No matter what you do, you just can’t stay away from fried food, even while you’re working hard to eat healthier. You even tried to satisfy sweet cravings with a few pieces of fruit while following a fab rainbow food guide, but you still *really* want a bowl of cereal ice cream. We’ve all been there — cravings happen! So, we recently chatted with Project Juice founder Marra St. Clair, who schooled us on the science behind these urges. Scroll on for the 411 on five common food cravings, along with how to prevent them from striking again in the future and derailing your healthy eating plan.
What Food Cravings Really Mean
St. Clair broke down for us a few common reasons why you might reach for specific types of food:
1. Sweets: “Cravings can hit when you’re feeling sad or down.”
2. Salty Food: “Have a salt craving? You could be stressed out.”
3. Fried Food: “A diet without enough high-quality, healthy fats can cause you to crave fried foods.”
4. Meat: “Your body likely needs iron, if you have intense cravings for meat.”
5. Carbs: “Been on a super-restrictive diet? If so, it’s no surprise you crave carbs.”
How to Satisfy Your Cravings in a Healthy Way
1. Sweets: Since St. Clair says that we eat sugar to make us happy and give the brain a serotonin burst, it’s key to break the cycle that comes with a crash an hour later. “Satisfy your sugar craving with a slower releasing and natural sugar source, like a piece of fresh fruit,” she advises. “Thanks to their high fiber content, apples, pineapple, and berries won’t cause the same drastic crash that an ice cream sundae or piece of cake does.”
When it comes to preventing future cravings, St. Clair is all about sticking to fresh fruit and avoiding artificial/added sugars whenever you can. Unfortunately, they’re snuck into many foods you’d never suspect, like sauces and salad dressings, so it’s really important to check the labels. St. Clair’s other secret weapons: vitamin D and dark chocolate. “These also offer a serotonin boost,” she says.
2. Salty Food: “We eat salt when we lack other essential minerals,” St. Clair explains. “Your body might be craving the trace minerals found in salt, not the actual salty flavor. You could also have an electrolyte imbalance, which actually calls for more potassium or chloride.” To remedy your urge to order the biggest plate of French fries you can find, focus on making sure your daily sodium needs are in good share. “500 mg per day is perfect,” St. Clair says. “Go for Himalayan sea salt instead of table salt, which is highly processed and has no nutritional value. Eat more mineral-rich foods, like nori found in miso soup and sushi.”
It might seem unrelated, but St. Clair also suggests drinking coconut water. This trick will help you hydrate and replenish electrolytes so your cells can absorb more water. “Without good hydration, you’ll feel dehydrated and naturally want salt more,” she notes.
3. Fried Foods: St. Clair tells us that when it comes to fried foods, cravings strike when you’re imbalanced, like after a night of drinking or not clocking enough quality sleep. She says you might also be missing healthy fats, “which are essential for dietary balance and helping your body absorb nutrients.” The more you eat fried foods, the more you’ll crave them, so St. Clair says to fill your plate with good fat sources to feel full and satisfied. “Go for avocado, olive oil, and nuts,” she says. “Coconut oil is great for cooking because it’s rich in the right fats.”
Consider your lifestyle when it comes to stopping future cravings before they start. “Be sure to get some extra sleep, and try to resist overdoing it with alcohol,” St. Clair says. “Do your best to stay away from fast food most of the time too. Luckily, its easier than ever to eat well on the run!”
4. Meat: “Have you been feeling tired?” St. Clair asks. “Meat, especially red meat, is a common indicator of iron deficiency, which results in a lack of energy.” She lists healthy alternatives to your favorite burger or T-bone, telling us that spinach, beans, tofu, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and even a square of dark chocolate can help take the edge off. “Pair these foods with vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, strawberries, or broccoli.”
When it comes to staying balanced, St. Clair tells us consistency is key. “Make it a goal to eat two (non-meat) iron-rich foods per day,” she says. If you’re perennially tired despite sleeping enough and still experiencing strong cravings, see a doctor. You might be suffering from anemia or another low-iron blood issue.
5. Carbs: Who doesn’t love a good baguette, plate of pasta, or pizza? Though totally fine and healthy in moderation, constantly craving carbs could be a symptom of not eating enough. “Carb cravings hit when your body feels deprived,” St. Clair explains. “That can happen whether you’re heavily restricting your calories or eating things without much nutrition.” Yikes!
To curb your craving, make sure you’re eating enough whole, real foods to fuel your body for your activities — and make sure to eat every few hours. “This will actually optimize your metabolism and leave you with fewer cravings,” St. Clair shares. “Focus on eating complex carbs to stabilize cravings too.” She suggests adding two servings of high fiber, whole grains to your daily diet — Ezekiel toast and steel-cut oatmeal are her faves.
Which foods do you crave most? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)