Food cravings may seem harmless — but they’re not. In fact, they’re often a red flag that your body is hard pressed for a particular nutrient. The good news is, there’s almost always a healthier source.
In my experience, most cravings come in the form of an urgent desire for one of eight different foods. Chances are you’ve been hit with a pressing “need” for these snacks before. I’d say most people probably struggle with at least one — if not all — of these cravings on a daily basis.
But once you’re able to interpret the real meaning behind them, you can give your body what it really needs. And stop the cravings— once and for all:
Common Craving #1: Burgers. Not that I have any problem with red meat, but sometimes, people tend to eat more than they need. To satisfy your need for iron (which may be at the root of your burger craving), you can try incorporating more leafy greens like spinach or kale into your diet. Pair them with vitamin C-rich foods — like strawberries or peppers to really boost absorption.
Also, always choose grass-fed beef when it’s available and when you can afford it. It will be packed with more of the good fats your body needs, and none of the hormones and antibiotics that make factory-farmed animal products so dangerous.
Common Craving #2: Baked goods. If you just can’t go another minute without a cupcake, it’s probably because your blood sugar levels are off kilter. This often happens in response to surges of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes insulin to spike and then drop just as quickly.
This roller coaster ride leaves you needing a quick fix to re-regulate your system. Reach for a handful of nuts or some low-sugar fruit (such as berries or melon) instead.
Common Craving #3: Potato chips. So many people crave this salty snack. And the reason could be as simple as needing more sodium in your diet. People are so afraid of sodium they never stop to think that they might not actually be getting enough. Salt helps to regulate every cell in your body. So, yes…you really do need it.
Also, please remember that less than 5 percent of people are salt-sensitive where blood pressure levels are concerned. (Hypertension, extra weight and high stress levels are much more likely to blame.)
Next time you get hit with a craving for chips, simply choose kale chips for a healthful alternative. Salted nuts will also do the trick.
Common Craving #4: Chocolate. Obviously, people crave chocolate for a lot of reasons. But often, it’s simply due to a deficiency in phenylalanine — an essential amino acid that converts into tyrosine in your body. It plays a critical role in the production of dopamine and serotonin — key neurotransmitters that enhance your mood and reduce pain. So it’s hardly surprising that chocolate is such a popular crutch.
Rather than gorging on sugar-filled candy bars, look for 100% cacao instead. It’s bitter — but if you melt it and add stevia for sweetness, I promise you, it is awesome. (The same holds true for unsweetened cocoa powder, mixed with unsweetened almond or coconut milk.)
This simple modification guarantees you get all the polyphenols and bioflavonoids that make chocolate so healthy — without all the harmful effects of sugar.
Common Craving #5: French fries. As with potato chips, this craving could mean that you need more sodium. But it could also point to a deficiency in serotonin (the “happy” chemical) or blood sugar imbalances (again, caused by that stress hormone, cortisol). Simple carbs break down into glucose easily, which gives you a fast surge of energy — and potatoes in particular can increase serotonin levels.
Luckily, you can achieve the same effect by eating in a healthy manner (mainly protein and vegetables — a la The A-List Diet) and keeping your gut in order with a daily probiotic.
Common Craving #6: Hot dogs. This sounds like a strange one — but in my experience, hot dogs actually are one of the foods people crave most. Maybe it’s their strong cultural association to all-American events like barbecues and baseball games. They’re practically a national food.
But obviously, that doesn’t make hot dogs good for you. And your love for them might actually have more insidious roots. Nitrates can have addictive qualities.
Luckily, this is an easy problem to remedy. Just buy organic, nitrate-free, grass-fed hot dogs. If you can’t find those in your town, or they are too expensive, try deli turkey with mustard rolled up in lettuce leaves. (My favorite alternative — and quite delicious, too.)
Common Craving #7: Ice cream. Ahh…a craving after my own heart. Regular ice cream is loaded with sugar and rich in saturated fat — and that fat is probably what your body is really after. So one way to combat those ice cream cravings is to get more heart healthy fats into your body.
Try throwing an avocado into a blender with some unsweetened cocoa powder, stevia, a drizzle of macadamia nut oil, and a splash of unsweetened almond milk, then chill it in the fridge for a few hours. It’s as creamy and decadent as any ice cream. But thanks to the monounsaturated fatty acids in the avocado and macadamia nut oil, it’s a whole lot more satisfying (not to mention better for you).
Common Craving #8: Pizza. Were you waiting for me to get to this one? I saved this craving for last because it’s just so popular — especially here in my native city of New York. So what could account for the siren song of a hot, gooey slice of cheese pizza? Well for one thing, you could be after the calcium in the cheese. And the healthy alternative to this is an awesome one.
I make my own crusts out of shredded Parmesan cheese. Just sprinkle a small pile on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven until it melts. Let it cool, then top with a few tomatoes or vegetables and more cheese. As you can imagine, it is delicious. And totally grain-free (not to mention guilt-free) too.
Of course, the longer you stick with The A-List Diet, the farther you’ll move away from these sorts of cravings — because you’ll be giving your body a steady supply of wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. But if and when those cravings do crop up, you’ll be ready for them.
Question: Is there an option for those who prefer to eat very little or no meat?
Answer: All of your protein should come from animal sources. That’s not to say that you can’t throw in the occasional plant-based protein. But animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids that you need to burn fat.
Of course, red meat is just one source of animal protein. The A-List Diet includes lots of other delicious options — pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, fish, shellfish. Eggs are also a terrific source of protein.
For a full rundown of all the different proteins you can choose from, refer to Chapter 4 of The A-List Diet.
One more thing…
It may all feel the same to your body, but don’t forget there’s a huge difference between an emotionally driven craving and true hunger. Before you try any of the strategies I outlined above, next time you’re hit with an uncontrollable urge to hit the vending machine, stop and spend a few minutes taking stock of how you’re feeling.
Are you stressed? Sad? Angry? If any of those emotions are near the surface, the best thing you can do is deal with them first.
Take a walk. Call a friend. Listen to some music. Give yourself some time to process whatever you’re experiencing. And chances are, once you do, the craving will disappear.