Reasons you crave sweet and salty foods

Anita Marlay
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Fruit salad.

Do you frequently find yourself craving something sweet or salty? Does an afternoon treat call your name? We all have food cravings from time to time, but giving in to them too often might be causing weight gain or other undesirable health concerns.

There are physiological and psychological reasons why we crave certain foods. Recognizing why you have certain cravings is the first step in learning to control them. These are some things that contribute to cravings.

You are starving yourself. If you go too long without eating, you may crave sweets. Sugar and simple carbohydrates provide the quickest energy for your body, so that is what it wants. Likewise, when you are on a restrictive diet that eliminates sweets or sugar, you may crave them even more. Provide your body with good nutrition at regular times throughout the day, and don’t use the “all or nothing” approach when it comes to dieting.

Sugar and salt are addictive. Both sugar and salt taste good. Our brains are wired to enjoy things that taste good. It makes us happy. Unfortunately, as our tolerance to sweet and salty flavors builds up, we need more and more of them to provide that reward. Highly processed foods are loaded with sugar, salt and fat because food companies know we will crave them the more we eat. Wean yourself off of highly processed junk foods and sodas.

You are not listening to your body. When we are tired, we crave more energy to become more alert. Sugary carbs fit that requirement. Studies have found that when we are stressed, our cravings for salty snacks increase. Blood sugar that is too high or too low also may cause you to crave sugar. Adequate sleep is important to help regulate our hormones, especially those that regulate hunger and fullness. Thirst and dehydration also can also trigger food cravings. Give your body what it needs, but that may be more sleep, better blood sugar control or stress management instead of food.

You’ve developed a habit. Your body may have become accustomed to that mid-afternoon snack and crave it even if you aren’t hungry. How many of us sit in front of the TV and snack? Just turning on the TV can then become a trigger for a snack craving. Similarly, you might be triggered to have a dessert after a meal even though you are already full. Breaking these habits may be key to reducing your cravings for certain foods.

Emotions are triggering your cravings. Emotional cravings happen when we want comfort foods to help relax or soothe us. The foods we crave are often connected to good memories, perhaps from childhood, when we felt safe, happy and loved. For some people, boredom also can lead to emotional eating. Often, these foods are loaded with carbs and calories. Sugar increases our serotonin –– a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, memory and behavior. When you find yourself with an emotional food craving, look for other ways to satisfy your needs. Call a loved one, go through some photos to bring back pleasant memories or get outside and be with nature. If you find that you are frequently eating due to a bad mood or depression, it may be time to seek help from your medical provider.

To help break the cycle of cravings, try keeping a log to determine what you are craving and when. This will help you determine why you have certain cravings.

Rainbow Fruit Salad

Serves 12

1 large mango, peeled and diced

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 bananas, sliced

2 cups fresh strawberries, halved

2 cups seedless grapes

2 nectarines, peeled and sliced

1 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced

For honey orange sauce:

1/3 cup unsweetened orange juice

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 ½ Tbsp honey

¼ tsp ground ginger

Dash nutmeg

Mix the fruit together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine sauce ingredients. Just before serving, pour the sauce over the fruit.

Nutrition Information: 96 calories per serving

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.