Why Are We Drawn to Foods That Harm Us?
You’ve probably heard that an elimination diet is one of the best ways to discover if you’re allergic or sensitive to certain foods. You simply stop eating those foods for about three weeks to three months before reintroducing them to decide if you’re going to eat them ever again. However, the notion that we might not know we’re allergic or sensitive to a food until we stop eating it sounds may be a little hard to fathom!
Unfortunately, most of the things we love are often convenient – processed, packaged, throw together meals. The downfall with these meals is that the biggest portions are bread, pasta or rice. Let’s stop there for a moment. When did foods stop being about enjoyment and start being quick, filling meals just to get the job done?
Actually, it’s this relegating food from ‘priority’ to ‘inconvenience’ that we can draw from to see why this is not an elaborate plan against food pleasure. Simply put, food reactions cause the body stress. The body responds by producing endorphins, which are in the opiate family along with morphine. Opiates make us feel good, so we end up craving and consuming more of these same foods in an effort to get more of these addictive, “happy” chemicals. This then feeds the food sensitivity reactions that lead to more addictive chemicals… and we embark on a continual cycle of craving and reacting. Sugar and gluten are probably the worst culprits! But before going into cravings and what they mean for your body’s needs there’s one step we often overlook: most of us have really poor stomach acid and subsequent digestion.
Low stomach acid is the start of all deficiency
There is a simple table following you can scroll to right now for a simple this for that food craving for deficiency solution. But really the place to start is your digestion. Even if you eat a diet rich in the most nutrient dense whole foods there is on offer, if you can’t digest them then that’s what they’re going to be the next morning either still in your tummy causing you discomfort or in your toilet bowl if you’ve managed to keep things moving. Because the key to optimal digestion is optimal stomach acid: acidic enough to move food through from your stomach for the next meal and get all the nutrients out to be used where they’re needed in your body so they’re not just leftovers that end up in your toilet bowl.
And low stomach acid is more of an issue than ever before because we’re snacking constantly on highly addictive and sugary foods which drain our acid supplies, antacids, watching cooking and thinking about food too much. Dieting in itself lowers your stomach acid! Stomach acid is just something we’ve either tried to prevent or we’ve over used and it’s time to start nourishing it back to self regulatory usefulness.
So how can you make more stomach acid naturally?
The simplest way that you can kick start the production of your own stomach acid by really taking the time to be conscious about what you’re eating, enjoying each mouthful, its taste and flavor and how great it makes you feel as it satiates your appetite. And eating three wholesome meals a day and avoiding the need to snack regularly. Squeezing naturally occurring acids such as lemon or lime over your food or drinking a tsp of concentrated raw apple cider vinegar before or during meals can also assist in the process of getting your food broken right down to its really useful and absorbable components. There are also some inexpensive natural acid supplements on the market in the form of HCl capsules which can be purchased from many well-reputed health stores.
But don’t antacids work to get rid of too much stomach acid
Antacids are commonly taken to neutralize the stomach after its acidic contents have ‘fluxed’ back up into the esophagus and ‘burned’ its lining (the heartburn sensation). Ironically, this situation occurs when the stomach isn’t acidic enough in the first place to completely digest the food within, so it gets trapped in there for longer where it putrefies and expands, and is regurgitated back out through the incoming valve. So sure they work to put out the fire but then you’re adding even more to the problem with even less acidity you now have to swallow. They are not a long term solution!
Cravings and what they mean to your body
- Lack of nutrient density
- Inadequate Dietary Fats – Our bodies require plenty of healthy saturated fats for proper function of the nerves, brain, hormones, immune system and metabolism. When we consume enough saturated fats, we produce a hormone in the stomach that signals we’ve eaten enough. Depriving our bodies of enough saturated fats can lead to cravings for more food, even though we’ve already satisfied our caloric needs. Crave sugar? Try a dab of a healthy fat and see how it calms that impulse.
- Inadequate Nutrient Absorption – With un-mediated autoimmunity, the irritated, out-of-balance gut environment frequently can’t support proper nutrient absorption. When we don’t assimilate food well, or don’t eat nutrient-dense food, our body craves extra food in the attempt to fill in the nutritional blanks. We don’t always crave the correct foods, though, and can end up reaching for something that doesn’t support our health.
- Inadequate B Vitamins – We need a high amount of beneficial gut bacteria to make the B vitamins; with the small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) common in autoimmunity, we frequently see a lack of these bacteria, which leads to an inability to produce enough Vitamin B6. B6 is necessary for making serotonin… and a lack of serotonin can result in a craving for sugar.
- Thirst – Thirst can manifest as a craving for concentrated carbohydrates. If you crave carbs, drink 8-12 ounces of fresh filtered water, wait 20 minutes and see if you still have the craving.
- Sugar cravings
- Blood sugar balance – When we consume excess sugars, the body quickly releases extra insulin to help balance blood sugar by transporting glucose into the cells. Afterwards, the blood sugar can drop too low again, resulting in a craving for more sugar, repeating the cycle. Chronic highs and lows of blood sugar can result in insulin resistance, where the body gets tired of the roller-coaster and can’t absorb glucose properly into the cells.
- Unfriendly bacteria, candida and other parasites – An overgrowth of yeast, fungi and bad bacteria in the intestinal tract is common in people with chronic illness and autoimmunity. These critters live on sugar, and increase our desire for sugar and carbs. Other intestinal parasites also love sugar, creating sugar cravings.
- Sugar and brain neurotransmitters – Sugar consumption artificially stimulates the brain to produce dopamine, the “pleasure neurotransmitter”. Afterwards, dopamine levels drop and we can start to feel a bit “down”. We crave this pleasant, feel-good feeling again…and go for the sugar
Decoding your body’s food cravings
What you can do on a meal by meal level
As you can see, maintaining stable blood sugar is critical for avoiding food cravings. Some good tools for keeping blood sugar stable:
- Protein helps balance blood sugar; inadequate protein intake can trigger sugar cravings.
- Always have a protein- and fat-strong breakfast, with a minimum of sugars. This helps set the blood glucose on an even footing for the day, avoiding the mid-afternoon crash where all you want is caffeine and sugar. Avoid fruits before lunch for added stability.
- Avoid all processed carbs and sugar, and keep natural sugars to a minimum.
- When you crave sugar, try drinking water, or eat a snack strong in protein and fat.
It’s true that not all food cravings are misdirected. Sometimes we really need a nutrient our body tells us to eat. When we’re out of balance, it’s harder to know if a craving is healthy. As you heal your gut lining, repair nutrient deficiencies, and stabilize your blood sugar, your judgment of food cravings is likely to improve. A good gauge is a calm knowing, not a desperation, for a certain food or food group. When in doubt, take protein and fat.
Is it the saltiness of potato chips, the cool creaminess of ice cream, or the rich flavor of chocolate? Whatever you’re longing for, it may be your body’s way of letting you know you’re missing valuable nutrients. Here’s how to decode your cravings.
What you can do on a nutrient level
One last thing. The less you eat an allergenic food the more it affects you. Sounds a lot like another reason to not eliminate those foods you love from your diet right? The less gluten the more a gluten blow out hurts your insides. The less sugar the more of a sugar high and then low low low you experience. They’re not pretty. But food sensitivity like these are not so different to our body’s cravings for food deficiencies: the more inflammation padding the space between the food you’ve just swallowed, your parietal cells which secrete stomach acid and the tight junctures the digested nutrients pass through to your bloodstream to be used, the less nutrients your body gets. Which means the more dis-ease your body experiences. Yet it’s still nutrient deficient!