Learn what your cravings really mean - and how to curb them once and for all...
By the middle of the week you’re probably yearning for some deliciously velvety chocolate or super salty crisps? It’s not always a sign of weak will power. In fact, even the naughtiest food cravings can be a hint that our bodies lack something essential.
Whether we need a mineral-boosting bar of chocolate or a flu-fighting dose of spice, know how to read the cravings and you can learn how to satisfy them without bursting your calorie quota. In fact, some of the strongest salty and sugary urges have nothing to do with food. More often than not, they could be a symptom of tiredness, stress or just feeling a little down in the dumps.
So find out what your food cravings really mean, and put an end to the distractions once and for all.
You actually need... more minerals
Resistance is futile when it comes to chocolate, but the good news is you needn't beat yourself up for a little (occasionally a lot) of chocolate munching. It could be a sign that you are lacking minerals, particularly heart and muscle-boosting magnesium. Magnesium is vital for energy production, and without it you can suffer from muscle cramps, poor sleep and even facial tics. To combat the problem, try chowing down on a bar of Green & Blacks dark chocolate. Gram for gram, it packs more minerals than conventional milk chocolate, and it's also a purer form of your favourite treat - that means less additives!
You actually need... iron
When cravings take a carnivorous turn, it could be a sign of iron deficiency. Women are particularly vulnerable to low iron, which can lead to dizziness, a lack of energy, shortness of breath and even a pale complexion. Although not life-threatening, it is important to keep your iron levels topped up; even if you're on a diet. Red meat is fine as a dinner time treat now and then. Remember three ounces of beef contains 2.1mg of iron, which is more than enough to see you through. Why not try filling up on beans, spinach, broccoli and dried fruits instead?
You actually need... a massage
Do you often find yourself grabbing for the crisps at work? It could be a sign that you're stressed out. Believe it or not, the adrenal glands use up a lot of sodium to make the stress hormone, cortisol. As a result, the body craves salt to replenish itself. Instead of relying on salty snacks, find new ways to keep the balance. Join a yoga class or book yourself in for a nice, relaxing spa treatment. And if it's a real emergency, you can always crack open a packet of Marks & Spencer's lightly salted count on us baked potato crisps.
Check out our beginner's guide to mindfulness
You actually need... more sleep
Research has shown that people who sleep for less than 7 hours a night are more likely to be obese. In fact, a lack of sleep can increase sugar cravings by 45%! This is because bad sleep increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin, tricking your body in to thinking it needs more calories, while suppressing the hormone that lets you know when you are full, leptin. If you find yourself reaching for the cupcakes, perhaps it's time for an early night.
Check out our top 10 foods for better sleep
You actually need... calcium
If you're a fizzy drink fan who consistently skimps on calcium-rich foods, you could be in serious trouble. Calcium is integral to the body's health, so much so that if it's lacking the body will actually leech calcium from the bones. Add to this the fact that fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid, a chemical that increases the loss of calcium from the body and that spells big trouble. Brittle bone diseases such as osteoporosis can have a massive effect in later life, particularly for women. So to avoid future problems, cut out fizzy drinks altogether and up your intake of calcium. Dairy foods and orange juice are the best sources.
Check out these top 10 healthy snacks
You actually need... Vitamin C
Spicy food, such as curries and kedgeree, are renowned for their antioxidant-rich spices. Chilli, turmeric and ginger are great for combatting a cold and boosting immunity, but mixed in to a curry is not exactly the healthiest way to eat them. Get ahead of the game, and stop yourself from getting ill in the first place, by upping your vitamin C levels. Oranges are an obvious source, but peppers, strawberries and leafy greens are also perfect. But if you've really got a hankering, you can always try our lightened-up chicken korma recipe
Find more spicy recipes here
You actually need... a glass of water
Did you know sugar accounts for a third of our daily calorie intake? It's official: we're a nation hooked on the sweet stuff; so it's little surprise that we're always craving it. But not all sweet tooth cravings will be satisfied with a packet of Haribo. Dehydration can actually feed our sugar cravings; so try drinking a glass of water and waiting 20 minutes. It could do just the trick.
You actually need... fish
Could you burrow through a cheddar wheel like a mole through mud? Then you're probably suffering from a fatty acid deficiency. Too often, people equate dietary fat with the fat we find on our hips - but that's not true! In fact, getting enough of the right kind of fats can actually aid the weightloss process, and stop you from munching out on the wrong kinds. Fat delivers valuable nutrients to the body, so make sure you're getting it from the right sources. Replace cheese with nuts, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil.
You actually need... a mood boostComforting carbohydrate foods, such as bread, pasta and potatoes, simulate the release of the happiness hormone, serotonin, inspiring that feel-good factor. As a result, some nutritionists believe that carb cravings are actually symptomatic of feeling down and needing some reassurance. Reflect on how you're feeling, and see if you can quell the craving without reaching for the bread bin. Call a friend for a chat, draw yourself a relaxing bath or listen to your favourite music. If you really can't resist, try opting for low GI options, such as whole wheat bread and pasta.
Check out our top 10 mood boosting foods
You actually need... a detox
We all know caffeine is bad for us, but what's the actual truth behind our daily caffeine cravings? Caffeine fires up the adrenal glands, causing them to overproduce the hormones cortisol, DHEA and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Great as these mind-focusing boosts might be, if we rely on them too often the adrenal glands become overwhelmed. Eventually, our bodies will be thrown in to a state of chronic fatigue that no amount of caffeine will jolt us out of. The answer? Give your body a total health revamp. After all that abuse, the body needs a bit of TLC, so start eating healthily, relax and get some proper sleep. Above all, ditch the caffeine!
Check out our top 10 detox recipes