Do you find yourself reaching for the candy bowl or bag of chips at work around three in the afternoon? How about after a meal, do you just need something sweet to satisfy you? Findyourself eating a whole sleeve of cookies after rummaging in the pantry before bed? If so.. Keep reading!
Cravings for sweet and salty foods are a sign your body is needing something! Your body may be telling you it needs more protein, fat, calories, or fiber, it may even be a need for specific vitamins and minerals.
Protein is one of the key ingredients for stabilizing blood sugar levels. Protein from foods, both animal and plant-based, digest slower in our body as compared to carbohydrates, like bread and rice. Because protein is digested slower, it helps to reduce the digestion of carbswhen they are present in the same meal. When protein is present, glucose (sugar from carbs),is released slower into the bloodstream. The slower sugar is released into the bloodstream, the smaller the “spike” and the smaller the “dip” in our blood sugar levels.
Let’s compare this in terms of a meal: Let’s say you eat a bagel one morning for breakfast with a bit of butter spread on it. This meal is mainly carbohydrates. It is going to digest quickly and cause sugar to rush into your bloodstream. Initially, you will feel great. After about 1 hour though, you will likely be starving and the craving cycle will begin. Why did this happen? When sugar rushes into your bloodstream it causes that “spike” in blood sugar levels. Without any protein to slow the digestion and surge of sugar, that sugar will then be sent off to either be stored as fat or used for energy (this happens quickly). Once the sugar leaves the bloodstream, our blood sugar levels are low again (this is called the “dip”). The more drastic the spikes and dips are throughout the day, the more your body will crave sweet or salty carbohydrates to “fix” the blood sugar levels. More carbohydrates though, is NOT the permanent fix, it is only temporary.
The long term craving solution is to consistently have protein throughout the day. First off, start your day with a protein-rich breakfast! Do NOT skip breakfast! For most people, having protein every 3 hours from the time of breakfast until dinner is helpful at avoiding the blood sugar spike and dip rollercoaster throughout the day. Going 5-7 hours between meals and snacks is going to increase cravings drastically. The key is to incorporate protein at every meal and snack. We’ll get deeper into this when we discuss balanced meals. Keep reading.
Another important factor for continued blood sugar stability is fiber. Fiber is a part of plant foods that our body cannot digest. Fiber is found in whole vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds. Fiber can get pretty complex and I won’t bore you with the details however, it is important to know the best type of fiber that helps to lower blood sugar levels. It is called “soluble fiber”. Cooked vegetables, oats, avocado, and chia seeds have a high content of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance. This gel slows the absorption of sugar (carbohydrates), reducing those spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels.
Fat is another important component in our diet that also helps to slow the digestion and absorption of sugar (carbohydrates). Unsaturated fats, the healthier kind, can be found in foods like avocado, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds for example. Most people forget about these healthy fats and lacking them in your diet can increase your cravings throughout the day. So how can you incorporate all of these factors into your diet? Think of creating a “balanced” plate at every meal and snack when possible. A balanced plate will include a protein source, a carbohydrate (ideally complex with fiber), and a healthy fat. This could look like 3 eggs scrambled with spinach + 2 chicken sausages + ¼ avocado. For a snack this may look like overnight chia and oats with protein powder.
If you begin incorporating these 3 factors into every meal and snack possible and cravings still don’t subside, what else should you do? Next it is important to evaluate (or have a professional evaluate for you) if you are consuming enough overall calories and balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) on a daily basis. Are you only eating 2 meals a day when really your body needs 5 meals per day? It is likely! If you are consistently underfueling your body, your body will respond by craving more nutrients! At Berman Health and Wellness our nutrition experts can identify the adequate balance of macros and calories to fit your body’s needs, help you kick the cravings, and meet your goals.
Lastly, cravings may be a sign your body is deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. For example, a magnesium deficiency can present as a craving for dark chocolate. Craving salty foods may signify a lack of electrolytes and craving cheese can be a result of lacking
essential fatty acids (healthy fats like Omega-3s found in fish) or calcium. Having your blood drawn and lab work evaluated by a professional is a great way to fix vitamin or mineral deficiencies before they become very serious. Getting these levels into an optimal range will help reduce food cravings as well. At Berman Health and Wellness we are able to assess a full panel of vitamins and minerals to assess where you are at. Our nutrition experts work closely with the medical providers to optimize vitamin and mineral levels and overall health.