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Salt

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), everything is connected: the seasons, body organs, emotions, and taste. A craving for salty foods is associated with the kidneys and fluid balance in the body. The kidney’s season is winter, which is linked to the emotion fear. Do you crave salt when you are distressed? Do salty foods give you comfort? Understanding the underlying cause of the craving can help you overcome it. Salt cravings also occur in people that are adrenally fatigued, or have an electrolyte imbalance or deficiency. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, and when we are stressed, we may feel fearful, too. There is a common theme between TCM and Western herbal medicine when it comes to deficiencies and related symptoms.
Kick the craving
*Ensure you are well hydrated and getting enough of the key electrolytes: sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium. Stress depletes magnesium, so taking a supplement may be of benefit.
*Reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeinated beverages that increase urination and dehydrate the body. Caffeine also increases the secretion of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.
*Bring a little Zen into your life. Make time for relaxing activities in your week and drink herbal teas - chamomile, lavender, withania, passionflower or lemon balm - that nourish your adrenal glands and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

Sugar

Sugar cravings can stem from an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. These feed off sugar, so to keep themselves alive and thriving, they send signals to us to eat more sugar. Sugar cravings can also result from poor blood glucose control. If your diet is predominantly high glycaemic index (GI) foods, like white bread, cakes, pastries, biscuits, fruit juice or soft drink, this causes your blood sugar to spike, followed by a considerable drop, which is where you start to crave sugar. Why? Because simple carbohydrates (sugars) increase blood glucose and energy levels the fastest. On top of this is sugar’s addictive nature, which has been proven in animal studies to be more powerful than drugs like cocaine. In TCM, sugar carvings are associated with the spleen and stomach. The associated season is summer and the emotion is worry. Do you crave sugar when you are worried or stressed?
Kick the craving
*Go three days cold turkey to get the sugar out of your body, and break the habit. This can be hard, but you need to clear your system in order to reset your body and your palate.
*Take a good quality probiotic supplement to rebalance gut microflora and reduce bad bacteria. You can also use the herbs gymnema, bitter melon and cinnamon to regulate blood glucose levels and reduce sugar cravings.
*Eat whole foods and ensure you get a good balance of fats, protein and low-GI carbohydrate with each meal to maintain steady blood sugar levels and avoid highs and lows.

Fat

Cravings for fat usually stem from a deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs can't be manufactured in the body, so we must obtain them through diet. Most people in the Western world are not only deficient in omega-3s but also consume way too many omega-6s. Omega-3s, found in abundance in oily fish, are naturally anti-inflammatory, while omega-6s, found in high concentrations in nuts, seeds and seed oils, promote inflammation and oxidation. The problem is, a Western diet with far too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s means we are inflamed and craving fat!
Kick the craving
*Eat oily fish a minimum of five times a week, ideally every day. By oily fish, I mean sardines, mackerel or salmon, not white fish like flake, whiting or big fish like tuna.
*Take a high quality omega-3 supplement, ideally from small fish or cod liver oil; however vegans can take an omega-3 sourced from algae.
*Reduce your intake of processed foods, which are high in omega-6 oils found in processed vegetable oils.

Carbohydrates

Cravings for carbs can mean low serotonin levels. Gluten-containing carbohydrates combined with dairy foods create an opiate-like effect in the brain - they quite literally make us feel good and have a sedative action once metabolised by the body. Carbs also promote the conversion of tryptophan (the amino acid precursor) into serotonin (the happy hormone). Ladies, do you crave carbs around the time of your period? Your hormones may be contributing to a lack of serotonin.
Kick the craving
*Eat plenty of omega-3s; these decrease neural inflammation, resulting in a more serotonin being manufactured.
*Balance hormones to reduce pre-menstrual depression and/or anxiety. Supporting your liver and taking herbal supplements can reduce side effects and cravings.
*To manufacture your happy hormones, ensure you're getting enough protein daily.

Diana is a Melbourne based clinical nutritionist. www.dianarobinsonnutrition.com