Understanding food cravings can pave the way for healthier eating

FALLBROOK – Are you winning or losing a food cravings battle? Whether it’s a late night trip to the refrigerator or a mid-day break room encounter, many people experience food cravings throughout the day.

Focusing on controlling these cravings and opting for healthier snacks should become a daily habit, especially with trends like obesity and diabetes increasing. By understanding why you’re experiencing these cravings, solutions can provide you with healthier and more beneficial options. 

There is actually a science behind the consumer’s addiction to eating the whole bag of potato chips or whole box of crackers. Processed foods are engineered down to an exact formula using math, science, regression analysis, and energy to find the perfect amount of salt, sugar, and fat in products to ignite our taste buds.

Expressions researchers in the food industry use to define what’s appealing to consumers are terms like mouth feel, maximum bite force, and sensory specific satiety. In a study funded by Unilever (one of the world’s largest food companies) researchers found that consumers even perceived a potato chip as crisper and fresher simply based on the sound level of the crunch. They determined these consumers are often unaware of the influence of such auditory cues.

Did you know that even the reason behind the round shape of chocolate candies has a purpose? The softer shape is comforting and allows the morsel to melt more evenly on the tongue which triggers the proper taste buds to create a satisfying response in the brain.

How do they do it? “Salt, sugar, and fat are the three pillars of the processed food industry,” Michael Moss, author and investigator of the New York Times said, after he spent four years prying open the secrets of the food industry’s scientists. “And while the industry hates the word ‘addiction’ more than any other word, the fact of the matter is, their research has shown them that when they hit the very perfect amounts of each of those ingredients… they will have us buy more, eat more.”

To mask the bitterness or sourness that the formulations can cause, the food industry uses flavor enhancers. Preservatives are also used to increase shelf life. So the jumbo box of crackers you purchase will stay fresh for months.

One of the most common flavor enhancers is monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is an excitotoxin, a substance that overexcites cell neurons causing cell damage, and eventually, cell death. These excitotoxins are able to enter and cause damage to the brain which can lead to abnormal development. You might see MSG under different names such as hydrolyzed soy protein, yeast extract, or “natural flavors.” It adds flavor to the canned chicken soups and salad dressings used by many American home cooks, as well as the cheese of Goldfish crackers in many children’s lunchboxes.

Bruce Bradley, a former food industry executive says, “We’re not talking about food actually being real anymore. It’s synthetic, completely contrived and created, and there’s so many problems about that because our bodies are tricked and when our bodies are tricked repeatedly dramatic things can happen, like weight gain or endocrine disruption, diabetes and hypertension.”

Instead of simply blaming the industry for our food cravings, we need to take a step back and take responsibility for our guilty indulgences and late-night binges. One of the most simple and overlooked problem solvers is exercise. Not only does exercise boost your mood and get you in shape, but it also releases endorphins… the same neurotransmitter that chocolate releases.

Peppers, spicy foods, and protein are also endorphin releasers that help you stay focused, more alert, and can lift a depressed spirit. You may even want to try a massage or acupuncture.

Are you getting enough sleep? Multiple studies show sleep deprivation leads to food cravings (especially targeting sugar and carbohydrates). This is due to the fact that sleep deprivation negatively affects the production of a hormone called Leptin (a hormone responsible for telling the body when it’s full), making one want to consume more calories than actually needed.

Sugary and caffeinated beverages (such as soda and energy drinks that many depend on for their mid-day “pick me up”) are over-consumed and a non-nutritive food. Basically, you’re spending time filling up your tank with volume that’s incapable of helping your body heal/repair or overcome infections.

Opt for a glass of ice or hot water with fresh organic lemon squeeze or try and snack on protein sources. Energy-efficient snacks like almonds, a fresh piece of fruit, or even a couple bites of leftover chicken balance high-quality calories with the nutrients needed to convert calories into enduring energy. These may seem unappetizing to you but this is exactly what the processed food companies have designed. When you eat their foods containing flavor enhancers, it makes natural foods taste less desirable. Now you’ve got to go through the pain and discipline of retraining your taste buds.

Another reason why you might be craving those sweet and salty foods may be a deficiency of certain minerals. Common deficiencies of magnesium, chromium, iron, zinc or calcium can all contribute to different types of cravings. But how do you know for sure what you’re deficient in?

According to article author Debi Foli, RND, CNC it all starts with the Symptom Survey at straightnutrition.com/tools/symptom-survey or call (888) 820-7374. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and contains the opinion of the writer. One’s individual health status and any required healthcare treatments can only be properly addressed by a professional healthcare provider of one’s choice.

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