Friday, January 30, 2009

What Do Food Cravings Mean?

Cravings are just your body's way of telling you what it needs and if not controlled, it might lead to over-eating, binging and eating all the wrong foods. Here some reasons why cravings happen:

1. You're just not eating enough food. This is true if you've been on a caloric deficit for some time due to dieting or food deprivation. Bump up your caloric intake with good amounts of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Resist diving into unhealthy junk/fast/processed foods, those are mostly empty calories with minimal or no nutrients that your body can use to functional optimally and healthily.

2. You're not getting enough of certain food groups or nutrients. Your body is usually very straight forward in telling you what it needs:

- If you crave carbs, it means your glycogen or blood sugar levels are low and you're lacking enough carbs to sustain your level of energy or activity. Bump up intake of high fiber, HIGH QUALITY carbs from fruits, starchy vegetables (potatoes/yams) and whole grains. Don't go reaching for cakes, donuts, pastries etc.

- If you crave protein, your body needs more protein to repair itself and grow. If your body wants a steak, so give it a steak!

- If you crave fatty foods, your body might be lacking in essential fats that it cannot produce and must be taken from food. Eat more healthy fats from seafood (salmon, tuna etc), oils (olive oil, coconut oil etc) and nuts (all types). Watch the portions though, fat is high in calories.

- Sometimes you even crave certain fruits or vegetables because your body is lacking certain vitamins, minerals or nutrients. By all means, go ahead and indulge, but make sure they are fresh, not canned or processed stuff.

3. You might not be getting enough fiber. Sometimes cravings happen because the food eaten gets digested and absorbed too fast, so you're hungry again and craving for more food shortly after your last meal. This is true when you eat a lot of junk/fast/processed foods. Fiber is known to increase satiety and fullness without adding many calories and aids proper digestion to make sure your body absorbs all the nutrients from the foods you eat. Bump up your fiber intake from fruits, vegetables and whole grains to eliminate constant food cravings. Your bowels will thank you for it too!

4. You might be addicted to certain foods. Certain food substances can have a drug-like effect on the body, and you might even experience withdrawal symptoms when you omit it. Some of the most addictive substances known to man are sugar, chocolate, caffeine and sodium (salt). The more you have it, the more you'll crave it next time. I'm not saying avoid them completely, just don't go overboard with it until you grow a dependency on it!

5. You are dehydrated. Thirst can often be misinterpreted as hunger or cravings. You end up eating more than you should, when in fact, you just need to drink more water. Next time hunger or cravings hit you, try drinking 1-2 glasses of water and see if it stops. If it does, you're just thirsty.

How do we curb cravings?
Don't jump on any drastic diets that call for total elimination of certain food groups and/or advocate very low calories. It'll just jump start your body to some serious cravings later on. To curb cravings:

1. Make sure you eat enough lean protein.
2. Maintain a high intake of fiber and nutrients from fruits, vegetables and whole-grains. Basically, any plant-based food that grows naturally.
3. Eat healthy fats from oils, nuts and seafood.
4. Drink plenty of water.
5. Keep junk/fast/processed food to a minimum, so that your body doesn't start a cycle of cravings from excessive sugar, sodium and other addictive chemicals. Again, I don't preach deprivation (unless for medical reasons), just moderation.