What are your cravings trying to tell you?

8224-chocolate-chip-cookies-on-a-plate-pvWe all crave certain foods from time to time. But what do these cravings mean and why do we have them?

Cravings are the body’s way of communicating a need. Figure out the need, and you can give yourself a variety of choices for how to fill that need, including choices that won’t derail you from your health goals! Here are some common food cravings, what they might mean, and how you can tackle them.

Craving: Chocolate

Why you’re craving it: Odd as it may sound, chocolate cravings often stem from mineral deficiencies, particularly magnesium, iron and zinc.

Try this instead: Make sure you’re getting enough minerals in your daily diet. Grass-fed beef, pastured lamb and sustainably caught shellfish are good animal sources of iron, magnesium and zinc. Plant sources include dark leafy greens, legumes, Brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

If you’ve just gotta have it: When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better. If your usual drug of choice is a sugary, waxy milk chocolate, it’s time to step up to the good stuff. Gradually wean yourself to the darkest chocolate you can stand (aim for 70% or greater cocoa content). Chocolate that dark not only will feed your chocolate craving, it’ll also help supply the minerals your body is missing without spiking your blood sugar.

My favorites: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao Bar (available pretty much everywhere, including Walmart), Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate bar (also 85% cocoa content, available at health food stores).

Craving: Cake and cookies

Why you’re craving it: A craving for sweet carbohydrates in baked form usually stems from stress. This can be emotional stress from a difficult work, school, relationship or financial situation, or it can be physical stress from illness (or certain medications used to treat it), lack of sleep, injury or overexertion. No matter how you slice it, if you’re craving cake and cookies, you’re hurting on some level and you need comfort.

Try this instead: The first line of defense for comfort food cravings is to try to fill the need for comfort without food. If you come home from work and immediately end up face-down in a box of Ring Dings, it might be time to switch up your routine. Change into some comfortable clothes, put on some soothing body lotion, cuddle up with a blanket (and/or a pet), put on some relaxing music, light a scented candle or diffuse some essential oil, try a little self-massage. Do some yoga stretches (check videos on YouTube) or meditate for as long as you can stand it (one minute is okay — one breath is okay!). Find a long-term stress relief and self care routine that works for you and watch those comfort food cravings melt away!

If you’ve just gotta have it: Sweet fruits and warming spices are the way to go if your body is screaming for baked goods. Try sauteing apple or banana slices in a skillet with some grass-fed butter or coconut oil, then sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or powdered ginger. Unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, warmed on the stove or in the microwave, is another good choice. And if you really really need a cookie, these power cookies from Abel James are packed full of superfood ingredients.

My favorites: I like to mash a banana with some nut butter, then add cinnamon and other warming spices and heat the whole shebang in the microwave or on the stovetop. It sounds weird, but it’s so comforting and delicious!

Craving: Salty, crunchy snacks

Why you’re craving it: Barring a sodium deficiency in your diet, which is rare, a craving for salty, crunchy snacks usually stems from plain old boredom. People who crave chips, pretzel sticks and crackers on a regular basis tend to need a lot of sensory stimulation and novelty, or they tend to have a lot of nervous energy and need to do something with their hands.

Try this instead: Just like with a comfort-food craving for baked goods, a salty/crunchy craving that stems from boredom often can be met by addressing the boredom directly. So try something new that engages your mind, keeps your hands busy, and gives you a different sensory experience. Knitting, crochet and other forms of needlework, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, adult coloring books, solitaire (with actual cards, not on your phone), getting up and moving around when you usually sit, or even sitting in a different chair or spot on the couch all can twitch your brain out of that boredom groove.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Kale chips and other veggie chips are a health-supporting alternative to potato, tortilla and pita chips provided they’re fried or baked in a non-inflammatory oil (like coconut, avocado or olive oil). Roasted nuts are another great choice — make your own by tossing two cups of raw mixed nuts with a couple of tablespoons of healthy oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then roasting on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

My favorites: This may sound weird coming from a health coach, but I’m a big fan of pork rinds provided the only ingredients are pork and salt – Baken-Ets Traditional is a pretty widely available brand. I also love Seasnax, which are a good source of iodine for those of us not using iodized table salt. And Inka Chips Original plantain chips have taken the place of tortilla chips in my house — they’re great for scooping up homemade guacamole and salsa.

Craving: Beer and bread

Why you’re craving it: Odds are if you’re craving yeasty foods and drinks, you’ve got a little tummy upset going on and your beneficial gut bacteria are trying to boost their numbers through fermentation.

Try this instead: Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and other traditional fermented pickles should settle your tummy without adding too many inches to your waistline. If you tolerate dairy, try a fermented full-fat dairy product like yogurt or kefir.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Fermented vegetables and diary not doing the trick? Try a traditional fermented cider or ginger beer, kombucha, or a drinking vinegar or shrub. If the bread bug has got you down and you’ll absolutely die without a little bite, opt for a sprouted whole-grain fermented sourdough bread. Just watch your portions if you have a blood sugar imbalance or weight-loss goal.

My favorites: Buddha’s Brew Hop’d kombucha and Live Soda kombucha in Sparkling Ginger are in my refrigerator at all times to soothe any tummy issues that come along. I’m also a huge fan of Farmhouse Culture‘s raw fermented sauerkraut and kimchi.

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What are your cravings trying to tell you?

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