From the nutrition point of view, cravings can occur as a result of nutrient deficiency, poor gut health, irregular blood sugar levels or as a result of a diet that’s high in sugar and processed foods. Also, lifestyle factors, such as lack of sleep and stress, can affect cravings.
Here are four of the most common cravings I’ve seen during my time as a clinical nutritionist, plus the common causes:
Cravings for carbohydrates usually indicate a lack of energy. Rather than opting for processed varieties (such as white bread, white pasta and cereal) opt for wholegrain alternatives such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato and oats. These are slow-releasing, which means that they keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, which helps to prevent cravings.
Also, remember to up your intake of protein. This helps your body to digest carbohydrates.
If you’re craving sugar, it’s likely that you’re eating too much sugar.
I know it’s the last thing that you want to hear, but it’s essential to cut back on your intake. The best way to do this is by reducing your intake of white and brown sugar, high-sugar fruits, processed carbohydrates, soft drinks and sweeteners. Instead, eat berries and include more acidic fruits – such as lemons, limes, grapefruits – eat more fibre, good fats and protein at each meal. That said, you don’t need to eliminate sweet treats all together. I have plenty of healthy desserts on the JSHealth App and website.
If you’re craving meat, it’s likely that your iron levels are low. I recommend consuming a small portion of meat once or twice a week. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, I recommend checking your iron levels and contacting a healthcare professional to seek guidance for supplementation. You should also up your intake of iron-rich foods such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Often, cravings for fatty foods mean that your hormones need some love. Enjoy foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and olive oil.
And here are my top 3 tips for beating cravings:
Eat a balanced diet
First and foremost, it’s essential to look at your daily diet. If you’re lacking nutrients, it’s likely that you’ll continue to experience cravings. As a guide, every meal should contain a balance of the four essential macronutrients: protein, good fats, fibre and slow-releasing carbohydrates. These foods help to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, which is the key to preventing other cravings.
Take care of your gut health
You want to nourish your gut flora by feeding it good bacteria, which helps to keep you regular, boosts metabolism, improves energy and even aids sleep. Take a good-quality probiotic, drink water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, eat probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods and practise stress reduction.
Get more sleep
A rested body is a healthy body. One of the most powerful – and free! – ways to improve your health is to get more shut-eye. As a guide, you want to be in bed between 10pm to 10.30pm and getting eight hours’ sleep. If you struggle to sleep, taking magnesium before bed can help. It’s also helpful to establish a nighttime routine.
Read more stories like this from Jessica Sepel, including: How Jess Sepel overcame the fad-dieting mentality and Jessica Sepel’s healthy muffins are the perfect snack.
Jessica Sepel is a clinical nutritionist, best-selling author, international health blogger and the beloved voice behind JSHealth and @jshealth. She is passionate about helping people overcome fad dieting and disordered eating, having gone through her own struggles with food. Her philosophy is focused around balance, rest and building a healthy relationship with food. She recently launched the JSHealth App, which features a world-first nutrition clinic, hundreds of healthy recipes, a daily meal planner, health guides, body love support and much more.