Food cravings can be tricky to manage. Sometimes you can give in, enjoy a snack that satisfies the craving and it’s gone. But salt or sugar cravings that persist may come from emotional, physical or medical needs. Hard-to-control cravings may contribute to weight gain or nutritional imbalances if they go on too long. You’ll be in a better position to calm the craving if you take the time to get to the root of the problem.
Food Craving Basics
Emotional needs or physical demands, such as a nutrient deficiency or a medical condition, can cause food cravings. Dieters and others who restrict or avoid certain foods tend to experience more frequent -- and difficult-to-resist -- food cravings, according to a study in the June 2012 issue of “Appetite." One of the best ways to avoid craving food is to eat meals and snacks on a regular schedule. It’s also important to eat a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy so that you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies.
Lowdown on Sugar Cravings
You may crave sweets if you don’t consume enough carbohydrates to meet your body’s energy needs. You can prevent this type of craving by never skipping meals, eating a small snack even if you don’t feel hungry, and include complex carbs such as whole grains, protein and fats at each meal, notes Montana State University. Stress also causes sugar cravings. High levels of stress stimulate the release of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates your appetite and often creates a craving for sugar or fat, reports the Harvard Medical School. Carbs boost the production of brain chemicals that help you feel good, which is why some people crave sweets when they’re bored, lonely or sad.
Salt Craving Specifics
Salt cravings often arise when you’re dehydrated or when you lose extra sodium through heavy sweating, diarrhea or vomiting. A chronic craving for salt may be caused by malfunctioning adrenal glands, reports Health Grades. It’s also a common craving during pregnancy. If you need to rehydrate, choose a sports drink that combines fluids with sodium, or make your own by dissolving salt in boiling water, then mixing it with 100-percent fruit juice. Quench the craving with healthy alternatives, such as whole-wheat pretzels or crackers. If you're not dehydrated, try to ignore it. Typical cravings only last eight to 14 minutes, so if you can last that long, you can ride it out without giving in, reports the Riverside Medical Clinic.
Identify the Triggers
You’ll be able to deal with cravings better if you identify the triggers. Keep a record of your cravings. Note when they occur and your thoughts, emotions and activities before the craving started. After a few days look for a pattern. If you can identify a consistent factor associated with the onset of a craving, you’ve found the trigger. Then plan ways to change the craving that address the cause. For example, if emotions play a role, take a walk or meditate instead of eating. If you have a specific food craving, keep healthy alternatives on hand so you don't unwittingly fuel the problem by restricting your diet.
- Appetite: Diet and Food Craving: A Descriptive, Quasi-Prospective Study
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Coping With Food Cravings
- Montana State University: Controlling Carb Cravings
- Harvard Medical School: Why Stress Causes People to Overeat
- Bastyr University: Five Tips to Help You Overcome Sugar Cravings
- Riverside Medical Clinic: Handling Hunger and Controlling Cravings
- Health Grades: What Is Salt Craving?
- University of Arizona: Make Your Own Sport Drink and Energy Bar