What Your Food Cravings Say About Your Health

How to decode 5 common cravingsHow to decode 5 common cravings Is it the saltiness of potato chips, the cool creaminess of ice cream, or the rich flavor of chocolate? Whatever you're longing for, it may be your body's way of letting you know you're missing valuable nutrients. Here's how to decode your cravings.

SWEETS
If you crave sweets of almost any kind, you may be experiencing blood sugar fluctuations. Giving in to pie, candy, cake, or other goodies only makes the problem worse by causing blood sugar roller coasters that lead to more cravings. Yo-yo-ing sugar levels cause spikes in insulin production, which can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Instead, choose a piece of fruit--preferably one that's not loaded with natural sugars when you're craving sweets. And, in general, choose more high-fiber foods like beans and legumes and complex carbohydrates like whole grains that keep your blood sugar stable.

Related: How to Fight Sugar Cravings and Curb Your Sweet Tooth

CHOCOLATE

Cravings for chocolate often indicate that your body may be deficient in magnesium, a mineral whose deficiency may trigger headaches and lead to fatigue. Many nutritionists estimate that more than 80 percent of the population is lacking in dietary magnesium, which may explain why so many of us reach for chocolate. While chocolate can contain beneficial antioxidants, they usually come alongside plentiful amounts of sugar. If you eat chocolate, be sure to reach for dark chocolate--about 75 percent cacao or higher--which is usually lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants. Additionally, eat foods high in magnesium, such as nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy greens.

Try This: The Healthiest Types of Chocolate to Eat

SALTY FOODS
Cravings for salty foods like potato chips or popcorn often mean chronic stress may be taking a toll on your adrenal glands--the two triangular glands that sit atop the kidneys and give us energy and help us to cope with stress of all kinds. When you're overly stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which can make you ravenous high-fat, simple-carb foods that your body can use quickly.

Getting on top of the stress in your life is essential. Try meditation, breathing exercises, or other stress management techniques. Research at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City showed that people who take a break to breathe deeply or meditate before reaching for salty snacks reduced their stress hormones by 25 percent and cut the bingeing in half.

Related: 9 Stress-Busting Foods

RED MEAT

Not surprisingly, cravings for red meat usually indicate an iron deficiency. Often people crave burgers or steaks. Menstruating women are especially vulnerable to iron deficiencies, which can make them more likely to suffer from PMS symptoms according to study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Beans and legumes, unsulphured prunes, figs, and other dried fruits are high in iron. However, eat dried fruits in moderation, since they are high in sugar and are acid-forming foods. Too many of these foods will counteract your best weight-loss efforts.

CHEESE
Cravings for cheese or pizza often indicate a fatty acid deficiency, which is common since few people get enough omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other joint problems. Reach for raw walnuts, wild salmon, and flaxseed oil, and add ground flaxseeds to your diet.

More: 5 Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny

THE CRAVING CURE

Most cravings are actually signals from our bodies that we are dehydrated, but we misinterpret them as hunger pangs. By drinking a tall glass of water first, you may be giving your body exactly what it wants and alleviate the craving altogether. By some estimates, 80 percent of people are chronically dehydrated. So before you reach for food to nix your cravings, quench them with some water. Then wait half an hour. More often than not, they'll be gone.

--Additional reporting by the editors of Women's Health


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