What 5 Common Cravings Say About Your Diet

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

It’s almost too easy to look at food cravings through a psychological lens. If you’re craving cookies or candy, you must need sweetness in your life. If you want spicy food, you must need intensity. And caffeine? You need to amp up your intellect. But there are very real physiological explanations for cravings, explanations based in your body’s chemistry as well as its muscle memory. Here are explanations for five of the most common cravings we all experience, as well as alternative foods to seek out when you get hit by a snack attack.

You Think You’re Craving: Chocolate
You’re Really Craving: Magnesium
Head Instead For: Leafy greens, flax seed or wild fish

Maybe you’re feeling a little bit anxious, or cranky or sore. Without even thinking, you head for the break room to see if anybody left out some of their kids’ Halloween candy, because you know that some chocolate will make you feel better. And it probably will, because chocolate contains properties that make you feel better, both physically and mentally. But guess what? If you ate some leafy greens, or oily fish such as wild salmon or even some flax seed, you’d feel better, too, because what both chocolate and those super foods contain, what makes you feel better and what you’re actually craving, is magnesium. The difference is that a nice bowl of kale or a slice of smoked wild salmon doesn’t have any added sugar. If you’re feeling the need for the dark stuff, head for the green stuff instead.

You Think You’re Craving: Cheese
You’re Really Craving: Fat
Head Instead For: Guacamole, olive oil, smoked salmon, nuts

Fat is an essential part of any diet, but you want to be sure you’re eating healthy fats, like those contained in lean proteins, olive oil, avocados, tree nuts and certain kinds of fish. The reason you may head to the cheese aisle is, well, cheese can be delicious, but it’s also high in fat, the kind that creates a coating in your mouth that lets your brain know you’re eating fat. Cheese mongers call this “mouth feel.” If you’re desperate for some fat, try spreading some almond butter on an apple slice, or wrap a teaspoon of guacamole in a lettuce leaf.

You Think You’re Craving: Pretzels and chips
You’re Really Craving: Crunchy food
Head Instead For: Crisp fruit like apples, crunchy nuts like almonds or pistachios

You might think that your craving for snack foods like pretzels is all about the salt, but research shows it may very well be your jaw muscles telling you they need a workout. Results of a study in which people ate the caloric equivalent of their normal diet but which consisted entirely of soft or liquid foods reported intense cravings for hard foods after just two days on the diet. Researchers found that after the participants ate a small serving of pretzels, the cravings went away. Organizers of the trial posit that the participants needed to activate the muscles of the jaw and lower face to feel satisfied.

You Think You’re Craving: Sweets
You’re Really Craving: Chromium
Head Instead For: Broccoli, lean beef or turkey breast

Sometimes, when you eat foods with high scores on the glycemic index, you start in motion a cycle that can be hard to break. As insulin pours into your system to handle the glycemic response, you suddenly crave more and more sugar, be it in the form or candy or other processed carbs like bread or white pasta. The best way to solve this is to get a dose of chromium, a nutrient that stabilizes insulin levels and can break the craving cycle. If you eat a food high on the GI and start to feel the craving for sugary food, try to have a few slices of lean turkey or roast beef, or pop a few stalks of broccoli. All are high in chromium and can stop that craving dead in its tracks.

You Think You’re Craving: Ice Cream
You’re Really Craving: Something to soothe your stomach
Head Instead For: Greek yogurt or skim milk

You can’t escape the thought that you want some ice cream, and only ice cream. But the fact is that you may be more interested in soothing a scorched stomach than scarfing a cone. Many over the counter pain relievers can irritate the stomach’s lining, so if you’re popping anti-inflammatory drugs, your stomach may be sore. Dairy products coat the lining of the stomach and can ease swelling. And while we all like ice cream, it’s high in fat and sugar. So opt instead for some high-protein Greek yogurt or a glass of skim milk, both of which will help cool your internal fire.