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Sunday
Feb282016

Top 7 Cravings - and Healthy Foods That Satisfy Them

We can start our day with the best intentions, but somewhere along the way cravings call our name. Before we know it, we’re 3 cups of coffee in, and half the bag of chocolates is gone…. 

The good news—there IS hope, and it starts with learning a bit more about why you might be having specific cravings. 

In addition to identifying your triggers for cravings, finding better foods to satisfy them will help retrain your brain (and your tastebuds!) over time. As a result, you’ll more easily stick with your plan and be able to dodge temptation altogether. 

Read on to learn the top cravings my clients share and the healthier foods they use to satisfy them.

Chocolate

Let’s start with a big kahuna—one of the most common craving culprits. I’ll admit it’s my personal weakness….

The cacao (cocoa) content of chocolate is rich in polyphenols and flavonoids—components that give (dark) chocolate its “superfood” status. 

Your best bet when it comes to chocolate is to always select darker varieties—ideally 80% cacao or more. The darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains and the less added sugar it has. You’ll notice, too, that you’ll be satisfied with 2-3 small pieces of dark chocolate instead of whole bars. 

Chocolate starts to lose its healthy reputation when more sugar, milk, and other additives are included. The once nutrient-dense antioxidant source gets transformed into a candy that can be highly addictive. Therefore, choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and give some of these tasty snacks a try! 

Swap your candy bar for a mix of chocolate and protein. Sprinkle raw cacao nibs (which have a mild chocolate flavor and are crunchy like a nut) and a few drops of liquid stevia into a ½ cup of plain full-fat Greek yogurt. A couple other healthy chocolate fix recipes are Chocolate Protein Truffles and Dark Chocolate Mini Coconut Cups.

Caffeine

One of the best things I do in my day is drink a tall glass of water first thing in the morning. In my mindless a.m. routine (brush teeth, shower, pack bags, etc.), incorporating that simple glass of water was an easy add-in, but it makes a BIG difference in my day. 

Getting adequate water intake is a common challenge for many people, and it can lead to a slew of cravings, energy crashes, headaches, brain fogginess, etc. 

Whether we realize it or not, it’s often the reason why most of us reach for the coffee pot first thing in the morning. Our bodies need a “wake up call” because our cells are actually depleted of hydration and nutrients.  

However, instead of giving them what they’re actually signaling us for (water, vitamins, minerals, etc.), we mistake those cues for caffeine needs. 

With this in mind…before diving into a sugar-laden coffee drink from your local barista, first do yourself a favor and drink 1-2 cups of water. Caffeine is a stimulant, and the more you have the more you crave, which means you become dependent on it. 

To help negate this cycle, gradually scale back the amount you have each day, and opt for caffeine-free varieties of coffee and tea—ideally sugar-free as well (e.g. decaf black coffee with heavy cream, hold the sugar).

Soda

While this also falls into the caffeine category and is primarily the reason why most people reach for soda, I’ve also met my fair share of clients who just crave soda because of the sugar and fizz. 

This seems to be especially true for you, diet soda drinkers! I’ll give you some free insight: diet soda can actually create more of a craving for sugar, as it tricks your body into thinking you’re getting sugar and you’re technically not, since you’re instead ingesting artificial sweeteners. Ever have a diet drink and then crave a candy bar? 

A great healthy alternative for that flavor and fizz fix is sparkling flavored water or club soda with lemon or lime. 

Salty/Crunchy

Maybe it’s chips today, and tomorrow it’s crackers or pretzels—or some other refined high-carb crunchy goodness. An urge to consume salty, crunchy foods and snacks has been one of the most common cravings for some of my clients, as the mix of processed carbohydrates, salt (and/or sugar), unhealthy fats, and other additives comprise the majority of these “foods.” 

If this craving resonates with you, try swapping out your bag of chips or other go-to junk food for an awesome homemade nut and seed mix. The crunch, flavor, and healthy fat and protein in each bite will quickly put that craving to rest. Other healthy alternatives are rice cakes with nut-butter, homemade popcorn, or veggies with guacamole or hummus.

There may actually be a physiological reason behind this craving. So, if you’ve been experiencing salt cravings for some time, you may benefit from assessing your stress hormones to see how your body is responding to daily stress. Pending the results, you may find that adding a crystal or two of Himalayan sea salt to your water could help (in addition to incorporating stress-management techniques). 

A great alternative to the salt shaker at meals is to cook instead with spices and herbs. They provide a TON more flavor and variety to a meal, along with other health benefits. 

Sweet

Up until recent years, butter and cholesterol topped the list of foods to avoid. As more and more medical research demonstrates, however, the real culprit behind a large majority of prevalent health issues is actually sugar. 

With a consumer base that feared fat for the longest time, many food manufacturers turned to sugar in its various forms to take the place of fat in many foods and keep them tasty and palatable. The result was a tremendous influx of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, etc., and a society that is now addicted to sweets

Your cravings may even be so strong and/or frequent that you feel it’s hardly controllable at times. And you know what—it’s not just in your head. 

Not only are these ingredients added to a large majority of all processed foods, but they also impact blood sugar levels, energy, and hormone levels—all of which heavily influence (i.e. perpetuate) your cravings. 

To help you minimize tough temptation, the best method for some people may be to go cold turkey—quit sweets, candy, cookies, and sugar entirely in one fell swoop. 

If this hasn’t worked for you in the past, other great sweet options could include fresh or frozen fruit paired with a healthy fat and/or protein. For example, a small serving of berries and heavy cream is a much healthier trade for your low-fat, high-sugar ice cream. The natural sugars in the fruit will help fulfill your sweet tooth, and the added protein will help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Sweet/Salty

It’s the ultimate craving duo.… I’ve found this combination of ingredients offers just enough variety for our tastebuds to always leave us wanting more. It’s no surprise that most candy bars are manufactured with this in mind (e.g. cracker layer with chocolate and caramel on top, caramel and cheddar popcorn, etc.). 

Sugar and salt are two of the most widely used additives in foods—especially processed foods. Therefore, your best bet is to opt for whole foods. 

A great combo is a fruit and nut or nut-butter combo such as apple slices with almond-butter, homemade trail mix with dried fruit, dark chocolate with nuts and seeds, or a tasty smoothie made from vanilla or chocolate protein powder and a blend of fruits with almond milk. 

Alcohol

This list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most prevalent cravings—alcohol. 

While rates of alcohol-related conditions and addiction are on the rise, you don’t have to be a frequent or heavy drinker to experience the craving for a relaxing beverage. 

That just might be the culprit, however—the need to relax and not necessarily a craving for the alcohol itself. 

Cultural influences encourage us to use alcohol as a means to relax and unwind. And if one drink leads to three, then it’s simply to let loose. Many of my clients don’t think twice about their regular “night-caps.” Before they know it, by the end of the week they’ve consumed upwards of 20-25 drinks a week. 

The best way to change your mindset about alcohol is to start engaging other alternatives for your relaxation needs: stretching, mindful breathing, meditation, yoga, etc. If, in fact, you would also benefit from decreasing your alcohol intake, try swapping out your typical alcoholic drinks for club soda with fresh fruit slices—or even add these to your mixed drink or spirit for a great lower alcohol, lower calorie spritzer!

Cravings will always be with us in some shape or form, but the food choices we make throughout the day can significantly influence how strong they are and how successful we’ll be at keeping our intentions. 

One of the best methods I give clients (one I also practice), is the decision to not purchase tempting foods or drinks. If I buy it, I eat it…and fast. Therefore, make the commitment at the grocery store to not purchase foods you don’t want to be tempted by. Then you won’t be relying solely on adequate willpower later.

Would you like more ideas and support around resisting cravings? Schedule a session with one of our dietitians today. 

Did you enjoy this article or learn something new? Please share it on your favorite social media site. Thanks for reading.

In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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