Common Food Cravings

What You Can Do About Them.

Have you ever wanted dark chocolate so much that you didn’t catch a single word during that meeting just salivating over the thought of it?  Or a burger so desperately that you were willing to drive an hour just to make sure you got it?  Have you ever left everything you were doing, and at the most inconvenient time, and during the worst weather conditions, to get to a coffee shop no matter how far, just to get a cup of coffee?  If so, then you are probably familiar with food cravings.

Cravings are not quite the same as hunger…and in fact they couldn’t be more different. Hunger is controlled by the stomach (see hunger games) but cravings are controlled by the brain. Hunger is all about your survival mechanism, but cravings are all about your body communicating with you.

For example, the next time you have a craving – let’s say for something sweet – you can ask yourself: “Is it just sugar I am craving? Will l I be satisfied by sucking on a sugar cube? Or is it something more specific? Perhaps chocolate?”

If the answer is indeed chocolate, it is your body’s way of letting you know you may be deficient in magnesium (raw cacao is one of the highest natural sources of magnesium). If you know this, you can then find all the foods that have high content of magnesium and slowly add them to your diet, which then gets rid of your sweet food cravings.

Of course, the list goes far beyond sugar cravings, chocolate and magnesium. Alongside is a chart of some common food cravings, flavour cravings and eating habits you may experience, the reason behind each craving and all the foods you can eat to fix the craving! – Common Cravings – Table 1 – pages 1 to 3.  

If you are looking to make healthier food choices, understanding cravings is an essential component of staying on track.  The key to understanding cravings is listening to your body. The first important distinction that needs to be made: Is your body telling you it needs something, or is your mind telling you it wants something?

Giving Your Body What it Needs

In a seeming paradox, a lot of people are overweight but undernourished. How can this be? Poor food choices, namely in the form of over-consumption of processed foods, is largely to blame.

It’s easy to over-consume processed foods because most of them have been stripped of fiber and water – two substances that help you feel full. But all the potato chips and pints of ice cream in the world aren’t going to provide your body with the micronutrients and health-promoting antioxidants it both needs and wants. Enter “cravings.”

Here’s the real paradox – feeling compelled to eat more and more of a substance that isn’t actually providing your body with anything it needs. Perhaps you’re low in protein or fat or a specific vitamin or mineral. But what you’ve been eating isn’t providing it.

The Takeaway? 

What your body really needs is leafy greens and other vegetables, plant-based protein sources, and healthy fats will help stabilize blood sugar, improve satiation, and banish cravings! Staying well hydrated is also important.

Understanding “Wants”

Most of us have probably heard of the four basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. And perhaps you’ve also heard something about a “fifth taste” called umami (or savory). Although cravings vary by age, gender, and life situation (like pregnancy), the most common cravings are for sweet, salty and savory foods. Ever wonder why?

Sweet: It turns out humans are hardwired to prefer sweet foods. And no wonder! Sugar and other carbohydrates stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, providing a soothing natural “high.”

Sweetness has also served an important evolutionary function for humans. In nature, sweetness is correlated with energy density. Thus, humans have evolved to prefer sweet-tasting foods and to avoid bitter-tasting foods.

Salty: But why do we crave salty foods? It’s possible that your body is low in sodium, especially in hot weather, if you are active, or if you sweat more than average. Likewise, you may also crave salt if you’re dehydrated, as sodium helps the body retain water.

For most people, however, salt cravings are more habitual than need-based. Many canned, packaged and other processed foods have extremely high levels of added sodium, and we can easily become accustomed to the taste.

Savoury: Umami, or “savoruy” is an often-overlooked but extremely important taste experience. In fact, some scientists and dietitians have even linked umami cravings to difficulty adhering to a plant-based diet!  Umami (savoury) is often associated with animal foods, especially grilled meat and aged cheeses, likely due to their high levels of the amino acid glutamate. HOWEVER, there are plenty of  plant-based sources of umami! Fermented foods (like tempeh!) are high in umami flavor, and roasting, caramelizing and browning foods (including soy-based foods and vegetables) boosts that “savory” factor. See the guide below for more plant-based suggestions!

The Takeaway? 

Understanding which tastes appeal to us and why (i.e. how we’re wired) can help us decode, manage and put seemingly elusive cravings in perspective.

Making Better Choices:

So how can we use this information and understanding to make better choices? Because let’s face it, we all need to eat. Multiple times each day. So when your body tells you it needs nourishment, and your mind seems to want something specific, here are a few tips for making healthy choices.

For more information on healthier ways to eat, visit our Daily NutritionEat to LIve, Food For Life and Natural Sources pages on this website.