There is no single explanation for cravings as it can be both biological and psychological. Foods that we usually find ourselves craving for are sugar, carbohydrates, chocolate, salt and for some, even cheese. We look into the two most common cravings – sweet and salty foods – to try and understand why our bodies crave it.
Why am I always craving for food?
4 reasons you may be craving something sweet
If you like to ask yourself “why do I always crave sweet things?”, you’re not alone because we are the 8th largest sugar consuming nation in the world. In Malaysia, no meal feels complete without dessert or fruits. The question is, why? Here are some causes of sugar cravings:
- You didn’t eat enough calories: If you eat an unbalanced meal, especially if you’re on a diet, you are more likely to crave for sweet endings as your body starts looking for fuel as a fast way to catch up on missed calories.
- Stress: Sugary foods increase the production of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are “happy chemicals” released in our bodies that help make us feel relaxed. That explains why when feeling stressed or sad, we find ourselves craving sweet treats.
- Too much salt: When you dine out or eat packaged, processed foods, your food has more salt in it than you even realise. Hence, the saltier the food you consume, the bigger your sweet cravings will be.
- Something more serious: In some cases, sugar cravings can be indicative of symptoms to underlying diseases such as thyroid failure or diabetes.
How to reduce sugar cravings
Don’t want to let your cravings win? We got you. The next time you crave for sweets, here are 3 simple things you can do to stop them:
- Snack on healthy food: A delicious way of fooling your brain. We’ll give you some recipe ideas below to make healthy snacks yummier than sweets.
- Drink water: Dehydration can lead to cravings. So have a glass or two!
- Do a bit of exercise: Take a walk or do a few squats. Exercise will release endorphins, or those "happy chemicals" that can help turn those cravings off.
4 reasons you may be craving something savoury
Some people pile on the sweets, others crave chips, cheese and pizzas. Why do some people crave salty foods? While a small amount of salt acts as an essential mineral to maintain the balance of fluids, the daily salt intake for Malaysians exceeds the normal range by 25 percent. Here’s a look at why we crave savouries:
- Dehydration or imbalance of electrolytes: Our bodies need to maintain certain levels of fluids to function properly as they carry vital minerals like sodium. If those levels fall below what’s healthy, you may start craving salt.
- Menstrual cycle: Craving salty foods can occur during menstrual bleeding and ovulation for some women. This is likely triggered by depleting levels of iron in the body which can be balanced through proper diet or supplements.
- Boredom: Eating due to boredom is an emotional eating behaviour, similar to stress eating. Most processed snack items that we munch on contain high levels of salt and addictive qualities, which makes our bodies crave for something salty when we are bored.
- Something more serious: In very rare cases, these cravings could be a sign of Addison's disease or Bartter syndrome, where one’s kidneys fail to retain the required quantity of sodium in the body, causing them to crave more salt.
Before you give in to unhealthy desires, why not look for healthier alternatives? We’ve identified smart substitutions for both our sweet and salty cravings that’ll deliver the kick and satisfaction you crave for, minus the empty calories:
For the sweet-tooths
Whether it’s ice-cream or cake we’ve got you covered with easy non-guilty alternatives to help curb your sweet-tooth cravings the healthy way.
Frosty Sweets: If you find yourself craving for chilled creamy desserts or icy popsicles, here is a healthy substitute to try
Frozen Banana Crunch Pop: Place a peeled banana on an ice-cream stick. Roll it in the crumbs of one crushed reduced-fat chocolate wafer, cereal crisps or chopped nuts. Wrap it in some waxed paper or cling-wrap and freeze. This creamy and cool alternative is about 200 calories less than the real thing!
Cakes & Pudding: They definitely make the list of dream desserts. You can save yourself from this sweet guilt trip by trying this super healthy and equally delicious alternative with some chocolate too!
Flourless Chocolate Cake: It’s chocolate cake minus the flour. The best thing is that this yummy cake requires only 5 nutritious ingredients – unsweetened baking chocolate, eggs, coconut oil, cocoa powder and honey. You can also try your hand in baking flourless tangerine cakes with a dark chocolate drizzle (with 70% cacao it contains considerably less fat and sugar) and honey carrot cakes.
For the salt-cravers
Our bodies and brains are designed to really enjoy the taste of salt, from salty treats to fast-foods and traditional fried rice. Next time you feel that salty craving, try these healthy recipes instead.
Salty Snacks & Treats: Hard to resist, and you can’t just have one – chips, salted nuts and crunchy French fries. While it’s alright to binge on them once in a while, why not try this option that you can binge on with less guilt?
Oven-baked Yam & Kale Fries: Toss one scrubbed yam or sweet potato (both are considered low-fat foods) cut into wedges in one tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and bake till potatoes are golden. In the same way you can also make healthy kale chips. Simply rinse and dry kale leaves and bake in a similar fashion with a spray of olive oil and salt. Home-made, oven-baked yams and kales are the next best thing to satisfy your cravings for French fries!
Fast Food: Sometimes we crave savoury foods – whether it’s a juicy burger or a cheese-filled pizza. Head for the good stuff the next time you want a savoury snack.
Smoked Cheddar and Lentils Burger: This meatless burger uses carrots, egg whites, dried lentils, and smoked cheddar cheese to craft a healthy and delicious patty. While this may take a little time to assemble, with 10 grams of fibre and 38% of your daily-recommended protein, this hearty burger will keep you full and satisfied without missing the real deal.
Traditional Staples: As one of Malaysia’s most loved and probably most ordered meals, the very thought of the savoury taste of nasi goreng and nasi lemak can tickle our tastebuds and trigger cravings. One serving of nasi goreng minus any meat protein already clocks 600 calories! Here’s a healthy take on fried rice meal!
Rice with Steamed Veggies: Combine a cup of cooked brown rice with a cup of chopped steamed veggies (the frozen variety works as well) and splash a dash of soya sauce and Asian sesame oil. Enjoy your healthy fried rice at only half the calories. To add some protein top it with a fried egg.
Now that you understand why you crave something sweet or savoury, you have a better understanding of what your body is telling you. And the next time you get those cravings, you can satisfy them with healthier alternatives!