Craving for sweet or salty foods? Know the reasons and how to avoid it
Unearthing what goes on within the body and mind when it comes to cravings is an art. There are definite physiological reasons behind cravings, and what we crave can also be a pointer towards specific imbalances within.
Recently, someone asked me what sugar and salt cravings indicate. This got me thinking and I knew I wanted to explain this better.
In this article, we will break down what do sugar and salt cravings indicate, and how you can set yourself up to not have any cravings.
In functional medicine, sugar cravings are an indication of blood sugar imbalance, elevated blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, inadequate protein, low fibre, excess starch or sugar, imbalance of gut bacteria, imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, poor sleep, and high stress.
Fluctuating blood sugar from a diet that is higher is sugars and low in protein, fat, and fibre, can all make you crave sugars. Poor sleep raises ghrelin the hunger hormone making you crave more. High stress imbalances cortisol making your body seek out sugars.
In ayurveda, the balance between the six tastes is something to strive for at every meal. Vata and pitta body constitutions may crave more of the sweet taste when they are in balance. However, this is usually the sweet taste from whole grains and sweet vegetables. Kapha bodies crave madhura or sweet taste when they are off balance. When off balance, kapha bodies retain water, are prone to yeast infections, have sinus congestion, and can also feel heavy in the head. Generally, even if you do not know your body constitution, and knowing this is again an art, all body types do well to balance the tastes, rather than seeking too much of any one rasa.
Giving in to sweet cravings can further cause imbalance. Due to the principle of like increases like, and opposites bring balance, satisfying the sweet craving with more sweets will likely lead to excess of sweet in the body, leading to imbalance of any dosha, especially kapha, loss of appetite, cold, cough, sluggishness, lymphatic congestion, diabetes, and diminished ability to heal.
In functional medicine, salt cravings are an indicator of adrenal dysfunction, estrogen dominance, and increased aldosterone. Adrenal dysfunction can be intertwined with poor blood sugar balance. High stress can raise cortisol, and this can lead to fluctuations in aldosterone, which is what balances sodium and potassium. It can also be as simple as not drinking adequate water, which does not allow for blood sugar to remain stable, or drinking too much water, which depletes electrolytes.
In ayurveda, vata imbalance can occur in almost every body constitution. Vata or pitta imbalance can easily occur if we expose ourselves to high stress and imbalance the nervous system and adrenals. Imbalanced pitta can show up as craving salt. In high stress, you can also crave salt as it calms vata. Craving salt and using it to calm vata must be done in a way where it does not imbalance pitta. The best way to do this is to simmer mineral salt in ghee and then cook your food, so that the salt may take fluid into your tissues. Adding salt after the cooking process, or getting it from salty processed snacks will create further dosha imbalance.
Giving in to excess salt cravings in the form of dry airy salty snacks will imbalance vata further, promoting imbalance in all doshas. When salt is excessive it can lead to edema, hypertension, fainting, heat sensations, and nausea.
How to avoid cravings?
There are simple ways to ensure that you do not have cravings. These are simple practices, but following them regularly can play a key role in not having cravings.
1. Ensure balance in meals
Always see that no component of the meal dominates. In traditional ayurveda, the framework for a balanced meal is to have whole grains, legumes, bitter vegetables, and sweeter vegetables.
Whole grains have a sweet flavor, legumes have a bitter and astringent taste, leafy greens can be bitter and astringent as well. Sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes are loaded with fibre even with the sweet taste. Combining these with the right fats and spices can bring all elements into a meal.
One of the main ways ayurveda looks at cravings is when the meal is not balanced in the elements and tastes. If you consider another perspective, having protein, fat, and fibre balances blood sugar and adrenal function. Having different vegetables provide ample fibre. Legumes or an animal protein replacement provides the protein. Whole grains can also provide fibre. Combining them with ghee or any healthy fat can provide the right tools to remain stable. If you eat wholesome meals at the right time, you will set yourself up to not crave right through the day.
2. Balance the six tastes
Including whole grains, legumes, and two different vegetables and combining them in cooking with spices will ensure that the meal has all six tastes. Turmeric, ginger, cumin, and coriander are a great combination in any meal to ensure that these six rasas are balanced, to avoid craving any taste. These four spices are tridoshic and are safe for all body constitutions.
However, two aspects must be considered. The first is that the spices must be woken up by simmering in fat before cooking the meal. The second is that all spices can imbalance and cause excess in pungency when used in excess. When spices are in excess, they imbalance all body types, and it is an imbalanced body type that seeks one strong taste.
3. Use salt the right way
Salt is a tricky component. Without salt, it can lead to vata imbalance and there can be imbalance in adrenal function. Healthy salt used appropriately aids digestion. It is very important to always simmer mineral salt into ghee and let is melt before adding food for cooking. This softens the tissues in the body and allows for smooth elimination. Adding any salt after the cooking process can lead to imbalance. This is counter to usual practice today. The common approach is to add salt at the table, and this can create imbalance.
4. Avoid excess hydration
Hydration is not as simple as drinking water. I recently heard a health practitioner speaking about her post COVID recovery and talking into drinking as much as ten liters of water in a day. In ayurveda, excess hydration is not advised as it stresses the kidneys, washes out minerals, depletes electrolytes, and aggravates vata. All of this leads to cravings. It is said that the amount of water required depends on the body constitution, present state of imbalance, season, work environment, time of the year, and time of life. On average the recommendation is to hydrate with warm water away from meals and to get hydration in a meal from the liquid in which food is cooked. This helps to prevent cravings and maintain balanced adrenals and blood sugar.
5. Prioritise sleep
Most cravings have roots in the high stress that poor sleep puts on multiple systems and organs within the body. Ensuring you sleep before 10 pm and getting adequate sleep will be a great way to prevent cravings. One night of poor sleep raises ghrelin, the hunger hormones, and lowers insulin sensitivity. The higher the insulin and blood glucose levels, the greater the requirement for protein, which means that eating less protein can instantly lead to cravings.
Cravings are not about forcing yourself to control. They are not about you being weak. They are an inner intelligence of the body that something is off balance within. They should be about asking why and working through the basics to prevent them. Then we can all ensure that we move past them without any challenges.
Edited by Megha Reddy
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)