Have you ever wondered why sometimes you crave salt and sometimes you crave sugar? Or perhaps it’s something crunchy or creamy? These cravings seem to come out of nowhere and often make us feel a little out of control. Sometimes they’ve even played a major role in sabotaging our efforts to lose weight or simply to avoid processed carbohydrates.
Cravings have long been associated with a weakness of spirit or failure of will. And the problem with that way of thinking is that sooner or later, the moment you let down your guard, you give into that craving because you’re human and all bets are off. Before you know it you’re on a binge and you pay for it in guilt and self pity, and maybe even a few pounds (sigh*). Meanwhile, the real reason for that overpowering and recurring urge remains a mystery.
A more productive way to view these mysterious cravings is to consider the chemistry behind them. Afterall, isn’t the feeling of helplessness we get from not knowing the cause often the reason we keep falling victim to the same cravings? Awareness is always the first step to a cure. And sometimes a craving can feel like an addiction that needs a cure. The fact is each of us has a unique biochemistry and, as it turns out, the craving or desire for a particular taste or texture can often be traced to a specific imbalance or deficiency. It’s just more evidence that our bodies are sending us signals all day long. We just have to listen and learn how to interpret them. Here are just a few of the more common cravings and their associated nutrient deficiencies:
Chocolate magnesium, DL-Phenylalanine
Crunchy, salted snacks electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium)
You may be able to prevent these cravings by supplementing with the associated nutrients or eating healthier foods that are rich in these nutrients. For example, eating more meats and eggs (proteins), which are rich in sulphur and chromium, can help curb sugar cravings. Eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and using non-iodized sea salt on your foods can help replenish electrolytes.
However, you must be especially careful with caffeine cravings if you also have high blood pressure. Because the associated nutrient deficiency—L-Tyrosine—can also promote an increase in blood pressure.
The links between some cravings and their associated deficiencies are a bit more indirect. One example of this is the sugar cravings and moodiness that come with hypoglycemia (recurring low blood sugar). They can be prevented by taking the amino acid L-glutamine because this particular nutrient is essential for getting glucose across the blood-brain barrier.
If you suspect your cravings have reached the level of addiction, like if you are constantly obsessed with the thing or the more you have the more you want, then we may be talking brain chemistry here. The inability to assimilate certain amino acids can lead to a lack of specific hormones or neurotransmitters in the brain, which can in turn lead to addictions. This may not be a comforting thought, but in this sense a sugar addiction is not much different than a heroin or gambling addiction. The same parts of the brain are affected. In this situation, amino acid supplementation may be the answer. A good example of this is a desire for starchy carborhydrates, especially in the afternoon and evening hours, or simply overeating. These types of cravings may signal a lack of serotonin—the feel-good hormone. The precursors to serotonin are L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP and so supplementing with either of these can help your brain to produce more of this hormone. However, if you are already taking anti-depressant drugs or SSRI’s, you should consult with the doctor who prescribed them before taking these nutrients.
So the next time you feel that craving coming on, listen to what your body is trying to tell you and give it what it really needs—the thing behind the craving.