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At times, we all have cravings, whether for something sweet or savoury.
Each craving tells us a little something about our body.
So what does your craving say about you?
There's no real substitute for chocolate. When you just crave "something sweet", a cookie, a candy bar or a doughnut will each suffice just as well. But when you crave chocolate, only chocolate will ever do. So why will only chocolate do?
- You're having a bad day: Chocolate is uniquely good at releasing our endorphins. It does this by stimulating the release of several neurotransmitters, including anti-depressant neurotransmitter Serotonin and "chocolate amphetamine" neurotransmitter "phenylethylamine". Phenylethylamine works like an amphetamine, changing blood pressure and blood glucose levels causing a change in alertness and elevating mood. This combination of neurotransmitters makes chocolate uniquely uplifting.
- You lack magnesium: Around 80% of people lack magnesium. Magnesium supports the immune system and nervous system. If you're routinely craving chocolate, try adding kale and other green leafy vegetables to your diet. You could also try snacking on Brazil nuts, cashews and pecans instead on chocolate: they'll increase your magnesium levels and are full of other nutrients like selenium, zinc and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols.
Sweet cravings (for candies, cookies and so on) are the most commonly reported cravings. If this describes your cravings, there are several possible causes:
- You're pre-diabetic: Craving sugary foods is one of the first signs of diabetes. You should see a doctor if your sweet treat cravings are accompanied by increased thirst, increased urination, and/or blurred vision.
- You're depressed: Sweet foods, like cookies and ice-cream, activate the brain's reward centre, releasing the neurotransmitter Serotonin. That's why we turn to sweet foods when we feel depressed. If your sweet food cravings are frequent and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, or sleeping more or less than usual, see your doctor.
- You're not eating enough carbs: A very low-carb diet causes sugar cravings because carbs are broken down into glucose, the body's fuel. When we don't eat enough carbs, our body doesn't have its fuel, thus we crave sugar, a quick source of glucose.
- Stress: When we're stressed, our body produces a lot of adrenalin. Excreting high levels of adrenalin leaves the body depleted and exhausted, leaving us craving sugar to quickly replace the lost energy. However, eating something sweet will only satiate you for a while. As long as you remain stressed, it will not take long for your body to return to its depleted state.
Carbs like bread and pasta
Some people's craving of choice isn't the sweet stuff, but thick crusts of bread and big bowls of pasta. If you crave carbs, this might be why:
- You're low in tryptophan: Tryptophan is the essential amino acid from which Serotonin is synthesised. Carbohydrates don't contain tryptophan, but it's believed that raising blood sugar levels a bit helps our brain utilise it. A lack of tryptophan leads to low serotonin, which leads to low mood, anxiety and bad sleep. While some carbs are important, before you pile your plate high with a mountain of carbs, you should note that regular exercise also increases Serotonin in the brain, so try going for a jog before you have that second helping of pasta.