Ever wondered about your desperate – and varied – cravings? Our experts tell you why you have them and give you healthier alternatives to indulge in.
Why You Crave It: You may have low blood sugar, or you’re lacking magnesium because you’re having your period.
Eat These Instead: Eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. The dark version is lower in fat and sugar. Or reach for fruit, says Vanessa McNamara, a dietitian at thetravellingdietitian.com. “Fruit will raise your blood sugar level, but won’t cause it to crash quickly and lead to an energy slump later, unlike refined sugar,” she adds.
Why You Crave Them: This could be a salt craving, common in humid Singapore where we lose electrolytes easily through perspiration. Electrolytes regulate nerve and kidney function.
Eat These Instead: A slice of multigrain bread or a bowl of cereal can give you 6mg of salt. After a workout, avoid energy drinks to replenish lost fluids – they contain a lot of sugar. Instead, drink water and eat a proper meal, which has natural salt in it. If you must have fries, grilled or baked sweet potato wedges are much healthier, suggests Dr Benita Perch, a naturopathic physician from the Hong Kong-based Integrated Medicine Institute.
PASTA AND BREAD
Why You Crave Them: A lack of serotonin, the brain chemical that affects mood, could be the reason. Carbohydrates help to release and regulate serotonin, especially when you’re stressed.
Eat These Instead: Brown rice or wholewheat pasta. Dr Perch also suggests replacing some of the dairy cream in your pasta sauce with coconut cream, to make it slightly healthier.
COW’S MILK AND CHEESE
Why You Crave Them: Dairy cravings aren’t common unless you’re pregnant and your body needs the extra calcium to support your baby’s bone growth, says Vanessa.
Eat These Instead: Goat’s cheese, as it’s lower in fat and calories than whole cow’s milk, as well as almonds, soya or coconut substitutes, says Dr Perch.
Why You Crave Them: Your taste buds could be craving saturated fat, something we are conditioned to because of our first foods of high-fat formula or breast milk.
Eat These Instead: Low-fat cookies, bran muffins, graham crackers and granola bars.
Why You Crave Them: You need salt, or you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, where your adrenal glands can’t make enough hormones in times of stress.
Eat These Instead: “Adrenal-repairing foods like nuts, seeds, celery, and quality protein from fish and meat. Citrus fruits, which are good sources of vitamin C, can also help regulate adrenal function,” says Dr Perch.
TOM YUM SOUP OR CURRY
Why You Crave It: This is likely to be an emotional craving rather than a lack of essential nutrients.
Eat These Instead: Go ahead and eat them, says Dr Perch. Studies have also shown that the fresh ingredients in tom yam soup – lemongrass, garlic, lime juice, mushrooms, peppers and crushed chillies – may inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.
SWEETS AND DESSERTS
Why You Crave Them: You may have low blood sugar and need a quick energy boost.
Eat These Instead: Low-glycemic index fruits like berries, peaches and mangos. “Fruit smoothies made with milk or yogurt are a good option, too – they are filling and contribute to your dairy intake,” says Vanessa.
BEEF STEAK AND PORK CHOP
Why You Crave Them: You may be lacking in iron or just not eating enough protein.
Eat These Instead: Chicken, fish and lean red meat. Vegetarians can take more lentils and pulses, chickpeas, kidney beans and nuts. Vanessa also suggests pairing your iron-rich foods with a vitamin C source – for instance, tomatoes and green peppers – to help the iron get better absorbed into the body.
COFFEE OR CAFFEINATED SODA
Why You Crave It: Your energy levels are low and you’re looking for a caffeine kick.
Drink These Instead: Green tea, herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee. “Needing your regular cup of morning coffee could just mean that your body has been conditioned to want it at a certain time of the day. For some, your body might just be seeking a hot drink,” says Vanessa.
This article was first published in SimplyHer December 2012.