How to answer your body's food cravings

Food cravings aren’t just a silly thing pregnant women deal with for 40 weeks, we all feel the urge to eat foods that may not serve our health and weight goals.

While some cravings are the results of gut bacterial overgrowth, many are really an SOS message of malnutrition from your body.

Most of our food is grown in depleted, over-farmed soil, which lacks the minerals and nutrients it once contained before large scale agriculture. In a 2013 update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that our average intake of important nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium is so low, that it declared the issue a “widespread public health issue.”

Yet, we eat more food and calories than ever before, and also have an obesity epidemic that grows steadily each year. What gives?

Most of our calories come from refined carbohydrates in the form of sweetened processed foods, which are mostly devoid of essential minerals and nutrients. So we end up craving the vitamins and minerals that our body is lacking. Your body may be craving exactly what it needs.

Magnesium is needed for blood glucose control, muscle and nerve function, and blood pressure regulation. Chromium is necessary for controlling blood sugar, and turning food into energy. Calcium is needed to keep our blood acidity in check, as well as keeping bones and teeth strong.

The chocolate that your conscious mind craves is really a brilliant answer to the magnesium you didn’t know you were lacking. And your body and brain know that to quench the nutritional based craving for the important mineral it needs is most easily, happily, and deliciously met by chocolate. (Of course, it also gets a nice hit of caffeine-like theobromine, sugar and fat, which it also likes very much, but probably doesn’t need.)

So your body may be craving foods that get you a quick fix of these minerals. It likes to ask for the easiest foods that also give a hit of energy and sugar, too, so sometimes your cravings for magnesium are interpreted as “, NOW."

When my clients begin to see their nutritional cravings for what they are -- messages from the body to boost their micronutrient intake -- they feel the pressure and shame around their cravings totally relax, and begin to feel more in tune with -- and trusting of -- their amazing bodies.

Here are three of the top nutritional cravings you may experience, with easy options of healthy foods to answer your body’s real needs:

Chocolate = magnesium = hemp seeds, chia seeds, kelp

Oily Fatty Snacks = calcium = mustard greens, broccoli, sesame

Coffee = sulfur = egg yolks, garlic, onion

In my book, Women, Food & Desire, I go more in-depth into the nutritional, emotional, physical, and bacterial roots of our cravings.

As for our bacterial roots, put simply we are as bacterial as we are human. We couldn’t live without them, as these tiny organisms help us digest and absorb nutrients from our food, help create vitamins and hormones, and keep our skin healthy. We don’t even know the extent of their impact on our health yet, but one thing is for sure: they need to eat, too.

Some of these bacteria can get a little out of hand, like a bunch of frat boys who move into an apartment and wreck the place when they invite over dozens of their friends to feast on pizza and beer. Those “bad” guys, including the candida yeasts which result in vaginal yeast infections, have one favorite food that keeps them growing and multiplying: sugar.

Normally those little beasties are kept in check from overgrowing by the other “good” bacteria. But our modern lives are like a carpet bomb on the inner microbiome’s healthy, balanced ecology. Everything from highly refined and sugary diets, constant stress, antibiotic overuse, and hormonal imbalance caused by toxins in our food and even overuse of birth control pills can kill off the good guys, leaving room for the bad guys to take over.

And it’s the puppet master that pulled your strings straight to the freezer for a dish of ice cream. Those bacteria live mostly in our digestive system, and communicate with our entire body through the nervous system, demanding to be fed, pulling us to crave sugary and starchy foods, as well as dairy with its milk sugar lactose.

Their sugar cravings are often your sugar cravings. Now, not all sugar cravings are caused by bacterial overgrowth, or dysbiosis, and we’ve all felt the emotionally calming call of a cupcake after a rough day or breakup.

But the dangers of these bacterial imbalances are real. Digestive distress from bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and leaky gut are all warning signs of bacterial disharmony. If these symptoms continue and grow, the puppet master will cause you to eat your way into weight loss resistance, hormonal and thyroid conditions, blood sugar imbalances, skin problems, and mood swings.

And your gut needs to be strong, healthy, and balanced in order for you to be strong and healthy. To heal your gut and support your digestion you need to keep the good bacteria constantly flowing in, with the right foods and supplements, and avoid the foods and stressors that keep the bad bacteria from moving back into town.

Foods that balance gut bacteria:
Naturally fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchee, unpasteurized miso paste, and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar bring a wide variety of natural probiotics (the good bacteria) into your digestive system, many of which may not be found in man-made probiotic supplements.

Alexandra Jamieson, CHHC, CAPP is a holistic weight loss, nutrition and lifestyle coach, detox expert, professionally trained healthy gourmet chef, and "cravings whisperer." Alex was the inspiration and co-starred in the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me. In her three books, Vegan Cooking For Dummies , Living Vegan For Dummies, and The Great American Detox Diet, Alex offers remarkably sane - and tasty - advice on how to detox, live healthfully and feel fantastic.

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