By: Dr. Alyssa Musgrove
All of us have experienced a craving for a specific food, whether it be for salty potato chips, creamy peanut butter or sweets like ice cream and chocolate. A craving is a signal from the body that something is needed. Cravings can be driven by physical, emotional or biochemical factors. For example, pregnant women might experience strong cravings due to hormonal changes that disrupt and change their sense of taste and smell. When we’re feeling emotionally stressed, we might crave “comfort” foods.
When a craving hits, you’re faced with a few options: You can give in to it; you can find out what your body really needs; or you can find an alternative distraction like taking a walk, phoning a friend or jumping into your bath tub, hot tub or pool. Some cravings only last 3 to 5 minutes, so finding a distraction does not always have to be a long, drawn out affair.
Below are a few common cravings and some thoughts on what your body might really need instead.
A potato chip craving could be an indication you’re low in sodium. Sodium, more commonly known as salt, is an essential electrolyte needed in large amounts — especially for normal nerve and muscle function.
We obtain sodium through food and drink, and we lose it when we sweat and urinate. When we sweat in the heat, we actually sweat minerals, not water. After excessive sweating, or long periods outside, the body needs more than just water to replenish what is lost. (Certain medications can also make the body excrete excess fluid.) Conversely, too much sodium can lead to heart issues like high blood pressure.
The recommended daily intake of sodium is around 2,300 milligrams. Instead of satisfying this need with processed food like potato chips, reach for healthy whole foods instead. Beets, spinach and chard are a great source of sodium and packed with disease fighting antioxidants. Raw cashews and walnuts can be a good replacement in moderation — keep the serving size to one ounce (about 18 cashews and 15 walnuts). Popcorn drizzled with a butter-flavored olive oil (sold locally at the Plantation Olive Oil Company) is another healthier option. My favorite salty, satisfying snack is ‘crunchy seasoned peas’ made by BHUJA, which can be found in the gluten free section at Publix (often hanging on an end display).
If you find yourself craving the cool, sweet taste of ice cream, it could be an indication you are low on sleep. The amino acid tryptophan (also found in your Thanksgiving turkey) is found in high-fat dairy products. Tryptophan assists in the production of melatonin and serotonin to help you feel sleepy and relaxed. Instead of caving to a late-night bowl of ice cream, try getting to bed an hour earlier, incorporating an afternoon power nap, or enjoying some quiet time for 20-30 minutes. Naps help improve immune function, boost your mood and increase alertness. Adults should limit a nap to 30 minutes or less. If you are sleep deprived, a 90 minute to 2-hour snooze can be beneficial. Instead of ice cream, try snacking on frozen blueberries for a sweet, refreshing snack.
A peanut butter craving could be an indication you are low in healthy fats, which are essential for survival. Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not make you fat. Healthy fats, such as omega-3s, help protect the nervous system and brain. Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish like sockeye salmon. Calories from fat are more nutrient dense than calories from carbohydrates and protein, and can help you feel fuller faster. Try reaching for an avocado sprinkled with lemon pepper.
Some people get hooked on the boost that chocolate can give, which then leads to compulsive habits. However, a chocolate craving can also indicate a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include irritability, anxiety, extreme fatigue combined with insomnia, lack of concentration and muscle spasms. Before grabbing that candy bar, reach for magnesium-rich foods such as almonds. If nothing but chocolate will do, opt for quality dark chocolate, preferably organic and above 70% cocoa. A magnesium supplement may also help.
Baked Goods and Pastries
If you are feeling anxious or stressed, baked goods and pastries can provide a temporary calming feeling. That’s because the sugar triggers a quick dopamine rush, also known as the “feel good” hormone. But that sugar rush soon turns into a blood sugar crash, which fuels inflammation and will leave you feeling sluggish. The naturally occurring sugars in fruits such as peaches, berries and apples are a healthier choice. You could also try a small amount of dried fruit, such as prunes or raisins.
Sparkling water, with a squeeze of lime or slice of orange, delivers the carbonation found in soda, minus all the excess sugar.
The next time a craving hits, dig deeper to uncover the real reason behind it. If anything, try making a lateral move and reaching for a healthier choice.
Pathways to Healing specializes in holistic chiropractic care. Dr. Alyssa Musgrove draws on a variety of techniques, including chiropractic, kinesiology, nutrition, food allergy testing and lifestyle counseling to assist clients in achieving optimal health and wellness in one setting. Pathways to Healing is located at 1022 Founders Row, Lake Oconee Village, Greensboro. The office can be reached at 706-454-2040.