Food Cravings and How to Beat Them - Part One
By Claudia Jones
Have you ever stopped to see where your cravings for particular foods are coming from? Most of us are used to having a food craving and following it up by eating that particular food without even questioning if it's what we really want or what our body really needs. But what is the impact on our health?
Today's fast food world means that a lot more people are eating on the go, making do with what is available and slotting meals in to spare pockets of time here and there. This often results in a poor diet of processed foods, lacking in nutrients but rich in fats and sugar. These foods cause a spike in the blood sugar level which is swiftly followed by a crash, creating a desire to eat more unhealthful foods and thus the vicious cycle has begun. By switching to a whole foods diet free from refined and processed foods and eliminating sugar one can easily beat the cravings.
What causes food cravings?
As we have already noted, eating a diet high in processed foods containing lots of salt, sugar and fats will create a desire to eat more, not just because of the taste, but because they are low in essential nutrients. By eating convenience foods we are neglecting our body's vital need for vitamins and minerals so the body will naturally ask for more foods in order to meet its nutritional needs.
Human evolution may be responsible for giving us a natural desire for sweet foods (our ancestors concerns would have been to take in enough food to meet their daily caloric needs and sweet foods found in nature are high in calories and also rich in vitamins), however, now that our food is readily available in the local stores we just have to make more intelligent food choices. Cravings for fatty foods may also be a result of our primal need to ensure we consume enough calories whereas a desire for salty foods may be the body's way of indicating its need for sodium. Again, here we need to make intelligent choices, a craving for salty foods does not mean that we should eat a bag of salted potato chips but maybe instead choose to snack on a raw vegetable naturally rich in sodium.
If we regularly choose to consume processed foods over whole, natural foods we cause the body to become overly acidic, creating an imbalance in the intestinal flora which ultimately depresses our immune system leaving us open to disease. To change this cycle we need to return to a whole foods diet, low in sugar and unhealthy fats and rich in fresh natural produce, organic wherever possible. An imbalanced intestinal ecology may lead to conditions such as Candida, an overgrowth of yeast in the gut which left untreated can give rise to many health problems. People with an overgrowth of Candida yeast often find they have cravings for bread, alcohol and sweet foods. It is important to realize that these cravings are coming from the yeast itself, these are the types of foods that it thrives on. By starving the yeast of these foods the bacterial balance in the colon can be restored, the Candida dies off and along with it the cravings disappear.
Another source of food cravings may be food allergies that can actually cause us to crave the very foods we are allergic to. When we continue to eat the food we are allergic to, we avoid the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which arise when we cease to eat that particular food. It is important to bear in mind the possibility that repeatedly eating the same food can cause a sensitivity and finally an allergic reaction to the food reminding us of the need for a varied diet, not only to prevent allergies but to ensure the intake of a broad variety of nutrients.
Regular dieting and restriction of caloric intake can also affect your body's desires for certain foods. During a crash diet, the body is deprived of essential nutrients and calories needed to sustain normal functioning. When these needs are not met, the body will crave the missing calories and nourishment. This supports the premise that a steady transition to a healthy, balanced diet is preferable for long term health over a quick fix, diet option.
Consumption of refined sugars lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels followed by a dip. This is triggered when the pancreas releases insulin to remove excess glucose from the blood, which then leads to low blood sugar levels causing symptoms such as dizziness, weakness and depression. To metabolize sugar, your body uses your supply of vitamins and minerals which is why overconsumption of sugar leads to the leaching of these vital nutrients from your teeth, tissues and bones, resulting in further health problems. After you cut out refined sugar from your diet for a few days the desire to eat it usually disappears. Refined sugar sources include white and brown sugar, sucrose and perhaps the not so obvious fructose, maltose, lactose, dextrose and corn syrup among others. To successfully reduce intake of these foods we need to become aware of the many guises of refined sugar and carefully scrutinize ingredients in any pre-packaged foods to check for 'hidden' sugar sources.
When replacing sugary foods it is important to choose a nutritious alternative rather than diet or low calorie options that use artificial sweeteners to give foods their sugary taste. Aspartame, a widely used sugar substitute in many foods and drinks, causes the brain to cease production of serotonin. Usually an intake of carbohydrates would cause serotonin levels to rise generating the feeling of having eaten enough. Without the release of serotonin one is inclined to keep eating even if full.
A healthy alternative is Stevia, a herb grown in South America which is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has been shown to help reduce sugar cravings with no negative side effects.