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What Are You Really Craving?

Cravings affect all of us. Sometimes to the point of fixation. Ever catch yourself saying “I have to eat some___________ right now!” or “Why can I only think about _____ today??” Sometimes cravings are related to food addiction, and sometimes they are your body’s way of telling you that you are in dire need of a specific nutrient.

As a chef that focuses on fulfilling specific dietary needs, I strive to learn more about the body’s reaction to food as much as the need for the benefits of healthy foods. For example, many people are trying to avoid gluten (according to TIME magazine, 29%  of Americans claimed to do so in 2012). More and more, children are developing extreme food allergies that often cause unhealthy relationships with food at a young age. On the other hand, every day we go through a variety of emotions regarding what to eat, when to eat it, how to eat it, and (sadly) is it worth the money? Answers are: what you want, when you want it, however it came, and YES.

Just kidding! That’s not always the case. I do agree that people should be satisfied by what they eat, but if all you want is grilled cheese sandwiches, you could potentially die of deficiency! So, we need to make sure we’re branching out and eating a balanced diet. We also need to understand our cravings. Here’s a list of some commonly craved foods, the reason you might be craving them, as well as alternatives and some surprising facts.

Chocolate: YUM!! $50 billion worth of chocolate is produced worldwide annually. The average American consumes 10 lbs of chocolate per year. (I bet you want  some chocolate right now.) Chocolate releases endorphins in parts of the brain that are also connected to drugs, sex, and the feeling of love. There’s your addiction! Behind the craving is magnesium, which has a calming effect and can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Alternative: take a few ounces of almonds and raisins and throw them in the food processor with raw cacao powder. Form into balls, I call it the insta-truffle. If you get the consistency right you will not regret it. The flavor of chocolate through the amazing benefit of raw cacao, plus that magnesium your body needed! WIN!

Dairy Products: Did you know that dairy cows naturally produce a hormone called casomorphin, which has an effect similar to opiates? Evolutionarily, this makes sense, as it keeps the calf coming back for more. Apparently it also keeps humans coming back for more, as over 700 million tonnnes of milk were produced in 2012. One tonnne roughly equals 2200 lbs. (So that’s over 1,400,000,000,000 pounds!! Whoa!!) When you’re craving a dairy product, now you know it’s not calcium, it’s a drug. I’m not telling you to go use drugs instead of eating cheese, but if you want some healthy sources of calcium, leafy greens, nori, or a delicious piece of salmon will all satisfy your need. So instead of that slice of pizza, why not go for sushi instead?

Alcohol: Millions of people abstain from drinking alcohol, but for those who don’t, what are the causes of the cravings for that drink after work? Alcohol has calming effects, as well as addictive properties.  Instead, try foods that are high in lecithin. Not only is this fatty acid found in every cell of the body, it’s something you can’t produce on your own. Although lecithin is most abundant in animal protein, you can also find it in legumes, cabbage, and sunflower seeds. Lecithin is also a liver cleanser, so instead of hurting your liver, help it out!

Meat: Especially if you’re a female, you’ve probably had that crazy hankering for a steak sometime in the last four weeks. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrition deficiencies (when chronic, labeled as anemia). A good lean steak can do the trick, but can also include high amounts of cholesterol. For a vegan alternative, try leafy greens such as spinach or collards, as well as beans and lentils. Fun fact: vitamin C helps aid in iron assimilation, add some fresh oranges to your vinaigrette and thank me later.

These are just a few of the many foods we crave as a society. Next time you are having a food dilemma, think about what your body truly needs. Dehydration is often preceded by cravings for foods that will spike your blood sugar, to give you more energy. Remember to stay hydrated with pure water, replace sweet treats with hydrating fruits, and eat snacks that have varying textures, such as nuts and dried fruits, to keep you satisfied and keep your energy on an even keel. I challenge you to replace your common cravings with some of the suggestions above for a week, and let us know how you feel!

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