What your food cravings really mean
Written By Amy Lewis
Craving cakes and chocolate? Got a hankering for something salty? Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson explains what your food cravings really mean for your body
What are your food cravings trying to tell you? From sweets and chocolate to stodgy carbs and meat, Shona Wilkinson, a nutritionist at NutriCentre, explains what your body really needs.
You need: Sodium
‘If you crave salty food, it could mean that your sodium levels are too low, usually due to dehydration (after exercise, illness or drinking alcohol),’ says Shona.
‘You can quickly replenish it by snacking on things like dried anchovies or salted popcorn, which are naturally high in sodium. You can also find small amounts of this mineral in celery and carrots, which should help your craving.’
Craving: Stodgy carbohydrates
You need: Tryptophan
‘Carb cravings are a sign of low levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which is necessary for serotonin production – the ‘happy’ brain chemical. It plays crucial role in sleep and wake cycles as well as digestion,’ says Shona.
‘A lack of it can lead to low mood and anxiety. Instead of reaching for stodgy carbs try to include certain proteins in your diet that can provide you a fair amount of tryptophan, such as turkey, eggs, bananas or walnuts.’
You need: Iron
‘Craving meat could mean that your body needs iron. Recently, there has been a growing tendency to cut down on red meat in our diet, which is a main cause of iron deficiency,’ says Shona. ‘It plays a vital role in supporting the immune system, as it helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. Without it, we become fatigued and tired.
‘Try to include red meat at least once a week in your diet and add lentils, spinach and pumpkin seeds, which are also a great source of minerals and vitamins.’
Craving: Something sweet
You need: Chromium
‘As you eat, your blood sugar goes up and insulin is released,’ says Shona. ‘If you are eating refined sugar and carbs they will hit your bloodstream fast and cause an imbalance in blood sugar. Your body will release more insulin to deal with this rapid rise in blood sugar.
‘Once dealt with, the blood sugar levels will drop, but because you’ve generated the release of so much insulin, the levels will drop too low and you will soon feel like snacking on a bar of chocolate. The more sweets you eat, the more you will crave them – it is a catch 22.
‘To help curb sugar cravings, eat a healthy breakfast, which contains protein as well as carbohydrates and continue later during the day with vegetables; this helps to maintain a steady flow of blood sugar. Taking a Chromium supplement can also to help balance insulin levels and keep afternoon sugar pangs at bay.’
You need: Magnesium
‘Another craving that most of us experience on a daily basis is chocolate,’ says Shona. ‘However, what we really want and need is magnesium.
‘Magnesium can not only support the immune system by preventing inflammation but it also plays a crucial role in balancing the nervous system and easing anxiety. It is also important for good bone health. The best way to deal with this craving is to reach for a square of dark chocolate (70% of cocoa).
‘If you feel like you are not eating enough fish, green leafy vegetables and nuts to keep your magnesium levels balanced, try to include a supplement like Synergistic Magnesium.’