We have all had this experience – we start a new healthy eating plan, and it goes wonderfully for two or three days, and then suddenly, we find ourselves craving foods that just don’t fit in our conscious eating lifestyle.
A chocolate sundae.
Mashed potato with butter and sour cream.
The list is endless. Name any food, and there is someone, somewhere, who has craved it.
Your body knows when it needs a particular nutrient, but it may not know the healthiest way to get that nutrient.
Here is a quick tour of some of the messages your body may be sending with its food cravings.
Are You Craving Chocolate?
Often, a craving for chocolate is an expression of a need for the mineral, magnesium. You can get magnesium without the fats and sugars by eating raw nuts and seeds, fruit, and legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
Sometimes, you may find that the craving for chocolate is more than just a need for magnesium. Chocolate also contains amino acids which become the feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. If you have eaten lots of nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit, and the chocolate craving persists, then you may be seeking these amino acids.
In this case, you need to find the best quality chocolate you can, that is, the chocolate with the highest percentage a cocoa mass. Cheap, poor quality chocolate (compounded chocolate) is made from cocoa powder in vegetable fat, and no amount of that will satisfy your craving. You can find yourself surrounded by empty chocolate bar wrappers, and still craving chocolate!
One square of good quality, high cocoa mass chocolate is all you need if the craving is for amino acids.
Are You Craving Sweetness?
A number of mineral needs can send you reaching for the Gummi Bears. You may need to experiment with a few different substitutes before you discover the real message behind you sugar craving.
Chromium – if you need chromium, your sugar craving will be cured by eating broccoli, grapes, cheese, dried beans, or (for meat eaters) chicken.
Carbon – you may be craving carbon, in which case some fresh fruit will knock over that sugar craving post-haste.
Phosphorus – if your body needs phosphorus, you will defeat the urge to eat All The Sweets by consuming poultry, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, or (for the vegans) nuts, legumes and grains.
Sulphur – another micro-nutrient that sends you running for the cookie jar is sulphur (or, in America, “sulphur”). To beat this craving, eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, etc), horseradish, or cranberries.
Tryptophan – a very important amino acid, tryptophan becomes serotonin (a happiness brain chemical) and then melatonin (which helps us fall asleep easily). Meet your tryptophan needs with cheese, liver, turkey, raisins, eggs, sweet potato or spinach.
You’ll notice a few sugar craving “super foods” on this list, which contain many of the different micronutrients you may be needing. Target these ones for the quickest path to relief. Whip up a quick broccoli quiche or a fruit salad with cranberries and you might hit the bullseye first time!
Are You Craving Bread or Toast?
Your body may need nitrogen. Especially for vegetarians and vegans, nitrogen intake can easily fall below the ideal level.
Nitrogen is a component of protein, so if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, tuck into a healthy serve of meat or fish to knock this craving on the head. Eggs also contain protein, and for vegans, a combination of nuts and beans should do the trick. Experiment a little with different varieties, to determine which ones best hit your nitrogen spot.
Your oily food craving is probably a need for calcium.
Cheese, sesame, legumes, broccoli and kale are good sources of calcium. Try a selection of these and see whether your craving for greasy treats disappears.
If you treat your cravings as useful information about the state of your body, rather than failures of willpower, you can maintain both your healthy diet, and your peace of mind.