It’s 4pm and you’ve been thinking about fried potato, cheese and chocolate for hours. But it’s more than just a want; it’s a need. Why is it that sometimes our cravings take on a real mean streak? What makes them so potent and what could your body be trying to tell you? Here’s 5 common food cravings and what they mean for your overall health.
It’s not just PMS that gets your chocolate cravings peaking. It could be an emotional response to stress and/or depression. All chocolate contains magnesium and theobromine which are known to reduce stress. But dark chocolate comes with an extra mood boost as it increases dopamine and serotonin production. Low serotonin levels have frequently been linked to anxiety and depression symptoms. For a natural dose, try an hour or two in the sunshine as direct exposure to light is known to help increase serotonin. Add some cushions and throw rugs to your backyard lounge to give it an extra inviting feel during Winter.
2) Sweet Treats
It sounds crazy but with a healthy diet and lifestyle it’s entirely possible to go a whole day without sweets. Frequent, intense cravings for sugary foods may actually signal something serious. In some cases, this is a sign of diabetes so a visit to your doctor to have your health checked is a good start. Another possibility is a lack of sleep. One study found sleeping 4 hours per night increases your appetite for sweet treats and may cause obesity. It makes sense; if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends your body is seeking a sugar hit to find a way through the day.
So how can you fit in more sleep and banish these cravings? First, by making it top priority. Redesign your bedroom so that it’s a place you want to be, not one that draws you away from streaming TV. Another option is finding space for power naps in your day. Fitting in extra sleep is a proven way to keep your body functioning at its best. A cushioned sofa is all you need to squeeze in an extra 20 minutes of snooze here or there.
3) Fried Foods & Cheese
Some days you’re a beacon of health and others you can’t keep those fingers away from potato chips. What gives? This could be your body’s way of compensating for a lack of fat in your diet. But fat is the enemy, we hear you cry! The truth is not all fat is bad for you. A healthy dose of good fats in your diet from things like avocado, salmon and olive oil is essential for your body to function. Simply train your brain to recognise these fat cravings and reach for a healthy dose instead.
4) Salty Foods
Craving salty foods is most common when you’ve been sweating. An intense workout leaves you dehydrated and your electrolytes out of whack. What you really need is a glass of water but your brain takes it a step further. Salty foods make you thirsty so your body craves them in order to get your taste buds wanting a drink. Take a leaf out of the athlete’s book and finish an intense workout with a sports drink to rebalance those hydration and electrolyte levels. Be careful not to overindulge though as they’re also high in sugar.
5) Ice Chips
A craving for ice chips sounds made up but many people, women especially, are reaching for a glass of crushed ice and not understanding why. If you enjoy crunching ice blocks then you may have an iron deficiency/anemia. The theory is chewing on the cold stuff temporarily increases blood flow to the brain, which is exactly what your iron deficiency is preventing. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness and headaches. The only way to be sure is with a blood test so keep track of how often these cravings hit and if it’s frequent head straight for the doctor.
Giving in to cravings is only human but not all cravings are what they seem. It’s not an exact science; food cravings can be misleading. Often, they’re a sign of dehydration and a tall glass of water will nip it in the bud. If they continue for a long time or prove hard to beat then a health checkup with your doctor is the next best step.