Specific cravings are often our body's way of telling us we’re lacking something – a trick for maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients and minerals. Trouble is, sometimes these cravings can get lost in translation. Is there something that would actually be more satisfying than that packet of salt and vinegar crisps? Here are three of the main craving offenders, and what your body really wants…
Salty snacks: crisps, olives and salted peanuts
It gets a bad rep, and too much of it is definitely unhealthy, but our bodies do actually need salt. Among other things, it helps stabilise our electrolytes, lower stress and improve brain function. As a rule, try not to exceed 6g (about a teaspoon) a day – rock and sea salt are the healthiest options – and remember all the ‘hidden’ salt in packaged and processed foods.
Curb the craving: Ironically, salt cravings are often a tip-off that you’re dehydrated, so drink a big glass of water before reaching for the crisps. Repeated cravings could also be a sign you’re low in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc, so consider a good multi-mineral supplement. Mineral-rich nuts and seeds are a great snack to include in your diet. Celery sticks topped with a teaspoon of peanut butter should also put those salt hankerings in their place.
Carb-dense comforts: bread, pasta and potatoes
These three are among the top five favourite foods in most countries for good reason. Complex carbohydrates like these are classic comfort foods that can actually make us feel calmer in stressful times and they are your body’s key source of fuel.
The problem is that many people eat white, refined-flour versions, which give our bodies a low-nutrition, high-calorie and blood-sugar-spiking intake – what dieticians refer to as empty calories. Refined pasta and breads also have far less fibre. For example, white pasta has around a fifth of the fibre of wholegrain pasta, so you’ll need a lot more to feel satisfied.
Curb the craving: Always go for brown and wholewheat options as you’ll get a lot more bang for your vitamin buck and feel fuller for longer. Another trick is to eat your spuds with the skins on – that’s where much of the fibre and vitamins are.
Carb-craving can signal a need for the feel-good amino acid too. Chia and sesame seeds, turkey, chicken, fish, meat, soya, cheese, eggs and nuts are good alternative sources.
Sweet tooth: chocolate
Most people fancy something sweet from time to time, but regular cravings for chocolate specifically could spell a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a mineral that is vital for almost every function in your body, and in this case your body might be on to something: dark chocolate – think 70% cocoa upwards – is a good source.
Curb the craving: A couple of squares can provide you with 24% of your daily magnesium requirements, so treat yourself, guilt-free. Or if you’d rather do without the sugar, dark leafy greens, nuts and pumpkin seeds, fish, beans, avocado and bananas are all even richer sources of magnesium. Try adding a handful of spinach to your morning fruit or protein smoothie – you don’t have to taste the greens to get their goodness!