body fat. It supports improved endurance during physical and athletic performance. Coconut also helps support healthy thyroid function and relieve the symptoms of chronic fatigue.
To top it off, coconut contains zero trans-fats, is gluten-free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic and contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-parasitic healing properties. Coconut helps to aid and support your overall immune system functioning.
Cashews and cashew butter are delicious and the nutritional and psychological aspects of cashews are astonishing. Healthy amounts of copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and vitamin K, along with lesser-known phytonutrients, such as antioxidants, tyrosinase, melanin, elastin, proanthocyanidins, and oleic acid, provide profound curbing effects on cravings.
Additionally, cashews can improve memory, lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease, and reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. Combine their sweet buttery satisfying flavor with their health and brain boosting nutrition, and cashews are a clear ally in the quest to curb cravings.
The benefits of cashews are quite impressive:
· Approximately 82% of the fat found in cashews is unsaturated fatty acids, plus about 66% of this unsaturated fatty acid content is the monounsaturated kind, similar to those found in olive oil. Studies of diabetic patients show that monounsaturated fat, can help to reduce high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a form in which fats are carried in the blood, and high triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. The high antioxidant content found in nuts helps explain results seen studies in which risk of death from cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases showed strong and consistent reductions with increasing nut/nut butter consumption.
· Cashews are a great source of copper, an essential component of many enzymes which plays a role in a wide range of physiological processes including iron utilization, elimination of free radicals, development of bone and connective tissue, and the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin. Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide the ground substance and flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints. Low dietary intake of copper may also be associated with increased fecal free radical production and fecal water alkaline phosphatase activity, risk factors for colon cancer.
· Magnesium is important for bone health too! Everyone knows that calcium is necessary for strong bones, but magnesium is also vital for healthy bones. About two-thirds of the magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Some helps give bones their physical structure, while the rest is found on the surface of the bone where it is stored for the body to draw upon as needed. Magnesium, by balancing calcium, helps regulate nerve and muscle tone. In many nerve cells, magnesium serves as Nature’s own calcium channel blocker, preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cell and activating the nerve. By blocking calcium’s entry, magnesium keeps our nerves (and the blood vessels and muscles they enervate) relaxed. If your diet provides you with too little magnesium, however, calcium can gain free entry, and the nerve cell can become over activated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction. Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue.
· Although nuts are known to provide a variety of cardio-protective benefits, many avoid them for fear of weight gain. A prospective study published in the journal Obesity shows such fears are groundless. In fact, people who eat nuts at least twice a week are much less likely to gain weight than those who almost never eat nuts.
Enjoy a handful of cashews or other nuts (although cashews are on top of my list), or a tablespoon of nut butter when you are wanting something creamy and indulgent. I would advise, as with all treats, to be mindful and enjoy whilst not using your new found, health-filled treat as a replacement for all the other nutrient dense, whole foods you want to be including in your eating plan.
Cocoa & Dark Chocolate
Cocoa might just be the most beneficial food on the planet. It has been proven to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes, and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
In fact, a recent study showed that cocoa contains more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries! Combine this with cocoa’s proven positive effects on neurotransmitters responsible for your emotions, and cocoa could be called one of nature’s greatest mood boosters and antidepressants. Cravings and emotions are strongly connected which is why cocoa plays such a starring role in my arsenal of craving crushers. Recently a steady stream of science has emerged, showing that cocoa and the confection made from it (chocolate) possess extraordinary life-imbuing and disease-fighting properties. Most notably, cocoa demonstrates significant benefits for the cardiovascular system, helping to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, cocoa consumption is associated with reduced cognitive decline in old age.
Cocoa contains over 700 known compounds with possibly many more that remain undiscovered. Of particular interest to scientists are the antioxidant compounds found in cocoa. Antioxidants are compounds that plants manufacture to prevent their own cells from premature destruction due to exposure to heat, light, air, moisture and time. In the human body, many of these compounds prevent reactive oxygen species (ROS) from destroying cells and causing premature aging and disease. Cocoa is especially rich in polyphenols, a group of protective antioxidant compounds found in many plant foods such as red wine and tea. These are popular subjects of scientific investigation for their beneficial influence on cardiovascular health. The polyphenols include anthocyanins, isoflavones, flavanones, flavonols, flavanols, and flavones. Of special interest to health researchers are the flavanols in cocoa, including flavan-3-ols, catechins, epicatechins and proanthocyanidins. These naturally-occurring substances not only protect the cells of our bodies from premature destruction, but they also help to reduce the risk of killer diseases.
Cocoa is a well documented mood enhancer. Cocoa is rich in agents that support the production of various feel-good chemicals in the brain, notably serotonin and dopamine. This means that cocoa possesses anti-depressant, mood-elevating properties. This is no surprise to the any millions of people who self medicate with chocolate every day.
Furthermore, regular cocoa consumption may lower LDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clots, increase blood flow to the arteries, lower high blood pressure, boost cognitive performance and provide essential minerals such as calcium and potassium.
Cocoa also contains approximately 43.6 mg of flavonoids per gram. Flavonoids are part of a powerful group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. Cocoa is one of the highest polyphenol-containing foods. In addition, hot cocoa contains more antioxidants per cup than a serving of red wine or tea meaning drinking cocoa may help to fight cancer, heart disease and aging through its antioxidant boosting effect. Be aware thought that most commercial cocoa powders have the antioxidant-containing flavonoids removed because they taste bitter; therefore, in order to obtain the health boosting benefits, consider buying raw, minimally processed cocoa or cocao powder.
Cocoa may provide antidepressant benefits. It is rich in phenethylamine, a neurotransmitter found in the brain that acts as a mood elevator and natural antidepressant. Cocoa may also have the ability to boost endorphins, which act as natural ‘happy’ opiates and are responsible for the highs that are often felt after exercising, laughing, having sex or winning the lottery. To add to this, cocoa may boost serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.
Cacao powder is high in the mineral magnesium and recent scientific studies have shown that cacao boosts blood flow to the heart, brain and other organs. It has also been shown to be helpful in lowering blood glucose levels. Cacao, ‘the food of the gods’ has been traditionally used for centuries to boost energy and enhance mood.
When feeling the need to indulge, there are options to do so that not only support your long term health and longevity, but reduce your need for and reliance on sugars and processed carbohydrates. Real food can and does taste amazing!! Indulge and enjoy.