How often have you hunched over your desk and moaned, “I’m hungry. I want pakoras. NOW!” How about, “I’m hungry. I want chopped gajar. With sliced tinda. NOW!”?
You probably never yearn for the healthy stuff. That’s because cravings are never triggered by the tummy (which needs nutrition) but by your hormones (which are nothing but chemicals) and your wayward, treacherous mind.
When you eat high-fat foods, high-sugar foods, high-salt foods (and drink caffeine and alcohol), they release chemicals called opioids into your bloodstream, which bind to receptors in your brain and give you a feeling of temporary satisfaction and pleasure. That’s fair enough. But these opioids also create a chemical imbalance that makes you crave more of them.
Often, mental associations trigger cravings (a childhood habit, an advertisement, an aroma). But if you "need" a food at a specific time of day (afternoon coffee, a post-work drink and chips with TV time), you likely have a taste addiction disorder.
Also read:How sweet is too sweet
The usual suspects include high sugar foods that raise your glucose levels making your brain produce that feel-good hormone, dopamine. Since most people prefer feeling good over feeling so-so, it makes it hard to stop.
Hormonal imbalances, low blood sugar or a weak digestion set off cravings too. They all lead to low serotonin, which signals the brain for a pick-me-up. You end up craving carbs for their tryptophan, which helps secrete serotonin.
Also read: Are you on a sugar high? Take this quiz to find out
Occasionally, a nutritional deficiency triggers cravings. When the body is short of magnesium, chromium, carbon, phosphorus or Vitamin B complex, you yearn for something sweet. And a need for salty food could also signal mineral deficiencies, or even a thyroid malfunction. People with low calcium diets, or those who are potassium or iron deficient crave salty foods.
To curb cravings, change habits. Tackle magnesium deficiency not with chocolate, but a mix of almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds. Lack B vitamins? Replace some chocolate with leafy greens.
Dopamine (feel good) cravings are somewhat harder to counter, but they can be managed. Just halve your usual portion of sweets. But don’t say that you’ll never eat chocolate again. If you do, it’ll just prey on your mind and soon, you’ll be bingeing on it till you feel sick.
(PS: Exercise and sex release dopamine too. Just FYI.)
From HT Brunch, October 5
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