Did you ever walk down a busy street, and the simple smell of baked goods gets your body craving bread, pasta, or pastries? Suddenly you went from craving nothing to, “I need a cinnamon roll and I need it now.”
That’s because seeing a photo of food, smelling food, or even thinking about indulging triggers the release of the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter, dopamine, in your body, which has been stored in memories as past pleasure. Yes, the cinnamon rolls you ate as a kid are now coming back to you in a full-force craving.
Most times, however, when we crave simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and pastries, it’s because our body is really looking for a quick feel-good serotonin boost. So we go for that cookie or endless bowl of pasta, hoping to satisfy both our dopamine and serotonin fix. But these simple carbohydrates typically never satisfy us and usually we end up craving more. This is because your brain doesn’t have the nutrients it needs, so it keeps searching for them. Since simple carbohydrates get processed quickly, you may find yourself staring into your pantry, wondering why you are still hungry and what else you can eat.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, here are some things your body really needs to help alleviate those cravings:
Protein helps keep your blood sugars level throughout the day and will also help you stay fuller longer. Additionally, certain proteins such as grass-fed beef, asparagus, broccoli, and beans contain the amino acid glutamine, which helps combat blood sugar issues and overall brain health. If you are having a pasta fix, try upgrading your pasta to black bean pasta, red lentil pasta, or even zoodles paired with a protein. This is a great way to satisfy the simple carbohydrate hunger while providing your body with the protein it actually needs to balance your blood sugar and keep your cravings minimal.
Magnesium is one of the most deficient minerals across the globe. Because magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels, a deficiency can have you reaching for a muffin or a pastry. But eating more foods with magnesium can actually help regulate your insulin levels, which will help reduce those cravings. Incorporate foods such as leafy green vegetables, seaweed, and raw cacao. You can also add flavor to dishes using spices such as basil and coriander, which are also rich in magnesium.
Sleep hygiene is crucial for optimal health which, yes, includes fewer cravings. Every time you sleep, your body is actively working to bring balance and restoration to your system. It’s like an internal cleaning crew is working to rid the body of toxins, balancing your blood sugar levels, and maintaining your hormone levels. Sleep deprivation can trigger a quick fix of energy, which can lead to an afternoon vending machine run. If you have trouble falling asleep, try creating a bedtime routine. (They aren’t just for kids! Adults need them, too!) Shut down your electronics about an hour before you head to bed, and do something relaxing that helps you to wind down.
Cravings can tell us a lot about ourselves from an emotional standpoint. Many times, cravings for things like carbohydrates are often attached to a memory, like Grandma’s apple pie, Mom’s famous pasta, or your favorite childhood treat. More often than not, we tend to jump straight to food without checking our emotions first. Feeling your feelings, talking about your feelings, and getting the emotional support you need can help you satisfy that deep craving. If you are craving a food due to an emotional response, ask yourself how you can satisfy it without food. A walk, calling a friend, or journaling may help your body feel emotionally satisfied.
If you MUST eat something, reach for one of these blood-sugar balancing snacks!