We’ve all been there: You’re pawing through everything in the pantry to find the last bit of chocolate you’re sure you stashed somewhere… and feeling overrun by your cravings yet again. Truth is, that craving is your body trying to communicate what it actually needs, usually to quickly correct a dietary imbalance or a nutrient deficiency. (No, you probably don’t *really* need that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup). Learn to listen to your leanings, and figure out what your food hankerings are really trying to tell you.
If you’re craving chocolate
Snickers staring you down? You might be in need of healthy fats, feeling emotionally depleted or stressed.
You Need: Magnesium, chromium, B vitamins, or essential fatty acids
Try This: Not all chocolate should get a bad rap: Super dark chocolate is a rich source of magnesium and plant-based fat. Cocoa is also metabolized to form serotonin. Try made-from-scratch hot chocolate with pure cocoa powder, cacao nibs sprinkled on your cereal or smoothie; 75+ percent dark chocolate squares; mindfulness exercises, journaling, or restorative yoga.
If you’re craving carbs
Craving processed carbs means you may need to include more fiber in your diet to help balance out your blood sugar, or that you may have a slight imbalance in your gut flora. You might be experiencing insulin resistance or tiredness due to lack of sleep.
You Need: Fiber, chromium, magnesium, probiotics
Try This: High-fiber foods such as oatmeal and raw fruits, especially bananas, apples, and apricots. Spinach, avocado, broccoli, and celery are good sources of fiber, chromium, and magnesium. Probiotic foods such as kimchi, raw sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, and kefir may also help kick carb and sugar cravings. Oh and also, we give you permission to take a nap!
If you’re craving sugar
The sweet stuff provides quick energy, but an excess can often make you feel worse. If you’re seriously in need of some candy, STAT, you might be stressed, feeling tired and low energy, dehydrated, or have a slight imbalance in your gut flora.
You Need: Protein, chromium, magnesium, water, probiotics
Try This: Chow down on some protein-filled options for a sustained energy boost, or try reaching for natural sources of sugar if you’ve got a real sweet tooth. To get your mineral fix (think chromium, magnesium, potassium) try nut butters, lean meats, legumes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, dates, and whole fresh fruit. Probiotic foods may also help kick sugar cravings. Keep up with your hydration: Plenty of filtered water is your best choice, though seltzer and teas count too. If you can squeeze in some self-care time, take a hot bath or settle down with a good read.
If you’re craving salt
Salt hankerings are often a result of cortisol (the stress hormone) fluctuation and a lack of B vitamins. Alternatively, if you’ve been taking in too much salt in the first place, you may be holding on to water as a result and your body may be asking for even more salt to balance it out. You’re probably super stressed, tired, or low in electrolytes.
You Need: Less refined salt, electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, minerals such as zinc or copper, and B-vitamins
Try This: Scout out some coconut water or birch water ASAP, plus add a pinch of pink Himalayan salt and fresh-squeezed lemon or lime to your water to help get more electrolytes into your bloodstream. Nosh on unsalted nuts and seeds, and fill up on whole grains and vegetables — skip any processed foods for now.
If you’re craving creamy or fried foods
We’re betting you’re tired, hungry, and, you guessed it: stressed. Before you swing by the nearest drive-through to grab a milkshake and fries, take a minute to feed the fire with healthy fats instead.
You Need: Healthy fats and essential fatty acids
Try This: Skip the fast food in favor of salmon, olives, avocado, nuts and nut butters, coconut, chia, and flaxseed, all of which are packed with fast-metabolizing fats. Whip up some avocado chocolate mousse or chia pudding if you’re feeling extra.
If you’re craving coffee
You’re feeling low energy, fatigued, and probably dehydrated. Yep, it’s Wednesday. Your a.m. caffeine fix may be disguising a deficiency in sulfur or iron. Try weaning off the joe (swapping for matcha is a good first step) and increasing your intake of dark green leafies.
You Need: Sulfur or iron, also water, and maybe/probably more sleep
Try This: Order up a kale salad, get friendly with shredded cabbage (so good on tacos or grain bowls!), pack in plenty of broccoli, garlic, and onions, and fill up on plenty of filtered water too — you’ll get over this hump in no time.
If you’re craving red meat
You may need more protein and fat, but also more sources of iron and B12. If you’re regularly feeling weak, tired or winded, talk to your doctor about a test for possible anemia or B12 deficiency.
You Need: Protein, fat, and iron or B12
Try This: Red meat every once in a while is A-OK, but if you’re starting to lust after burgers more nights than not, set your sights on lean meats like poultry, fish, and lamb instead. Hearty legumes like beans, lentils, and tofu also can help quell cravings, as can super grounding nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds, which are packed with iron), avocado, spinach, and dried fruit (surprisingly super mineral rich!).
If you’re craving non-food items
A sudden urge to eat ice, clay, chalk, grass or dirt could be the result of an underlying iron deficiency related to a condition called pica. Talk to your doctor about a test for possible anemia or other mineral deficiency.
You Need: Iron
Try This: Make sure you’re getting a balanced diet filled with whole foods and packing your plate with plenty of dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Prioritize rest, reduce stress where you can, and make an appointment with your doctor for a check-in.
(Photo via Getty)