Did you know that when you have a food craving your body may be listening to more than just your stomach?
We have all had a food craving at one point or another, but understanding why we get that intense sensation of wanting and needing a certain food can be complex as it is thought that cravings can occur for a multitude reasons.
For instance, a craving for your favorite sweet treat is likely caused by a baroque chain of biological and psychological factors that all flow back to one basic need - serotonin.
Serotonin, often referred to as the 'happy chemical', is found in the brain, blood and bowels, and is mainly produced by the body to support the nervous system.
While it is known that serotonin levels have a direct impact on balanced mood and depression, it has also been shown to play a vital role in proper cognitive, autonomic and motor functions as well.
But, what does this have to do with food cravings?
Well, when you're craving sugar, your body might really be asking for a serving of serotonin!
When you're craving sugars, you're usually being drawn to foods that cause the brain to produce serotonin, likely in an effort to regulate your mood. Because there are both biological and psychological factors that cause this craving, sugar is a great example of how complex, and often misleading, our cravings can be.
Think about when we crave sugar most - during that midday slump, after a draining emotional experience, as a reward for completing something, or even as an escape from a stressful moment.
We typically reach for sugar as a both a reward or escape, which make perfect sense once we understand the biological factors behind our cravings, our brain communicating to our body that it needs to eat something that will provide a boost of serotonin (or other deficiency, but we'll get to that) so that we physically feel better - but what about the psychological factors?
Because simple sugars are quickly metabolized and we typically crave sugars when our serotonin levels are low, eating something sweet, like a piece of candy, results in an almost immediate effect on the nervous system, which only further compounds the brain's connection between sugar intake and increased serotonin levels, or simply, feeling better.
Since sugar has such an immediate impact on serotonin production, the psychological connection between sugar intake and increased serotonin levels can often lead unhealthy cravings that do not serve our body's biological needs, but still send signals to brain that our needs are being met.
When this happens, we are experiencing what is often refereed to as an 'emotional craving', because it is so deeply rooted in what we expect to be the emotional outcome of consuming the food we crave.
Because emotional cravings are more linked to personal experience, they can be a bit harder to decode, but are often tied up in the same pattern of positive associations that result in biological cravings.
When under stress, many people tend to crave chocolate.
This could be because cocao is rich in magnesium, a natural muscle relaxer and mood enhancer that the body can easily become deficient as a result of hormonal changes. Or, it might be that most chocolate products have added sugar, which we know has been shown to spike serotonin levels and deliver almost immediate feel good vibes. But because cravings are not always linked to our physical needs, that craving could also be caused by the emotional memories tied with the experience of consuming chocolate.
Chocolate cravings are an interesting example, because there is ample evidence to support that craving chocolate is rooted in an increased biological need for its ingredients, but when asked to really think about it, most people would likely provide you with a very emotional explanation for their craving that traces back to a positive emotional experience with the food, but this does not just apply to chocolate.
For example, Melissa's go-to stress craving has always been fried chicken.
For years she was unaware of why she would have such a strong craving for something she knew would leave her feeling like she should have made better choices. It wasn't until she mentioned this in a conversation about cravings that Julia noted Melissa must have had a very positive emotional experience (likely tied to a biological reaction) with fried chicken for her to be craving something that would override her biological needs.
This was a breakthrough for Melissa. She immediately remembered being with a babysitter in an office somewhere, feeling the kind of bored that only a six year old could accurately express - and then there was the chicken. Southern fried chicken, something Melissa had never seen before. The memory contained only the vital information - exhausted before chicken, ALIVE after chicken. They had discovered the root of her emotional craving!
Now in her 30's, fried chicken is no longer making Melissa feel as good as it did back then, but there is a reason why young Melissa had such a positive reaction to fried chicken that delicious day in the office.
Historically, foods fried in healthy fats have been a great source of trace minerals, calcium and amino acids that play an essential role in breaking down food which the body can turn into energy. Unfortunately, most commercially processed fried foods in our modern era have been produced with oils and ingredients that have been stripped of their nutritive properties during processing, yet we still retain the message coded into our subconscious that fried foods are an abundant source of energy and nutritional resources.
While it's likely that our current cravings for chocolate and fried chicken are more linked to emotional experience, they are undeniably rooted in the subconscious understanding of our biological needs, and salt is one of the most abundant examples of how processed foods have played a role in this deviation.
Natural sea salt is an abundant source of chloride, zinc and other trace minerals that support a variety of vital physiological and biological functions, so it makes perfect sense that we would crave salt as an answer to any number of deficiencies. However, most salts that are used in prepared foods and sold at stores have been processed in a way that strips them of their beneficial properties, but leaves the familiar taste of salt that our bodies have evolved to recognize as a rich source of nutrients which table salt no longer contains.
While simply feeding our cravings may result in momentary satisfaction, it's important to recognize what our cravings are really trying to communicate!
you may need
foods rich in tryptophan, chromium and magnesium
. dark chocolate
. nuts & seeds
. sweet potatoes
you may need
calcium and essential fatty acids
foods rich in essential fatty acids and calcium
. fatty seafood
. leafy greens
you may need
foods rich in chloride, zinc, trace minerals
. natural sea salt
. leafy greens
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