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What Your Food Cravings Are Saying About Your Health

When you get stressed, you reach for a big piece of chocolate cake. But when your best friend indulges, she’s all about the mac and cheese. Why do different people crave different things? We chatted with integrative nutrition health coach Maria Marlowe about what our cravings mean, and what to do when one hits.

IF YOU CRAVE SALTY SNACKS…

You could just be thirsty. “When you’re dehydrated, you need more salt to bring your electrolytes back in line,” says Marlowe. So when you’re craving fries, try drinking a glass of water first. If you’re still craving salt an hour later, you might be stressed (salt soothes the adrenal glands) or lacking minerals (which natural salt, like Himalayan or Celtic salt, is loaded with). Try munching on a few sheets of roasted seaweed and see if the cravings subside. If not, check with your doc—you could have an adrenal condition.

IF YOU CRAVE CARBS AND BREAD…

The foods you’re addicted to are often the foods you eat on a regular basis, says Marlowe. So if you already eat lots of refined carbs like white bread and pasta, that’s probably what you’ll be craving for dinner. When you’re stressed or having a bad day, you might turn to comfort foods to calm you down. Try a slice of whole-grain bread or a nutritious grain like quinoa before giving in to that everything bagel.

IF YOU CRAVE CHEESE…

Well, you’re probably straight-up addicted to it. Cheese contains a protein called casein, which, when broken down, can trigger a calming effect in your body. You also might be dreaming of mac and cheese because you’re not getting enough fat in your diet. It’s fine to eat it in small amounts, but try to balance your queso intake with lots of lean protein and veggies.

IF YOU CRAVE CHOCOLATE…

Your hormones might be in flux. When you get your period, your body tries to replenish magnesium and iron, both of which are naturally found in cocoa, Marlowe explains. When you feel that monthly craving coming on, stick with high-quality dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa.

IF YOU CRAVE RED MEAT…

You probably aren’t craving the burger itself, but the iron and B12 that are found naturally in red meat. Go ahead and indulge in a burger or steak. If you’re vegan or vegetarian and find yourself drooling over a pork chop, you might not be getting enough protein, so load up on beans, lentils, quinoa and tempeh. Check your B12 and iron levels with your doctor and supplement if needed, as these are two nutrients that are more readily found in animal foods.

IF YOU CRAVE GREASY FOODS…

When fried chicken is calling your name, your body could actually be craving omega-3 fatty acids, according to Marlowe. Many people are deficient in omega-3, as it is not found in a large variety of foods. Eat fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds to nourish your body and knock out your craving.

IF YOU CRAVE SUGAR…

Unlike salt, refined sugar serves no purpose in the body. When you’re feeling stressed or having a bad day, you may be turning to sweets to provide comfort and give you a quick burst of energy—which, in turn, will probably make you want more sugar. (Ugh.) Curb your cravings with fruit-based sweets like banana ice cream or chocolate-date truffles instead.

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