We’ve all done it – had the Midnight Munchies, the 2:00 p.m. Crash, and the 4:30 Grumpies…. gone rummaging through the pantry or perusing the canteen machines, and come away with a sugar or salt fix that jump-started our energy or calmed our craving, only to leave us hungry again an hour or so later..
Sure, you may be saying, I’m not proud of it, but when I’m lying awake obsessing over tomorrow’s presentation, falling asleep at my desk, or ready to snap at my coworker if she looks at me crosseyed, what’s the alternative? And whoever heard of going to the movies without popcorn, or Netflix without a snack and drink nearby?
I hear you! There are a hundred and one reasons for snacking, and most of them revolve in some way around keeping our mood and energy stable. The reality is – snacking can be a form of self-medication, an attempt to supply a genuine physical need….and it can actually be a self-defeating solution, as an National Institutes of Health study indicated that more calories, saturated fat, and sodium you eat, the more likely you are to suffer a bad mood two days down the road.
So the Busy Professional, Real Life Superwoman’s key to healthy snacking is to find what your body is really looking for in the foods you crave, and then to satisfy that craving with the actual nutrients you need.
Instead of digging into your “stash,” try tuning in to your body and emotions to ask:
Am I craving sweets to fill an emotional need, or numbing out a painful thought or feeling?
A landmark study by Judith and Richard Wurtman established that many people crave sweets and carbs at such times because these foods boost production of the “feel-good” hormone, serotonin. And according to biologist/author Deane Alban , your blues may actually be due to a serotonin deficiency. You can correct this with high-nutrient foods rich in calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and zinc, which support the production and regulation of serotonin. Or you can add foods rich in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that is a precursor for serotonin. A few foods rich in trypotophan are : eggs, poultry, beans, lentils and seeds.
According to my mentor, Dr. Deanna Minich’s Whole Detox Program , you may also be seeking to satisfy other emotional needs with sweets and carbs: for example, many women turn to dairy treats for a sense of nurturance and comfort. Seeking out processed carbs with white flour may be a red flag indicating tension, a need for love, or putting out more energy than is coming in. And – not surprisingly! – chocolate may indicate a craving for love.
But the “food of the gods” can be good for so much more…in fact, dark chocolate is high in many of those serotonin-boosting vitamins and minerals (not to mention a host of other nutrients!), and the high-cacao/low sugar organic, fair-trade varieties can relieve your craving with just a square or two. The sweet-sweet milky varieties that you’ll see in the grocery store checkout aisle, however, may contain a raft of toxins, such as fat, fructose (the new name for high fructose corn syrup), and pesticide residues ….all factors that can prolong, rather than cure, a low mood.
Am I craving salty foods to boost my energy?
Bizarre as it may sound – who hasn’t heard horror stories of the high-sodium American diet and its impact on health? – many Americans are actually sodium-deficient! How is that possible? Well, according to the Body Ecology nutritional consulting firm, the salt that’s so liberally added to just about every processed food on the shelf is not the kind our bodies need and crave, but a nutritionally-deficient and physically damaging substitute. So to satisfy your body’s genuine demand for salty foods, they say, you should stay away from the refined salt on chips, fries, and nuts, and go instead for genuine sea salt, which can “nourish your thyroid and adrenal glands, keep your blood alkaline and even increase the healing powers of other foods. “
Very often salty foods are also crunchy (pretzels or popcorn, anyone?) which helps to relieve stress or anger by literally giving you “something to dig your teeth into.” Fortunately this is an easy need to satisfy – just chop up fresh organic veggies and sprinkle them with a little genuine sea salt.
Am I craving spicy foods to dull pain or to fight boredom and apathy?
Very often apathy is a symptom for something going on at a deeper level – depression, perhaps, or even an unrecognized illness. Spicy foods offer a long list of health benefits: for example, clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe writes that cayenne can help relieve cardiovascular conditions, digestive issues, and chronic pain diseases such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. And of course we all know garlic, with its long list of immune-boosting properties, and ginger, renowned for reducing nausea, pain, and inflammation.
The Indian Ayurvedic tradition is built around managing health through foods, and particularly spices…a worthwhile area to explore when you’re craving rich flavor.
The Three Rules of Snacking
As I tell my clients – it’s all about transforming reflexive habits into conscious decisions….
- Slow down, tune into your cravings and see what you really want.
- Make your snacking choices consciously, with nutrient-rich whole foods
- Choose a variety of colorful foods which will nourish your chakras
- Enjoy them slowly and mindfully.
If you need some On The Go Snack ideas, I have included a free gift with recipes below…and if you’re looking to learn more about the nutrients you really want based on the foods you crave, here’s a helpful chart to print out and post on your refrigerator.