What Do Your Food Cravings Really Mean?

Thursday, February 6, 2020, in Nutrition, Advice by

Ever had that feeling where the world will simply end if you don’t get your hands on fries with gravy? Next thing you know you’ve demolished the entire bag! Unlike hunger, which is the physical desire for food in general, food cravings are that overwhelming desire to consume specific foods and often signify something else is going on in the body.

What exactly that is…well the jury is still out, however here are the most common explanations.

 

BLOOD SUGAR IMBALANCE

Whether you skip a meal or have erratic eating patterns, chances are your blood sugar levels will take a dive. Big swings in blood sugar can make you feel lousy and eventually leave you hankering for the ultra sweet and fatty stuff for another ‘pick me up’.

Escape this cycle by eating at regular times and choosing balanced meals with a combination of high-fibre carbs and lean sources of protein. This combo will help to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, making for a more even-keeled blood sugar response.

Smart snacks include natural yoghurt with fruit, veggie sticks and hummus, a fruit smoothie, or wholegrain crackers with nut butters or cheese.

 

GUT BACTERIA

Emerging research is showing how the bacteria in our gut can determine the types of foods you crave. Diets high in refined carbs and processed foods basically provide an all-you-can-eat buffet for the bad bacteria to thrive. The more sugar that you binge on, the more you feed the overgrowth of bad bacteria. So if you have a gut filled with tiny critters that depend on sugar, then you’re more likely to eat more of what they depend on, potentially making it harder to curb that sweet tooth.

On the flip side, the ‘good’ bacteria thrive off foods rich in prebiotic fibres – a non-digestible food fibre that stimulates the growth and survival of beneficial bacteria and discourage the growth of harmful organisms. So in order to swap out those bad bacteria for healthier ones, be sure to include plenty of fibre-rich foods like sweet potato, onions, garlic, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and avocado are some of the best prebiotic foods to add to your diet.

 

YOU’RE PMS-ING

Yes ladies, there is a reason you crave chocolate right before your period! A few days before you menstruate there is a natural drop in serotonin – a hormone associated with everything from feelings of happiness to appetite control. Eating too many heavily refined carbs and sugars trigger the release of serotonin, however the temporary lift in mood is short lived. In other words, you crash and need yet another sugary or fatty snack.

Overcome this expected slump by preparing in advance to meet your bodies needs during this time. Plan a menu that includes more sustainable sources of energy, such as upping your intake of fibre and protein to help your hormone and blood-sugar levels stay relatively stable, and be sure to get plenty of rest to help reduce stress levels and the likelihood of PMS-induced binging.

 

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

Our brains are hardwired to seek out things that will give us instant gratification. Chocolate anyone? Activation of these ‘reward’ pathways in the brain stem from the release of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, which can motivate us to keep munching. Failure to stimulate this ‘reward’ pathway can result in depression, anxiety and poor performance.

So if your gloomy mood is calling for a remedy of an entire tub of ice cream, consider introducing coping mechanisms other than food to your repertoire. Head outside for a run instead which also releases ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain for a natural pick me up.

Olivia is a Sydney-based Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) with extensive experience in food industry, product reformulation and recipe development.

What do you think?

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