I’m guessing that most of you reading this article have experienced some sort of food craving at some point in your life. You know what I’m talking about — that intense desire for a specific food that seems uncontrollable and lasts until you eat that food. Well, let me be the first to tell you that you are not alone! Over 90% of people experience food cravings which can stem from emotions, memories, hunger, nutrient deficiencies, and HORMONES.
Often cravings lead us to overeat or to eat foods that do not promote optimal health, and you know what? Sometimes that is just what we need!
Let’s take a closer look at what causes these cravings and how we can best prepare ourselves to meet them — and even use them as a guide towards even greater health.
Hormones are one of the leading causes of cravings during our monthly cycle. Estrogen and progesterone often cause us to have specific cravings for high carbohydrate and sweet sugary foods. These foods cause the brain to release serotonin, a hormone that creates feelings of happiness and calm. It makes sense, right? Most of us can expect to experience these cravings about a week before menstruation, in conjunction with when PMS symptoms kick in. So now that we know what and when we might experience cravings, what can we do about them?
Often when we give in to cravings, they don’t make us feel any better in the long term. Salty, processed high carbohydrate, and sugary foods can lead to mood swings and increased bloating, worsening our symptoms overall. As a Dietitian, I encourage my clients to listen to their bodies and focus on what they really need. Sometimes your body is simply craving more energy or needs more calories, and it’s important to recognize that!
We need to fuel our bodies so they can function at their highest level, but sometimes that becomes challenging when we are hungry. And sometimes? You just want the gummy bears! To that, I say, go ahead and enjoy! However, there are some great alternatives that can quell your cravings and help you feel better at the same time. So check-in and decide what you really need!
If you crave salty foods: This is mainly related to their carbohydrate content but may also stem from low sodium levels, dehydration or over-exercising. Though chips may be calling your name, here are some of my favorite substitutes — just remember to stay hydrated with lots of water!
- Pistachios - Crunchy, salty, and now they even come in flavors like Salt and Vinegar (yes, please!), making them a great alternative to satisfy your hunger while providing antioxidants, fiber, and amino acids. A serving size is 49, so they should keep you busy for a while!
- Seaweed Snax - Naturally salty and filled with minerals and omega 3 fatty acids, this is a great way to nourish and enjoy something crunchy as well.
- Popcorn - One of my “go-to” recommendations since popcorn is a high-volume food (you can eat large portions), popcorn is salty, crunchy, and rich in fiber, so it will fill you up while balancing your blood sugar levels!
- Cucumbers with Agni Sesame Nori Seasoning and olive oil - This hydrating and salty snack is rich in B6 and loaded with other nutrients to help improve PMS symptoms and satisfy your snacking tooth without extra calories, sugars, or added ingredients.
If you crave sugary, sweet foods: This is also likely due to the carbohydrate content, but candy, ice cream, and baked goods all come with excess additives and ingredients that can lead to irritability down the road.
Instead of processed treats with lots of refined sugars, consider these naturally sweet treats:
- Fresh fruit - There are so many delicious options full of sweetness, fiber, and antioxidants that can manage hunger instead of intensifying it. Bananas are a great choice (fresh or frozen) since they contain vitamin B6 and potassium, which may also decrease hormonal bloat!
- Peanut butter - Who doesn’t love a spoonful of peanut butter?! Sweet, creamy, and rich in healthy fats and protein, this is a great way to satisfy sweet or salty cravings. Plus, peanuts and peanut butter are excellent sources of magnesium which helps to release serotonin and relax our muscles which may improve PMS symptoms.
- Smoothies - A healthy and creamy alternative to ice cream! Load this up with Greek yogurt, Agni Cinnamon Maca Seasoning, chia seeds, and fresh fruit. Satisfy your cravings while supporting your body with fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, and protein.
If you crave chocolate: This common craving is also related to the drop in estrogen and progesterone. Consuming chocolate increases our serotonin levels and also plays to our emotions. It may also reflect low magnesium levels as dark chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium.
The next time you’re craving chocolate, give these a try:
- Dark chocolate - I recommend >70% cacao, which means you’ll be getting fiber, antioxidants, and minimal amounts of sugar.
- Healthier baked goods - Make homemade black bean brownies or dig into the Agni Double Chocolate Chip Cookies that support your cravings and your hormones!
- Hot chocolate or tea - Comforting and soothing thanks to the warmth yet full of flavonoids. Sipping on a hot beverage takes time and causes you to slow down, take some deep breaths and enjoy the flavors that make you feel great. We recommend making your own with cacao, coconut sugar, and almond milk, or try Agni’s Tulsi Cinnamon Tea — it truly hits the spot!
If you have intense cravings for red meat or non-food items like chalk or dirt (a medical condition called Pica), this may be a sign of iron deficiency. Although rare, we see this most often in pregnant women, women with heavy menstrual cycles, or those following very restrictive diets.
The next time you’re craving something meaty, these are some of my favorite options:
- Grass-fed local beef — Often found at your farmer’s market or supermarket, turn your favorite kind into homemade tacos or grill up a burger and load up on iron and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Veggie Burger - So many veggie burgers are full of beans, lentils, and tofu. These are all delicious, plant-based iron sources that can help to elevate your iron levels and decrease intense cravings.
- Seeds and nuts - Are also rich sources of iron and easy to take with you or add to any salad or meal. The healthy fiber and fat will also keep you energized and feeling great.
In addition to these healthy (yet delicious) alternatives, don't forget to support your system through behavioral modalities, including meditation, yoga, going for a walk, sweating, or just getting outside to sit in nature. If we start to look at cravings as a way to support ourselves, we will already be moving in a great direction.
Now that you understand what causes your cravings make a list of your favorite snacks listed above, so you’re prepared for when they next strike!
Bonus: You may actually start looking forward to these moments! ;)