Finally, part 3 of the “Craving Series”!
In fact, I could easily write several more parts to this topic and maybe I will in the future! For now, I hope this three-part series helps you to understand your body’s signals and what to do to have more control.
“Listen to your body” is a very common saying nowadays but what does it actually mean? And how do I “listen” to my body? To me, the only way to do that is to educate myself on human physiology, thus knowing what happens in my body when I eat certain things, exercise … .
My intention with this series is to help you experience the same. I hope I was successful … .
Chocolate contains magnesium and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to synthesize serotonin. Thus, if you are craving chocolate, you might be deficient in those. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that is crucial for the synthesize of melatonin, the sleeping hormone.
In previous posts, I explained that there are neurotransmitters having an activating effect in the brain and those that are inhibitory. Serotonin’s effects are similar to those of Dopamine, the activator of the reward system. Thus, an increase in serotonin levels leads to feeling like pleasure and relaxation.
If you need to have a piece of chocolate, try to aim for one that has a high cacao content. I prefer 99% raw chocolate but anything above 70% is preferable.
In addition to that, raw unprocessed cacao contains amino acids and antioxidants helping to prevent diseases by boosting the immune system.
Other than that, nuts and seeds, legumes and fruits (especially bananas) contain magnesium and tryptophan. Try to include those in your meals or as a snack.
Craving sugary foods can have a variety of causes. In general, sugar, or glucose, is the perfect source of energy. The glucose is used in metabolic pathways to create ATP, the energy equivalent in our body.
Thus, whenever you are malnourished or lack micronutrients, you will crave sugar.
In fact, it could be a deficit in Chromium, Carbon, phosphorus, sulfur or tryptophan. These micronutrients are found in fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meat, chicken, eggs, all kinds of fruit, legumes and grains.
This is a long list of foods!
The conclusion here is that to decrease sugar cravings, you need to eat a balance of healthy carbohydrates (vegetables, grains and fruits), protein (animal and plant sources) and fats (animal and plant sources).
Thus, my only advice here is to watch your food choices and detect missing parts.
As an example, some people don’t eat enough grains because they are afraid of carbohydrates. As a result, the lack of complex carbohydrates could cause sugar cravings.
Oily, fatty foods
Craving fat can be an indicator of a variety of deficiencies.
- Your nutrition lacks healthy fats
First of all, it might that your nutrition lacks healthy fats. Especially when dieting, people make the mistake to lower their fat intake. Read more about why and how to include fats into your diet here.
- Deficiency in fat soluble vitamins
If your body lacks fat, many vitamins, like Vitamin A, D, K, E, will not be absorbed properly. The reason for this is that the molecular structure of these vitamins is only soluble in the presence of fats.
- Calcium deficiency
This is the result of low levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to absorb Calcium in the intestines, leading to low Calcium levels. This will not only decrease bone density, it will also lead to muscle cramps, trouble with recovery after strenuous activities and low energy in general.
- Low caloric intake
Out of the three macronutrients, Fats are the most caloric-dense. One gram of Fat equals 9 kcal, whereas for Protein and Carbohydrates it is only 4 kcal.
Your body’s only concern is to survive. Thus, when you are in a caloric deficit, your body lacks energy and this is a signal for the brain that survival may be in danger. As a result, cravings increase. As fats have the highest calorie level, your body naturally craves them the most.
- Psychological effects
As I have explained in the last posts, fats and sugary foods trigger the release of Dopamine, the neurotransmitter of the reward system in the brain. Thus, whenever you are stressed, in a bad mood, depressed and your brain lacks Dopamine and endorphins, you will crave fats to restore that balance.
How to stop the cravings:
- For calcium deficiency eat more of: Mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame
- Eat more healthy fats
- Eat enough calories
- Change your habits: Find other activities that lower stress or sooth feelings of anxiety and moodiness.
Many women can relate to the increased food cravings during that time of the month.
- Hormonal Balance
The reason for this lies primarily in hormonal imbalances. The levels of estrogen go up and down and this causes the body stress, as it tries to balance out the hormones again. Thus, the stress hormone Cortisol is released, also called the “fight-or-flight” response. Cortisol speeds up the metabolism and this leads to increased appetite.
According to Pamela Peek, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the University of Maryland school of Medicine in Baltimore, most women experience a drop in endorphins in the brain, especially serotonin.
When serotonin levels are low, most women crave sweets, as serotonin is produced with Glucose. As simple sugars are metabolized more quickly, they supply your body with serotonin much faster.
Another aspect of PMS cravings, is low levels of Zinc, Magnesium and Iron. These micronutrients decrease especially after menstruation.
Foods high in Zinc are red meats (go for organic, grass-fed), seafood, leafy vegetables, root vegetables.
As a side note, if you lack Zinc, you can also take supplements.
Zinc is an essential trace element. It is used for boosting the immune system, treating the common cold and recurrent infections. Also, it can be used for various eye-diseases, like macular degeneration, night blindness and for cataracts. In fact, It is also used for asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and skin conditions such as acne.
The daily recommended intake in milligrams for zinc for an adolescent and adults are, according to the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs):
- Males: 15mg
- Females: 12mg
(pregnant females: 15mg)
While it is recommended to get as much Zinc as possible from whole foods, daily supplementation for Zinc has no side effects, as long as you keep the doses low. Anything from 5-10mg is beneficial for most people.
As I have explained in the last posts about cravings, drugs and alcohol trigger a much higher release of Dopamine and endorphins than natural food. If this is repeated excessively, the brain restores the balances of activating and inhibitory neurotransmitters by adapting to the higher levels of Dopamine and endorphins (tolerance). Thus, alcohol and drug doses needs to be increased, otherwise the soothing effect on the nerves, relaxation and feeling of pleasure will not occur.
To decrease alcohol cravings in particular, try to increase your intake of whole foods and micronutrients:
- Protein: meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, nuts
- Avenin: Granola, oatmeal
- Calcium: Mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame
- Glutamine (an amino acid): Raw cabbage juice
- Potassium: Sun-dried black olives, potato peel broth, seaweed, bitter greens
Salty and acid foods
Craving salty and acid foods is most often an indicator for a deficiency in micronutrients, especially electrolytes.
To decrease salty cravings, increase your intake of Chloride. This is found in raw goat milk, fish and unrefined sea salt.
If you are craving acid foods, it is an indicator that you need more Magnesium. Foods high in magnesium are raw nuts and seeds, legumes and fruits.
I had a lot of fun writing this series… . If you enjoyed reading, “like”, leave me a comment and share!
“Physiologie des Menschen (Human Physiology)” – Schmidt, Lang, Heckmann – 31. edition0