If you’re anything like us, you’ve experienced more than your fair share of food cravings. Sometimes they can feel intense, but they’re also totally normal! Ultra-processed and hyper-palatable foods are scientifically designed to make you crave them. In some instances, cravings can also be a sign that your body is deficient in certain micronutrients, like magnesium or calcium.
You might find that following a dietary lifestyle like the paleo diet helps you feel great and manage cravings, since its guidelines limit consumption of processed foods, grains, sugars, and more. Even still, you might find yourself with the occasional hankering for something sweet or salty. How do you know when you really want the chocolate, or if your brain is just playing tricks on you? We’re here to help you navigate the tricky food landscape, and helping you manage your cravings is no exception!
Cravings: What Causes Them?
While cravings don’t always signal a micronutrient deficiency, sometimes they are an indicator that your body is searching for vitamins or minerals that it’s lacking in order to function optimally. As we mentioned above, some foods naturally encourage cravings, like hyper-processed and palatable foods (a mainstay of the standard american diet). Menstrual cycles and pregnancy can also cause a desire for certain foods, often high-fat and high-sugar foods that lack nutrient density. Foods like chocolate and bread offer a boost of pleasure-inducing serotonin when eaten, which can be hard to combat!
Regardless of the why behind your cravings, we know they’re sometimes difficult to resist. Instead of fighting your body, how about trying something new? We’re breaking down some common cravings, and what you can eat instead, to help keep you satisfied and on the path to your goals.
Craving #1: Pasta
Nutrient needs: Nitrogen
What to eat instead: Meat
Who hasn’t had a hankering for pasta at one point or another? A desire for pasta can sometimes mean that your body needs nitrogen, which is crucial for protein synthesis, cell and DNA growth as well as hormone and brain function. To satisfy your pasta fix while getting the nutrients you need, cook spiraled zucchini or spaghetti squash in olive oil and garlic, then top with chicken, beef or your meat of choice.
Craving #2: Candy
Nutrient needs: Tryptophan
What to eat instead: Raw cacao
If you’re craving sweets, reach for tryptophan-containing foods like antioxidant-rich raw cacao. Tryptophan is an amino acid used by your body to make serotonin, producing a quick feel-good boost similar to what you feel when eating candy.
Craving #3: Beans
Nutrient needs: Potassium and healthy fats
What to eat instead: Avocados
Since beans are full of fiber and potassium, a craving for them may mean that your body is missing these key nutrients. To help manage cravings and stay satisfied, eating enough healthy fat and protein at your meals is crucial. Avocados contain fiber, potassium and healthy fats, helping to regulate your body’s fluid levels and maintain healthy nerve function.
Craving #4: Bread
Nutrient needs: Dopamine and serotonin
What to eat instead: Salmon
Bread, and the memories associated with this comfort food favorite, trigger the pleasure neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the body. A craving for bread means your body is looking for a comforting, pleasure-inducing food. The protein and tryptophan in salmon allow your body to feel full and produce serotonin while maintaining your paleo lifestyle.
Looking for a paleo-friendly sandwich swap? A great bread substitute is a lettuce wrap, but there are also paleo-friendly wraps and breads that you can reach for instead of the gluten and grain filled variety.
Craving #5: Ice Cream
Nutrient needs: Fat
What to eat instead: Nut butter and avocados
Who doesn’t love ice cream? On a paleo diet, typical ice cream is off limits, but that doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your taste buds with healthier options. To satisfy these cravings, make avocado ice cream, snack on some almond butter or purchase non-dairy ice cream made with coconut milk and scoop yourself a serving.
Craving #6: Salty Foods
Nutrient needs: Chloride
What to eat instead: Pink himalayan salt
Your body needs salt to hydrate your cells and regulate electrolytes, and a deficiency will sometimes result in cravings for salty foods like chips. You can help minimize cravings by salting your meals with sea salt, or adding a pinch of himalayan pink salt and lemon to your water for natural electrolytes.
Craving #7: Chocolate
Nutrient needs: Magnesium
What to eat instead: Almonds and spinach
Magnesium is vital to regulating insulin levels (and in turn, cravings!) yet most people are deficient. When you feel a hankering for some chocolate, try snacking on some almonds or eating leafy greens instead. Still feel the need for chocolate? Opt for dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cacao, which will give you antioxidants and magnesium without the excess sugar.
Additional Tips for Avoiding Cravings
No matter where you are on your healthy eating journey, know that cravings aren’t always going to be so difficult to tackle. By focusing on nutrient-dense meals and fueling your body well, you’ll be well on your way. Below are some other lifestyle changes and new habits you can implement to help keep you feeling your best.
- Drink lemon water. The body often misinterprets thirst for food cravings, and the acidity of lemon juice can help curb cravings for sweets.
- Get plenty of sleep. You are less likely to crave sugar and its accompanying energy spike when you are well rested.
- Eat balanced, nutrient-dense meals. Many people don’t eat enough protein, veggies and fiber at their meals, which can lead to snacking and cravings later on.
- Make tea. The act of making tea is calming, plus drinking it will help keep you hydrated.
- Practice mindful eating. Eat slowly, sitting down and without distraction. This will help you appreciate your food and better recognize when you’re full.
- Exercise. Regular movement helps reinforce the healthy habits in other areas of your life.
- Distract yourself. If you’re not hungry but feeling snacky, distract yourself for 10-20 minutes until the craving subsides.
Regularly eating balanced, nutrient-dense meals, getting adequate sleep, and eating mindfully are three of the best ways to stick to your paleo lifestyle and avoid cravings altogether. By giving your body what it needs, you’ll feel your best and set yourself up for success. Don’t have time to cook or want to take the guesswork out of a paleo lifestyle? We’ve got you covered here at Snap with paleo lifestyle plans and plenty of paleo-friendly meals and snacks to help you manage your inflammation and make healthy a lifestyle.