We all know the feeling. Craving some salty food, or maybe something sweet. Your body is longing for those delicious carbohydrates that never let you down. So, what are we to do when cravings hit? Do we avoid the cravings completely? Do we give in? Is there a happy go-between that can satisfy our cravings while still helping us achieve our health and wellness goals?
First things first, cravings are a normal and common thing for our bodies to experience. While there is a sort of psychological connection to cravings, there is also something going on at a physiological level causing cravings. Maybe we are stressed, causing our body to release more cortisol, a stress hormone that makes us crave our comfort foods to help us relax. Maybe we've been eating a lot of sweet treats and ice cream lately and our blood sugar has been spiking and falling, leading to increased cravings for more junk food.
It's important to understand that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Not all carbohydrates are "bad". Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, a form of sugar within the body. Glucose is the body's primary source of energy. This means our body does need some carbohydrates to provide fuel and energy. The issue is that most of our carbohydrate snacks are highly processed carbs. These foods briefly satisfy our hunger, but ultimately leave us hungry and wanting more. They leave us wanting more because they cause our blood sugar to spike temporarily, but then crash. This crash is what keeps the craving cycle spinning around and around.
So, what exactly is our happy go-between option? How do we satisfy our cravings in a healthy way? It's more about providing our body with the "right" carbohydrates. Retraining our body to crave healthy complex carbohydrates that provide lasting energy. Adjusting your diet and experiencing fewer cravings could be as simple as cutting back on highly processed, refined carbohydrate foods and replacing them with better options.
When you find yourself craving carbs, honor your craving in a healthy way. You're in for a miserable time if you ride the hunger roller coaster and don't eat anything. Eventually your willpower will wear down and if not, you'll just be miserable all the time. Rather than ignoring your cravings completely, honor them with a healthy replacement.
Instead of avoiding carbohydrates all together, it's important to retrain your body to crave the right kinds of carbohydrates. Indulging in the right portions of the right carbohydrates will help you crave the unhealthy ones less.
When your cravings kick in, try these alternatives to help keep your health and fitness goals on track.
Craving some crunchy and salty food? Rather than reaching for that bag of potato chips or french fries, find an alternative to satisfy your cravings. Nuts and seeds are a great healthy option to provide a crunchy and salty snack: almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. The choices are limitless. Look for lightly salted nuts and seeds in the store or buy your own and roast them at home. There are all kinds of recipes out there to make healthy sweet and savory snacks with nuts and seeds. In addition to satisfying your salty craving, nuts and seeds provide healthy fats that can keep you feeling full longer and keep hunger and cravings from returning.
Maybe you're craving a nice big bowl of pasta or a thick slice of lasagna. Two options here to make a swap for a healthier choice. Whole wheat pasta is always a great alternative to its more processed counterpart. Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain. This makes it slower to digest due to its higher fiber content. Consuming whole grains over processed grains will keep you feeling fuller longer. Another option is alternative pasta choices. With increased consumer awareness of health and wellness new products are hitting the shelves almost daily. Options such as chickpea, black bean, or quinoa noodles are a great alternative that also provide some extra protein. Another option is zoodles, or noodles made using zucchini. This is a great way to reduce carb intake and help get those veggies in as well. Or, try cooking up a spaghetti squash and mixing in all the usual spaghetti toppings. These alternative pasta options give you the feeling of eating a big bowl of pasta without the heavy carbs.
Everybody loves bread: sandwiches, grilled cheese, toast, french toast. The options with bread are limitless. It has been, and probably always will be, a comfort food staple. Rather than avoiding bread all together, try to find a healthier bread option to incorporate into your diet. Whole grain breads are higher in fiber and provide nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, and iron. Ezekiel bread is a great option made from sprouted grains. The goal is to avoid highly processed and refined bread options. Highly refined bread is broken down very quickly by the body causing blood sugar spikes, only to leave the body hungry and wanting more within the hour.
Consider adding some healthy fats onto your whole grain bread options to provide additional nutrition. Avocado toast is a hot trend with consumers today. Avocados offer healthy fats that help to slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates in your bread. This will keep you feeling fuller longer and help avoid blood sugar spikes.
Black beans and legumes are a great option to provide healthy protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. They are also a great option for providing protein for those on a vegan-based diet. Chickpeas are a good option as well. There are all kinds of recipes out there ranging from savory to sweet with these nutrition packed legumes. Hummus helps to satisfy those carbohydrate cravings while providing healthy fiber and protein. Pair it with some carrots and you're on your way to creating a crunchy, satisfying snack that won't cause blood sugar levels to spike and will keep cravings at bay.
Quinoa is a healthy complex carb that serves as a great alternative to replacing other grains. Quinoa is gluten free and provides a high content of protein and fiber. With its unsaturated fats and B vitamins, quinoa is a solid alternative to rice. It is considered a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids that our bodies can't create on their own.
Sweet potatoes are another great option to satisfy carbohydrate cravings. These vibrant-colored root vegetables contain vitamin A and C that work as antioxidants to strengthen the body's cells against aging. The vibrant color comes from beta-carotene which converts into vitamin A and helps maintain healthy skin and immune system strength and supports good eye health and vision. The natural sugars in sweet potatoes won't spike your blood sugar like that bag of potato chips you've been eyeing.
Cravings are bound to pop up. Especially those sweet tooth sugar craving that hit all of us from time to time. One great option when you're craving something sweet is to grab a piece of fruit. Fruit provides healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. Try freezing some grapes to snack on or throw some frozen fruit into the blender and mix up a naturally sweetened smoothie. Slice up an apple and enjoy it with almond butter to provide healthy fats and keep hunger at bay.
Dark chocolate is another option when you're craving something sweet. Dark chocolate contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium. In addition, it contains antioxidants which can help disarm radicals within the body that cause damage and speed up the aging process. At the end of the day, chocolate is still chocolate and shouldn't be consumed in high quantities day in and day out. It's still loaded with calories and can be easy to overeat. But don't be afraid to pick out a high-quality dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) to keep around to satisfy your chocolate craving.
Juices, sodas, lattes, smoothies, energy drinks—the list goes on and on of wonderful beverage options out there for us to choose from. However, these tasty drinks are often a sneaky source of added sugars and carbohydrates. It's easy to feel like these carbs and calories don't count because you're not really eating anything. But those calories still count! They may count even more because they are liquid carbs and calories which means they are almost immediately broken down by the body. There is no dietary fiber or healthy fatty foods here to help slow down the digestion process.
Sometimes thirst can disguise itself as hunger. Consider hopping on the carbonated beverage trend. There are all kinds of options out there with a wide variety of blends and flavors. Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully and avoid those packed with sugar and carbohydrates. Or if you're not interested in the carbonated route but still want a sweet beverage, try making your own lemonade. Mix some lemon concentrate with plenty of water and add in some stevia or monk fruit to sweeten. You don't need much and these healthy sweetener alternatives won't spike your blood sugar levels and will allow you to indulge those sweet tooth cravings.
Giving yourself permission to eat carbs when your body is craving them will help you avoid feelings of deprivation and hunger. Rather than full avoidance, focus instead on seeking out healthier options. Experiencing carb cravings is probably always going to happen. It's normal and it's natural. The goal is to avoid processed food and carbohydrates and rewire your brain to crave the right carbohydrates instead. Help your clients find foods that provide satisfaction to their cravings as well as beneficial nutrition to help them achieve their health and wellness goals.
Ready for more? Level up your nutrition knowledge with ISSA's Nutrition Certification Course.
By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.