Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. 5 Most Common Cravings and How to Beat Them

    Why do we have cravings? Is it dehydration, low blood sugar, nutrient deficiency or is it all in your head? While all of these may play a role in why we crave specific foods, evidence seems to point to brain chemistry as the main culprit of general cravings.

    According to The Facts About Food Cravings by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, “areas of the brain responsible for memory and sensing pleasure are partially to blame for keeping…food cravings coming. Three regions of the brain -- the hippocampus, insula, and caudate - appear to be activated during food-craving episodes. Brain tests suggest that memory areas of the brain (which are responsible for associating a specific food with a reward) are actually more important to food cravings than the brain's reward center.”

    So it is mostly in our head. But we don’t have to let our cravings rule us - the trick is to interpret the craving and develop a snacking defense.

    Decode Your Cravings and Stop them in Their Tracks


    Who can resist grandma’s candy jar or the box of donuts your boss brought in? Sugar is almost unavoidable, but what if you are still thinking about your next sugar fix when the temptation is not present? Unprovoked sugar cravings are generally related to blood sugar fluctuations. These fluctuations are the result of:

    1. Skipping meals (translation: low blood sugar and feelings of hunger)

    2. Eating too many processed foods (translation: not getting enough nutrients)

    Both habits can lead to spikes in insulin production which over the long run can lead to diabetes. The solution is to choose more fiber-rich complex carbs like beans, whole grains and naturally sweet foods like sweet potatoes and fruit.


    Who doesn’t like a bit of chocolate? But if you find that you are compelled to go back for more and more, this could indicate magnesium deficiency. Dieticians estimate that almost half of Americans (48%) are magnesium deficient. While chocolate can be a good source of magnesium and other nutrients, you just want to make sure you are not binging on low quality, sugar-laden chocolate, which can really derail your health goals. If chocolate is what you must have, then be sure to choose high quality, dark chocolate with 70%+ cocoa content. Also consider consuming more magnesium-rich foods like beans, nuts, seeds, fish and leafy green veggies.

    Red Meat

    I often hear people say, “I just need a steak this week.” Lean red meat is fine to have in moderation as it offers a readily available source of iron and protein. If you find that you are craving meat more than usual and are worried about the extra calories and fat you might be getting along with your iron, think about supplementing with other iron-rich foods. Lean on dried fruits (unsulfured prunes and apricots are good ones), beans and other legumes, mollusks (like oysters and clams) and artichokes, all of which are iron-rich and have the additional benefit of improving digestion and reducing cholesterol.

    Fatty Foods

    Cheese or cheese pizza, ice cream and French fries -- these are all known to be comfort foods, but if you are craving them beyond times of stress and despair, you may be confronting a fatty acid deficiency. Try to include more nuts, seeds, flax and fish in your diet. These heart-healthy foods also have the added benefit of improving mood.

    Salty Foods

    Salt is an electrolyte that helps your body maintain an appropriate balance of fluids. Natural salt contains many trace minerals not found in table salt. Salt cravings are commonly related to:

    1. Trace mineral deficiency

    2. Mild dehydration from sweating and loss of electrolytes

    So salt isn’t necessarily bad for you unless it is over-consumed. It is the vehicles for quick salt fixes that can be the problem. Chips, pretzels and crackers are generally made from processed flours that turn very quickly to sugar in the body. Instead, swap these processed snacks out for pickles, olives or other marinated veggies that won’t have negative effects on blood sugar or calorie intake. If you are missing out on trace minerals, you can include salted nuts in your diet. Nuts are a rich source of hard-to-find vitamins and minerals.

    Emotional Eater? There’s Hope for You Too

    While brain chemistry plays a big role in whether you will crave that volcano cake, it doesn’t help that there are temptations everywhere you look-- in brightly colored packaging, featured in your favorite magazine and inserted between your favorite shows. Advertisers never push carrots and other healthy snacks on us; it’s always the worst… yet tastiest foods.

    Why can’t we resist these temptations even when we are trying our best?

    According to Magee, “cravings kick into high gear when we're stressed or anxious. Carbohydrates boost our levels of the hormone serotonin, which has a calming effect.” The combination of fat and sugar has also been studied for possible calming effects. “Researchers from University of California at San Francisco put rats in a high-stress environment and discovered two key points: the stressed-out rats preferred to eat sugar and fat, and when the rats ate fat and sugar, their brains produced less of the stress-related hormones (the ones that trigger the fight-or-flight response).” So in order to get our food cravings under control we must learn to cope with stress and emotions differently. When cravings strike here are some ideas for distracting yourself:

    • Call a friend or chat with a workmate
    • Read a good book (no food magazines)
    • Play a game (Words with Friends anybody?)
    • Exercise (or play a game and exercise, how about the Wii?)
    • Grab a pre-planned snack (carrots sticks to satisfy your sweet, crunchy cravings)
    • Are you even hungry? Try drinking 8 ounces of water, as your food craving could be related to dehydration.

    Author: Brandi Redo
    Brandi is a Certified Health Coach at Diet-to-Go, based in Lorton, VA. Balance is the number one mission in Brandi’s life. In her spare time she loves to bike, do Zumba and play tennis, but hates gym exercise. She is an amateur gardener and nature walker, who is on the constant look out for interesting insects and small animals. Brandi encourages people to “find the sweetness in life.”


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