Sugar, chocolate, or salt cravings are really your body telling you it has a deficiency you need to pay attention to.
Lisa Kilgour, RHN, loves teaching and helping people find their own health through their diet. She is a nutritionist at InspireHealth - Southern Interior. InspireHealth is a nonprofit integrative cancer care organization helping Canadians since 1997; it’s partially funded by the BC Ministry of Health.inspirehealth.ca
Cravings are a major cause of dietary indiscretions, as well as the source of a big pile of guilt many of us feel every day. They’re especially frustrating when we’re trying to make healthy changes to our diet.
As a nutritionist, I realize that cravings are an important piece of the health puzzle. What, when, and why my clients crave food tells me a lot about nutritional imbalances, blood sugar imbalances, and deficiencies. Without these cravings my job would be much harder.
“If only I had the strength to say no to my sugar cravings, I’d be able to eat a healthy diet.”
I hear that statement from my clients regularly. They tend to feel as though it’s a lack of willpower that stops them from eating enough veggies and fruits every day or that it’s their fault they’re “weak.” Happily, this is just plain wrong. Cravings are a voice from your body telling you about something that’s off, an imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Your body is always going to ask you to eat something absolutely delicious to reset this imbalance because it wants to make sure you do it. For example, if your blood sugar is crashing, your body isn’t going to ask you to eat an apple. It’s going to ask you to grab that cookie you know is in your cupboard. Both will rebalance this state of low blood sugar, but you’re much more likely to eat the cookie. Let’s look at some underlying imbalances that can cause cravings.
Blood sugar imbalances are the most common cause of sugar cravings, particularly midafternoon cravings. These cravings are demanding and can make us feel frustrated or impatient. Add some healthy fat and protein to your breakfast and lunch, and watch these cravings disappear!
Oh chocolate, how do I love thee? This is my most potent craving. And there’s a reason for that: I am a very busy person and a hectic lifestyle can contribute to a deficiency in magnesium. Chocolate and raw cacao (raw chocolate) happen to be great sources of magnesium. Our body is so smart! It’s actually asking you to eat chocolate to help balance the magnesium—yippee!
If you have the same craving, remember to choose dark chocolate or raw cacao, not milk chocolate as it will only make the craving worse. Other symptoms of low magnesium are muscle cramps and tension, low energy, and ticklishness.
Do you prefer savoury over sweet? Are potato chips or pretzels your favourite comfort food? Do these cravings increase when you’re under stress? Do you have low blood pressure? Salt cravings can be a true craving for salt—and salt is what your body needs. But, it needs healthy, good quality sea salt, not refined table salt. Unfortunately, the salty foods we tend to eat are high in refined salt which can increase our cravings.
Your adrenal glands which produce cortisol and adrenaline (our stress hormones) need additional sodium when you’re under stress to keep your blood pressure balanced. Be cautious, too much of a good thing can be harmful! Only add large doses of sea salt to your diet under the recommendation of a trained health care practitioner, and if he or she recommends a low-sodium diet, always follow that advice.
Instead of cursing your cravings, embrace them! Look at them as helpful clues to guide you to a unique-to-you healthy diet.