Part 2: Reading your Cravings
My personal views are that the body uses cravings to tell us what our diets have been lacking. For example, if I crave oranges all of a sudden, I probably need the Vitamin C, the sugar, and possibly water. That opens up a few questions, though.
"Why does my body crave chocolate chip cookies?"
The brain craves food for a reason, but it also speaks a language that it knows you will understand and one that you'll indulge. Let's say you hate spinach. If your body needs iron, but you don't like the taste of spinach, then a craving of spinach will essentially be wasted on you. On the other hand, if your body needs iron and you crave a steak, you might be more inclined to eat that particular food. Why do you crave chocolate chip cookies? So you'll eat them! Your body might require the sugar, the protein, or the fat content in those cookies and it knows you will indulge.
The thing about true cravings is that they can be sated with something other than the exact food you're pining over. Craving the chocolate chip cookies doesn't mean you have to eat them. Instead, try making a combination of foods that give the nutrients your body needs without indulging in processed foods. For example: eat a banana as a source of sugar, topped with peanut butter as the source of fat and protein. You have successfully curbed your nutritional deficiencies without actually eating chocolate chip cookies.
"Why do I always crave sugar?"
In one study, researchers found that women are more likely to have food cravings than men. Women are also more likely to crave chocolate specifically. So why is there a gender-linked tendency to crave sugar and fat? Researchers found that individuals with eating disorders are most likely to crave sugar and fat, which are the basic nutrients for survival. Since women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, the correlation can be made that this group would also crave more sugar. It's not necessarily the case, but it could be.
Another very plausible idea is that people become literally addicted to sugar. The diagnosis of an addiction includes some specific criteria, including compulsive and uncontrollable behaviors and that the behavior intensifies with repeated access. The brain responds to the behavior (eating chocolate chip cookies, for example) by releasing the "feel good" hormone called dopamine. Every time a chocolate chip cookie is eaten, more dopamine is released, sending the person into a sugar-induced state of nirvana.
"If sugar is addicting, why don't I crave more fruit?"
While fruit is nature's candy (so to speak), fruit contains a type of sugar called fructose. The white table sugar that we add to food is called sucrose, and it is the addictive sugar. One molecule of sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. The glucose half of the sucrose molecule is the specific type of sugar that makes our brains explode with dopamine. Fruit sugar isn't addicting because it lacks the glucose molecule.
Fruit is a fantastic option to curb a sugar craving because, although it can be high in sugar, it is also high in vitamins, minerals, and phenols. The other nutrients attribute to our overall health, making fruit the perfect dessert-and-multivitamin! Add some protein and fat to a fruity treat to increase satiety and you've got a wholesome snack. :)