Do you wish you could stop your cravings for pizza, nachos, chocolate, or takeout? We all want to quit craving foods that make us fat and don’t give us nourishment. So what’s the story here?
Food cravings aren't all bad. We just need to have the right kind of food cravings.
Bad food cravings stem from a variety of factors. Stress, lack of sleep, and an unbalanced diet can cause them, but a major contributor in our world today is processed foods — foods that are characterized by being high in refined salts, sugars, and fats, as well as additives.
Processed foods are foods that have been extensively altered from how they were found in nature. They make us want to eat more of them in two ways. The first way is by preying on our biological desire for the tastes of salt, sugar, and fat. For example, in the wild, we fulfill our natural cravings for sweetness (good cravings!) from fresh fruits. But because processed foods contain refined sugars — which make them taste even sweeter than fruits — we’re automatically drawn to them and become addicted.
The second way is by desensitizing our taste buds. Processed foods make our taste buds require high levels of refined sugar, salt, and fat in order to find the pleasure we’re after. These foods make it hard to find subtle flavors enjoyable.
Here are some easy tips to help break free from manipulating processed foods and transition to the right kind of cravings; that is, cravings for nutrient-rich whole foods.
1. Scan ingredient lists (not labels) for added processed sugars.
The “Sugars” line item under “Total Carbohydrate” does not tell us whether or not additional sugars have been added to products, as this line item does not distinguish between natural and added sugars. So instead of reading the Nutrition Facts label, go straight to the ingredient list and scan not just for the word “sugar,” but also “evaporated cane juice,” “invert sugar,” “galactose,” “maltose,” and other terms food manufacturers use to describe added sugars. All of these added sugars are processed and therefore addictive.
2. Satisfy your sweet tooth with super-ripe fruits and unrefined sweeteners.
Mother Nature intended dessert for humans to be things like dried and ripe fresh fruits, not cookies or frozen yogurt. But for many of us, this transition is difficult. Meet yourself halfway by leaning on whole and minimally processed sugars (what I refer to as “WAMP”) such as sucanat (whole, dried, cane sugar), date sugar, maple sugar crystals, or raw honey. Although these should be used sparingly, they don't affect your taste buds and cravings to the same degree that highly refined sugars do — i.e. they taste less sweet. Raw honey used sparing is a particularly good choice to sweeten foods and drinks as it has anti-viral and antimicrobial properties. In fact, raw honey had been consumed as far back as the Neolithic period and enjoyed by the ancient Romans and Chinese for millennia.
Note: most agave and stevia are highly refined and should be avoided along with all zero-calorie sweeteners.
3. Choose plain, whole, grass-fed yogurt.
This type of yogurt is most authentic, as opposed to yogurts that are heavily processed and full of additives, refined sugars, and preservatives. Healthy yogurt is supposed to taste deliciously sour, not sweet! You can opt to add more flavor and sweetness by adding in fresh whole foods yourself — either by mashing berries or stone fruits, or by shaving lemon zest along with a ½ teaspoon of raw honey.
4. Always make your own breakfast cereal.
Commercial breakfast cereals are notoriously high in processed wheat and sugar. Even those that claim they are “whole wheat” are made of wheat berries that have gone through extensive processing (called “extrusion” in the food industry). Make your own whole foods-based cereal by adding cinnamon, chopped dates, peaches, coconut flakes and almond milk to day old cooked brown rice or quinoa.
5. Eat chocolate with 4 ingredients or less and at least 70% cacao content.
Most commercial chocolate makes us crave in the wrong way as its full of refined sugar and very little cacao. When eating chocolate, go only for bars with at least 70% cacao and four or less ingredients. The first ingredient should always read “cocoa beans,” “cocoa liquor” or “cocoa solids.” The remaining ingredients should be “cocoa butter,” sugar (an unrefined sugar is best), and possibly a flavor such as “vanilla beans.” If you can get your hands on raw chocolate with all the above characteristics, that's great. Even better is raw chocolate, which is more nutrient dense than chocolate made from roasted cocoa beans (conventional chocolate).
Pooja Mottl is the author of The 3-Day Reset: Restore Your Cravings for Healthy Foods in Three Easy, Empowering Days. She is a professionally trained Natural Foods Chef and Healthy Eating Coach whose work has captivated audiences from Good Morning America to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, a world-renowned institution known for pairing culinary training with health promoting food. Pooja also holds a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University. Pooja advises private clients on healthy eating and has taught cooking classes at Whole Foods Market. Pooja has appeared on Good Morning America, WGN TV, Martha Stewart Radio, Style.com, the Green Festival, HuffPost Live, and a variety of additional media outlets.
Pooja lives and works in California and Greenwich, Connecticut. She is a wife and proud mom to a baby girl named Valentina and an over-confident Brussels Griffon.