Why do we crave some foods more than others? Registered Nutritional Therapist Stephanie Goold, and the owner of Sunshine Nutrition in London Bridge, shares some insight on our relationship with food.

An intense desire for a specific food or drink can be so overwhelming that a person cannot function or feel satiated until they have it. It can be a multidimensional experience as it includes:

– cognitive, e.g., thinking about food

the emotional desire to eat or changes in mood

– behavioural ,e.g., seeking and consuming food
– physiological , e.g., salivation

Cravings are typically for foods that have high palatability and are energy dense – therefore high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates – such as chocolate, cake, pizza and fast foods.

Causes of food cravings

Bacterial

Bacteria that live in our digestive system can become imbalanced due to stress, antibiotics, medications, and eating a diet lacking in probiotics and prebiotics, and is high in saturated fat and sugar. These bacterial changes can alter the way in which our brains control cravings, hunger and even our mood and emotional wellbeing.

Signs of potential bacterial imbalance include bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, brain fog, depression, anxiety and skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. If you suffer from a number of these symptoms, a stool test can be very helpful in investigating underlying issues. Speak to a registered nutritional therapist to find out more.

Nutritional

The body requires a wide and varied diet so that it receives the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats. Being deficient in some areas of nutrition may lead to cravings for certain foods. For example, deficiencies in chromium and magnesium can lead to a yearning for sugary foods. 

As a basic guideline, it is recommended that we eat 5 portions of different vegetables and 1-2 of whole fruit per day. Inclusion of wholegrains, nuts, seeds and unprocessed protein sources, such as fresh grass-fed meat, eggs, tofu/non-GMO soy and fresh fish can support a balanced diet. Don’t forget to hydrate adequately, as feelings of hunger can be attributed to dehydration. Drink 2 litres of filtered water per day, or more if you sweat a lot! 

Emotional

Thoughts and feelings are the driving force behind emotional eating. Anxiety, frustration, depression, anger and lack of self-esteem can all impact food cravings as a way of self-medication.

It may be that you need some emotional support or counselling to help with uncovering root cause of emotional eating patterns.

Physical

Physical demands on the body can influence food choices.  For example, if you exercise intensely and frequently, then your protein requirements are much higher than a person who has a sedentary lifestyle.

Sleep quality is also very important, as it is well-known that a lack of sleep can lead to strong cravings for energy-dense foods.

Make a healthy exchange

Crisps: Half a palmful of mixed nuts and seeds can be a healthier alternative to highly saturated fat crisps. Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, fibre and valuable vitamins and minerals. Popping your own corn is another great lower calorie option. 

Chocolate: Opt for dark, milk-free chocolate that contains at least 70 per cent cocoa. Quality dark chocolate is a valuable source of magnesium, essential for hundreds of processes in the body. 

Sweets: Try snacking on whole fruits. Whole fruit is full of beneficial vitamins, minerals and fibre. However, over-consumption of fruit can lead to weight gain due to the natural sugar content. Avoid fruit juices as they are high in sugar and calories and contain no fibre.

Consume no more than 1-2 handfuls of low Glycemic Load (GL) fruits per day. Low GL foods are broken down more slowly in the body, which supports effective blood sugar balance. Imbalanced blood sugar on the other hand, can lead to unhealthy cravings, mood swings, brain fog and a lack of energy. Low GL fruits include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pear, apple, grapefruit and watermelon.

Soda: Sparkling water with a squeeze of fruit juice or slices of fruit and mint can be a tasty alternative to sugar laden sodas. 

Cheese: Opt for strong-tasting cheeses such as extra mature cheddar, blue cheese or Parmesan. A serving would match boxed size. Consuming stronger flavoured cheeses can help to satisfy the flavour craving. Also, instead of Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast flakes such as Engevita can be used to sprinkle on top of pasta, casseroles or in sauces. It’s a great alternative for people with dairy intolerances and is high in B vitamins and folic acid.

About Stephanie Goold – Sunshine Nutrition

Stephanie worked in the Financial Services industry in the City of London for several years before deciding to change her career entirely and realise her dream of becoming a Nutritional Therapist. She retrained with the acclaimed Institute for Optimum Nutrition, completing the four-year professional-level diploma in Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy as well as registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council government body. Book an online or telephone appointment now, the BYL community can enjoy 15% off your first package with the promo code Sunshine15.