Food Freedom Friday Edition 185 - What Are You Craving?

Cravings are something everyone deals with at some point in life.  It would be very simple if the exact foods you had cravings for fulfilled your body’s need for nourishment. Instead of an intense desire to eat a raspberry cream cheese swirl brownie you might actually choose an omelet loaded with leafy greens and avocado and be better off for it.

The human body is more aware of its conditions than what the brain is able to convey resulting in misunderstanding what cravings actually refer to. Common food cravings are associated with a nutrient deficiency guised as the brownie which feeds the need for a temporary and immediate mood regulator but not the innate health or nutritional concern at hand.

With a little knowledge you can begin to understand what your cravings really mean and make the best food choices to satisfy your desires. This is turn will prevent cravings from seizing your thoughts.

The Meaning of Cravings

1.     Salty Food

Craving salty foods can indicate that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue and possible trace mineral deficiencies.  When your body is lacking in essential nutrients it can lead to chemical imbalances which alter the pH of your tissues.  This in turn increases inflammation and disrupts the delicate equilibrium. It can also create hormonal imbalances as often happens with the adrenal hormone aldosterone, which changes fluid viscosity leading to low blood pressure and the poor release of digestive juices.

When salt cravings surface, reach for rich sources of trace minerals. Craving salty foods is no excuse to destroy your health by consuming processed or fast foods containing excess refined salts.

Consider the following foods to rebalance this nutrient deficiency:

·       Bone Broths: Homemade bone broth can help your adrenals recover from stress faster because it is an excellent, bioavailable source of the minerals calcium, magnesium, sulfur, silicon and phosphorus. Prepare soups and stews with organic grass-fed bone broths or sip on warm bone broth throughout the day.

·       Pink Salt: The flavor and trace minerals in pink salt will have you requiring less salt for your desired flavor. Pink salt contains zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium.

·       Sea Vegetables: Vitamins and sea minerals like iodine, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus are abundant in sea vegetables.   Enjoy some roasted seaweed sheets with olive oil and sea salt or get adventurous with wakame, akame and dulse. 

2.     Sweet Foods

Blood sugar imbalances are most often to blame for those urges to eat something sweet. Diets rich in high glycemic, processed and refines carbs and simple sugars are addictive and cause insulin spikes which trigger the release of a feel good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.  The spike later leads to a drop in these neurotransmitters.  When serotonin levels drop, your brain craves a sugar high again.

Balancing your blood sugar levels is critical to curbing your hankering for something sweet. Use natural sugar alternatives like stevia and monk fruit to sweeten foods and reach for low-carb fruits like a small handful of fresh or frozen berries when you crave something sweet.

A chromium deficiency is an alternate cause of sweet cravings. Chromium is only required in small amounts for regulating metabolism but its inadequacy is linked to glucose intolerance evident in people suffering from diabetes and can create symptoms of anxiety accompanying the cravings. Add quality whole foods into your diet and ensure you are eating chromium rich foods including:

·       Broccoli

·       Raw onions

·       Green beans

·       Mushrooms

·       Tomatoes

·       Romaine lettuce

·       Cinnamon

3.     Dark Chocolate

Chocolate cravings may be a subtle, but highly important symptom to note of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiencies are one of the most common and overlooked nutrient deficiencies affecting an estimated 80% of Americans. Hundreds of physiological processes rely on magnesium including fueling muscle movement, hormone production, cardiovascular health, central nervous system function and stimulate digestive processes.

Your body is smarter than the perceived thoughts and feelings flooding your brain. You crave chocolate because chocolate that is at least 70% cacao contains 58% of the recommended daily value of magnesium in a single serving. Along with chocolate, other nourishing food sources for restoring magnesium levels in your body include:

·       Raw leafy greens

·       Pumpkin seeds

·       Avocado

·       Wild-caught fish

·       Raw, grass-fed dairy products

4.     Dairy Foods

If you are craving a cheesy pizza you may be lacking essential fatty acids like EPA, DHA, ALA, and GLA. These dietary fats are critical to the health of your nervous system and brain development amongst a long list of other benefits. Unfortunately, most of the foods eaten in a standard Western diet contain a greater concentration of omega-6 fats common in vegetable oils and conventionally raised meats than they do omega-3 fatty acids.

Next time you find yourself with a cheese and dairy craving, manage and control it by eating foods rich in essential fatty acids.  Essential fatty acids can be found abundantly in:

·       Wild caught fish

·       100% grass-fed beef and lamb

·       Wild game

·       Pasture raised eggs

Vegetarian sources contain fewer amounts of essential fatty acids but include

·       Ground flaxseed

·       Chia

·       Hemp seeds  

·       Blue-green algae

5.     Red Meat

Craving red meat is common during a woman’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy as the body is depleted in energizing nutrients including iron, vitamin B-12, zinc and the amino acid acetyl-L-carnitine. These 4 critical nutrients support the body in producing energy by improving heart and brain function, muscle strength and stimulating the immune system.

To replete these nutrients and overcome the deficiency, giving into your craving for red meat is partly the answer as long as the meat is humanely raised and well-sourced. Other foods that can increase your intake of iron, B-12 and L-carnitine include:

·       Wild-caught fish

·       100% grass-fed beef and lamb

·       Wild game such as bison and venison

·       Organ meats including pasture-raised chicken liver and grass-fed beef liver

·       Dark greens including Swiss chard, spinach and blue-green algae

Causes of Deficiencies

Addressing the reasons behind food cravings will support the cravings become less frequent along with improve the body’s healing abilities. Nutrient deficiency is a significant problem that must be addressed to improve total health and wellbeing. A few of the major reasons why you may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies triggering those unhealthy food cravings may include.

1.     Diet

The average daily diet comprises foods containing excessive and refined sugars, salts, and unhealthy fats that are devoid of nutrition resulting in overfed, undernourished popylations. Sadly, many people view “fat-free”, “zero calorie” and “low carb” as healthy foods but this most often not the case.

The body is deprived of antioxidants and fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables and our poorly raised proteins lack essential amino acids, healthy fats and vitamins. Improve your intake of nutrients by swapping soda with herbal teas, consuming probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut and limiting your intake of processed goods.

2.     Stress

The gut is often referred to as your second brain. This concept shifts understanding of how thoughts and emotions affect health. The connection between the brain and the gut is known as the enteric nervous system.

Millions of neurons line the gastrointestinal tract receive input from the brain and relay signals back. Following the activation of sensory neurons stimulated by taste bud receptors, the brain can be rewarded with the release of serotonin or it may be told to inhibit food intake from signals received by leptin.

Poor gut conditions contribute to emotional changes including food cravings and emotion based eating. Chronic stress weakens the body’s ability to function optimally whether the stress originates from sitting in traffic or if poor eating habits induces gastrointestinal distress. Chronic stress inhibits digestion increasing microflora imbalances, symptoms of constipation, and as a result, reduced nutrient absorption.

3.     Dehydration

 By the time you feel thirst, your body is already dehydrated. Unquenched or ignored thirst transmits signals that are masked as hunger pains. Lack of optimal hydration can lead to an electrolyte imbalance increasing the desire for salt. Dehydration can also be at the root of sugar cravings as the body struggles to release glycogen stores which may have been drained from an intense workout lacking healthy fluid intake.

Drink water consistently throughout the day to hydrate your gut, improve nutrient absorption and starve off food cravings.

4.     Stomach Acid

Low stomach acid may be to blame if you are craving acidic foods like pickles and citrus fruits. The poor release of stomach acid is associated with chronic conditions including IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut, systemic health concerns like allergies, and nutritional deficiencies including vitamins, minerals and proteins.

Stomach acid is required for healthy digestion to disinfect and break down foods carrying pathogenic invaders. When stomach acid is low, gut motility slows, nutrients cannot be properly broken down or absorbed by the body and inflammatory conditions arise. Improve your stomach acid by drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 30 minutes before a meal or eat more fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut.

Cravings are a window into your inner landscape. By deciphering the real meaning of your cravings and the true nutrients your body is calling out for, you can get insight into what’s truly gnawing at you from within.

Michal Ofer