Sunday, August 9, 2015

Food cravings



After having briefly discussed the concept of Nutrient Density and the need to maximise the quantity of nutrients in food beyond the mere calculation of calories, it is almost a natural consequence to discuss about food cravings, but first...

Inner Intelligence

I am a strong believer in Inner Intelligence. Before losing any single reader I want to reassure you: this has nothing to do with eclectic metaphysical ideas, New Age guff, abuse of quantum-physics buzzwords, midi-chlorians and such.

Inner Intelligence is a concept to refer to the totality of fine tuned reactions in a living organism that keep it safe and alive. These mechanisms are of this world (not metaphysical or spiritual) and are based on ordinary chemical reactions (no need to look for exotic not-yet-discovered quantum particles that even the CERN doesn't know about).

With some luck I didn't lose any reader and probably got some referrals.

The organigram

To make inner intelligence simple, imagine your body like a overly organised multinational company of which the brain is the Chief Executive Officer. As CEO, the brain takes fundamental strategic decisions, based on the information sent by the several layers of managers and workers from the same company. It also communicates with other CEOs and discusses the strategies to survive in the industry, this is what I am doing right now.

The brain alone cannot manage the immense complexity required to maintain the whole organisation healthy, so what it receives is a continuous executive summary of the situation, instead of a whole book of details it is just a couple of powerpoint slides that explain what happened and the gravity.

Sometimes an action is required from the CEO. If the action is not taken, the message becomes more insistent.
For other stimuli, and action is already taken by the autonomic nervous system. Again, if you are familiar with big companies, this is an escalation for a Priority-1 issue which requires immediate solution and is managed by middle layers of management. The brain is notified almost immediately and can decide whether to continue with the current solution or change strategy.
Most of the times it is just a message to make the chief aware that something is going on.

Some (oversimplified) examples:
  • I am hypoglycaemic, let's eat something (action required, the CEO can decide to delay it but the message is likely to become more insistent)
  • it burns, let's remove the hand from the hot water (action already taken, but the CEO can decide for an alternative solution like being stoic and put the hand back into the hot water or look for cold water)
  • the ankle is itchy, look down... it is also red and swelling, I must have been bitten by a horsefly (just a message that there is a reparative inflammation going on, the workers will take care of it)
  • I just had lunch, but I feel bloated and sick, worst lunch since years (just a message, don't eat in those cheap pubs again, apparently it is not good for your health, we told you so we did our job, now do yours and please don't eat here anymore)
Then there are the good news, the CEO seems to particularly appreciate them...
  • I just had lunch, I feel really satisfied, the food tasted good and it seems to be light, easily digested and invigorating (this restaurant is worth a mention to my other CEO friends)

Finally, some messages are not worth being sent to the CEO at all. Like in a big company, this gives the CEO the false impression that everything is working fine and that there are no problems, while actually the underlings are fighting like crazy to keep everything safe and functional.

Food cravings

As you probably guessed already, food cravings belong to the action required category, the body cannot solve it through internal metabolic processes alone and needs some help. The CEO must look for a source of food, order to the arm to grab it, bring it to the mouth, hopefully order the mouth to chew it dutifully, swallow it and wait for a status update.

Food cravings are generally seen as something negative, for some it even makes sense: food cravings for sugar threats are very probably a sign of blood sugar dysregulation. This includes for example the unprocrastinable need to have a dessert after a oversized meal (the body lacks the energy for digestion and sends confusing messages to the CEO).

Some food cravings are more interesting as they are a cry from the body to a chronic malnutrition for one or more nutrients. This links directly to the previous post, you can experience food cravings if your diet is not nutrient dense, either:

  • because of processed food (depleted from nutrients but rich in calories),
  • the choice of food sources is limited to a restricted number of ingredients,
  • in the case of hypo-caloric diets or frequent fasting,
  • or simply a specific augmented need that is not promptly satisfied by an otherwise good diet (pregnancy, stress, overtraining, recovering from illness, recovering from a bad diet...).

Before, I did a parallel between food cravings and the executive summary a CEO receives. Now, let's be honest: the management of a living organism is complex beyond our imagination, how can two powerpoint slides explain what is going on?

It would be wonderful if the message exchange were:
  • "Required 52.7µg of Se and 88.5mg of Fe in heme form! Over!"
  • "Roger! Wilco!"
Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, CEOs do not understand technical details. We crave something and the reason is not clear most of the times but one thing is sure: the major root cause is a diet which is missing fundamental micronutrients or which has them but in a form that is not bioavailable.

Below is a list of food cravings. It may not be the perfect tool to access nutrient deficiencies, but it can give some indications.

If you crave thisWhat you really need isFood sources
Chocolate
Magnesium

  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (pulses)
  • Fruits
Sweets
Chromium

  • Broccoli
  • Grapes
  • Cheese
  • Fried beans
  • Calves liver
  • Chicken
Carbon

  • Fresh fruits
Phosphorus

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Grains
Sulfur

  • Egg yolks
  • Red Peppers
  • Muscle protein
  • Cranberries
  • Horseradish
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Kale
  • Onion
  • Garlic
Tryptophan

  • Cheese
  • Liver
  • Lamb
  • Raisins
  • Sweet potato
  • Spinach
Bread, toast
Nitrogen

  • High protein foods (meat, fish, nuts, beans)
Oily snacks, fatty food
Calcium

  • Mustard and turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Cheese, dairy
  • Sesame
Essential Fatty Acids

  • Fatty fish
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia
  • Nuts
Coffee, tea
Phosphorus

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Grains
Sulfur

  • Egg yolks
  • Red Peppers
  • Muscle protein
  • Cranberries
  • Horseradish
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Kale
  • Onion
  • Garlic
NaCl (salt)

  • Sea salt (fleur de sel)
Iron

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Seaweed
  • Greens
  • Black cherries
  • Lentils
Alcohol, recreational drugs
Proteins

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
Avenin

  • Oatmeal
Calcium

  • Mustard and turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Cheese, dairy
  • Sesame
Glutamine

  • Mustard and turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Cheese
  • Sesame
Potassium

  • Sun-dried black olives
  • Potato peel broth
  • Seaweed
  • Bitter greens
Cold food (ice lollies)
Iron

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Seaweed
  • Greens
  • Black cherries
  • Lentils
Burned food
Carbon

  • Fresh fruits
Soda, carbonated drinks
Calcium

  • Mustard and turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Cheese
  • Sesame
Salty foods
(or add salt to dishes before tasting)
Chloride

  • Raw goat milk
  • Fish
  • Sea salt (fleur de sel)
Acid foods
Magnesium

  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Fruits
Preference for liquids
(e.g. smoothies, juiced vegetables, etc)
Water

  • ... more water of course
Preference for solid food
(little thirst)
Water

You have been dehydrated for so long that you have lost your natural sense of thirst. Drink more

Cool drinks
Manganese

  • Walnuts
  • Almongs
  • Pecans
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberries
Pre-menstrual cravings
Zinc

  • Red meats (especially organs)
  • Seafood
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Root vegetables
General overeating
Silicon

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
(avoid refined starches)

Tryptophan

  • Cheese
  • Liver
  • Lamb
  • Raisins
  • Sweet Potato
  • Spinach
Tyrosine

  • Lemon juice
  • Red fruits and vegetables
Lack of appetite
Vitamin B1

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Liver (organ meats in general)
Vitamin B3

  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Seeds
  • Legumes
Manganese

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberries
Chloride

  • Raw goat milk
  • Fish
  • Sea salt (fleur de sel)
Tobacco
Silicon

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
(Avoid refined starches)
Tyrosine

  • Lemon Juice
  • Red fruits and vegetables

Conclusion

I agree, sometimes chocolate cravings may also indicate a deficiency of hugs, just like alcohol, sugar and tobacco cravings may indicate an addiction. The table is just a reference, what I wanted to show is how the food in the right column is just what you should be eating daily in the optic of a nutrient dense diet.

If you nourish your body with proper nutrient dense food, you'll experience less cravings and following a diet (especially for weight management) will be much easier. The CEO will always think the body needs more food as long as the nutrients quota hasn't been reached.

With regard to the need to break the rules (also called 80/20 rule) sometimes the missing nutrient may just be taste. This is why it is important that a diet is not only nutrient dense, but also capable of producing tasty meals: your daily recipes must not have such poor organoleptic expressions that you crave junk food to feel satisfied!

I will start sharing some recipes from the next posts. I will of course continue with the theory, and start debunking some nutrition myths as well. Thus... stay tuned!

3 comments:

  1. Man I don't agree. If You want to eat ice cream, chocolate, or cool drinks does not mean that You lack of something in Your diet. In most cases it's because You organism links it with pleasure and it simply want some more pleasure.
    Another thing is that, if You link some food together (like coffee after lunch), Your organism is "asking" for this coffee after You eat Your lunch.

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  2. mmm... sounds like i should stop eating rice all days... the disbalance could explain this craving in the afternoons... thanks for the hint

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    Replies
    1. White rice is an excellent source of starches, but unfortunately that's all it has to offer. The body will ask the brain to keep eating until you get enough fats and proteins: essential fatty acids and essential aminoacids are not-negotiable in a well balanced diet as you cannot manufacture them in your body.
      Cravings for minerals and vitamins are less strong, nonetheless real.

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