CRAVINGS are a common feeling and can often lead us to dip our hand in the biscuit tin one too many times.
But experts have warned that these hunger pangs could in fact be down to serious health issues.
Nutritionist Signe Svanfeldt at Lifesum says that most of the time people crave calorie-dense foods rich in sugar, saturated fat and sodium, which are often not rich in nutrients.
Signe explains that longing for a certain treat can happen for a number of reasons, including if you have too many restrictions on your diet.
She also says that eating too little during the day, unbalanced meals and a lack of sleep can all lead to cravings.
Signe says that if you find yourself pining red meat such as steak, lamb, pork and veal, then this could be down to low iron levels.
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The NHS recommends you limit the amount of red meat in your diet due to bowel cancer links.
If you want an alternative, other good sources of iron include tofu, beans and whole-grain sourdough bread.
Lara Hughes, nutritionist and founder of Wholistic Health by Lara sayswhilst alcohol is addictive for many reasons, both physical and emotional, there’s another reason you might be hankering that glass of vino after work.
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This could be down to blood sugar dysregulation.
She explains that wine is one of the highest sugar-containing beverages.
This can be dangerous for those looking for their next pick-me-up as a result of low blood sugar, whether from skipping meals or from eating a sugar-dense, unbalanced diet.
"Stress also impacts blood sugar regulation, which aside from the emotional drivers, can increase temptation further," she says.
Instead of going straight for the bottle, Lara says you should take a moment to find a nutritious snack, like a whole oatcake or apple dipped in nut butter, or a few squares of dark chocolate (which also promotes feel good hormones, without the need of alcohol) with a handful of unsalted nuts. See if you still want that glass of red…
When we’re dehydrated, we can often feel tired and sluggish – triggering cravings for coffee
Most people love carbs, whether that's pizza, pasta or a slice or two of toast.
Lara says that these foods are incredibly glucose dense, so sugar/wine and carb cravings often go hand-in-hand.
She explains that you might crave these foods if you are tired, as they are quick sources of energy.
"Cravings might appear when you’re skipping meals, on a restrictive diet (which comes with added emotional drivers of cravings), compromising your sleep and in need of additional fuel – or coming down from a sugar-high and on the proverbial blood sugar rollercoaster", Lara says.
Lara explains that you might also fancy a delicious pizza if you're feeling a bit down in the dumps.
That is because refined carbohydrates not only increase feel good hormones (serotonin) and make us feel more motivated (dopamine), but help us to absorb the amino acid, tryptophan (found in various animal products)— which facilitates the production of both serotonin and sleep-inducing melatonin.
If you find it difficult to surpass your local coffee shop en route to work, there’s a good chance you could be caffeine-dependent.
Lara says the main reason you will be yearning caffeine, is due to dehydration.
"Water is key for all bodily processes – including metabolism and energy.
"When we’re dehydrated, we can often feel tired and sluggish – triggering cravings for coffee."
She advises that next time you’re contemplating a fourth cup of coffee, opt for a few glasses of water (aim for 2 Litres daily), and see if you still feel quite so sluggish.
How can I prevent cravings?
CRAVINGS are a normal feeling but they can get in the way of you having a healthy, balanced diet.
Signe said that in order to prevent your cravings you should:
- include nutritious foods in your diet, rather than exclude certain foods
- eat an adequate amount of energy during the day
- eat balanced meals rich in fibre, protein and unsaturated fat
- have an adequate amount of sleep
Sweets and cakes
While you might not be able to stop thinking about the gorgeous cupcake you spotted, the expert says that the longing is actually all in your head.
She explains that the need for these sorts of foods are fuelled by particular neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in your brain), which also act as hormones.
"If your “feel good” hormone (serotonin) dips, sugar can temporarily increase it, making you feel better, whilst when your stress hormone (cortisol) is on the increase, you’re driven towards sugar-rich, survival-promoting foods, contributing to “anxious eating”.
She said that are three main reasons you might have a sweet tooth:
- you haven't fuelled properly
- you're coming down off a sugar high
- you're addicted.
If any of these sound like you then the guru says the more you stay away from sugary foods, then the more your neurotransmitters will re-balance, and the less you’ll experience sugar aches.
"Instead, don’t skip meals, and fill up on balanced foods, like fibre-rich wholegrains; whole, fresh fruits and vegetables; healthy fats like avocados and nuts; and lean sources of protein, all of which slow the release of glucose into your blood and stabilise both your energy and cravings."
She adds that to help with this you could use a supplement like CORREXIKO marine collagen powder.
If you want nothing more than a bag of chips from your local chippy, then Signe says this could be down to dehydration, or a very rare sodium deficiency.
"Other good sources of hydration include water, sparkling water or foods rich in water.
"If you want a more nutritious option than chips to curb your sodium cravings try olives, pickles and vegetables with a low-fat Greek yogurt dip", she suggests.
We all love a little bit of chocolate every now and then, but if you crave it all the time, the Lifesum expert says this may be due to low levels of magnesium.
Other good sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, she says.
As temperatures hot up on the approach to summer, you might reach for an ice cream.
But if you want soft serve all the time, then this could be down to low levels of calcium.
As an alternative, Signe says other good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, low-fat Greek yogurt and tofu.
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Craving fizzy drinks could be down to dehydration, Signe says,
If you find yourself wanting a lemonade or a cola, then opt for water, sparkling water or foods rich in water such as melons, oranges, strawberries, lettuce and cucumber, she suggests.
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