In the morning there is cereal with fruit, during the lunch break a salad and in the evening fish and vegetables. But two hours later the cravings for chocolate, the desire for crisps or the craving for cheese - what's up with this unhealthy cravings? Food cravings are a common reason for the failure of diets. The body signals its need for energy replenishment. But even mental factors or certain diseases can be behind cravings. We have put together an overview of possible causes and give you tips on what you can do to prevent cravings.
What is cravings?
Many people know the "sudden urge to eat immediately" - that is the definition of cravings. The body reports that it needs carbohydrates when the blood sugar level drops. In fact, cravings are a vital signal that is supposed to secure the body's energy intake.
However, controlling hunger and satiety is a complex system involving many different hormones and centers in the brain. So many factors can influence the regulation and contribute to the development of cravings.
What causes cravings?
The blood sugar level is controlled among other things by the hormone insulin. Dietary carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (glucose) in the digestive system and absorbed into the blood. Insulin then ensures that the cells absorb glucose and thus convert it into energy.
As a result, the blood sugar level drops, causing the body to go hungry again. The faster the blood sugar drops, the more intense the feeling of hunger. Thus, cravings are the result of a rapidly falling blood sugar level.
Sugar promotes cravings
"Simple" carbohydrates, such as table sugar (sucrose) or white flour, can be rapidly broken down into glucose and therefore provide a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Due to the subsequent strong insulin secretion, the blood sugar level drops but also quickly.
After a croissant with jam, therefore, often cravings soon after. Complex carbohydrates from whole-grain products, however, degraded more slowly and thus make longer full. Incidentally, it has not been possible to prove that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin promote cravings.
With sweetener against cravings?
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin have a reputation for promoting cravings. This is based on older studies that were based on animal experiments and so far could not be confirmed for humans.
The natural sugar substitute xylitol (birch sugar), on the other hand, may counteract cravings, as it affects blood sugar levels to a lesser extent than table sugar. In addition, xylitol provides 40 percent less calories than sugar and can be a sensible alternative when losing weight.
Cravings when losing weight
The renunciation of carbohydrates can also lead to cravings. For example, in the context of a low-carbohydrate diet, sweet-tooth cravings often occur. The reason for this is also a low blood sugar level.
In addition, certain foods are taboo in most diets: cravings for these foods are then usually the result of the psychological craving for forbidden things.
Diabetes: cravings as a warning sign
Diabetics are particularly at risk for low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), because the body's own hormonal control of blood sugar does not work properly. An accidentally high insulin dose, unusual physical exertion or too little carbohydrate can then quickly lead to a dangerously low blood sugar level.
Cravings can then be a sign of low blood sugar. In addition, dizziness, tremors, sweats, palpitations, and a feeling of weakness can be symptoms of low blood sugar. Diabetics should therefore always carry some grape sugar if possible.
Cravings: 9 possible causes
Behind cravings can be both harmless and pathological causes stuck. We have put together an overview for you:
- Hormone changes during pregnancy or before the period can cause cravings. Some pregnant women also feel like unusual combinations of food or appetite for food that they did not like before.
- In case of lack of sleep in the body more appetite-promoting hormones are formed. Too little sleep can therefore promote food cravings and permanent overweight.
- Alcohol inhibits the supply of sugar from the liver's reservoir and can thus lead to a drop in blood sugar levels. Since alcohol also promotes the excretion of salt, it comes after excessive consumption of alcohol often cravings for salty, such as meat or chips.
- In patients with migraine cravings can occur as a harbinger or after a migraine attack. It used to be thought that chocolate or other unhealthy foods could cause migraines - but this has now been refuted.
- Mental stress such as stress, frustration, loneliness or even boredom can cause food cravings in some people. Because food activates the reward system in the brain and can thus comfort and improve the mood.
- Certain medications can increase appetite as a side effect. These include medicines for depression and other mental illnesses (antipsychotics) as well as preparations containing cortisone.
- In hyperthyroidism, the metabolism is running at full speed. Typical symptoms are cravings and weight loss despite increased food intake. In addition, symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as sweating, palpitations, tremors and diarrhea may occur.
- In rare cases cravings can be a symptom of a worm infection, a tumor or a serious liver disease.
- Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating usually go hand in hand with food cravings. While patients with anorexia suppress hunger, bulimia and binge eating disorder are characterized by bingeing with or without subsequent targeted vomiting.
What does your cravings mean?
If you feel cravings, you should first think about what might be involved:
- Have you omitted a meal, too little or something wrong? Then it is probably about "real" hunger.
- Or are you bored, stressed or frustrated? In this case, your brain is likely to require food to compensate for another problem.
If you suffer from food cravings very often or particularly badly, you should have this checked out by a doctor. This also applies if you have the possibility of suffering from any of the above conditions.
Combat cravings: what helps?
What to do when the cravings come in? To resist the temptation of chocolate, chips and other high calorie snacks, there are some tricks.
We have put together 10 tips against cravings for you:
- Distraction: Especially when you're bored or in stressful situations, cravings can help distract you: a hot bath, a walk or a good book - anything good is allowed.
- Chewing sugar-free chewing gum provides a fresh taste in the mouth and keeps the masticatory muscles busy. Chewing gums with peppermint or menthol taste also reduce the appetite. Anyone who gets hungry from chewing gum can try a mouthwash solution.
- Brushing your teeth works in a similar way to chewing gum chewing - brushing your teeth right after dinner can help with cravings in the evening.
- Drink: Whether water with soda, tea or coffee: liquid fills the stomach and can relieve cravings.
- Vanilla fragrance can help against cravings for sweets. The reason is probably that the smell of vanilla - similar to chocolate - in the brain affects the secretion of the happiness hormone serotonin.
- Alternative medicine: In the field of alternative remedies such as homeopathy or Schüssler salts, there are numerous preparations to help against cravings.
- Sport distracts and can reduce appetite. Just try the following trick: You can have your favorite snack, but only after a training session - you may not feel like it after exercising.
- Healthy snacks: If the cravings can not be stopped, choose a healthy alternative: Fruit, for example, can alleviate appetite for sweets: Apples and soft fruits have proven to cravings because they affect the blood sugar levels little. Although nuts are quite high in calories, they contain healthy fatty acids and saturate due to the protein content.
- Sin: Treat yourself to a piece of chocolate, preferably with the highest possible cocoa content. Because with dark chocolate, it is easier to stop after one piece compared to the whole milk variant.
- Cuddling: The "cuddle hormone" Oxytocin stimulates the region in the brain, which is responsible for the satiety. Oxytocin is released, inter alia, with tender body contact, breastfeeding and after an orgasm. Before you reach for the next time in the snack drawer, you would rather like a helping hand.
The best tip to prevent cravings is regular, sufficient - so the physical activity appropriate - and the right thing to eat: Whole grains, protein and high fiber foods such as broccoli or legumes saturate for a long time and keep the blood sugar levels stable.
Do not miss a meal and avoid one-sided diets - this will prevent your body from craving for missing nutrients. It is also important not to forbid anything: Allow yourself occasionally a modest sin than at some point due to cravings to plunder the refrigerator.