Get a better understanding of food cravings and learn about some healthy snack alternatives

For some, it may be a certain brand of soda. For others, a salty, crunchy snack. Chances are we’ve all craved a certain food at some point. In fact, a study published in the international research journal Appetite showed 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men reported experiencing food cravings.

A few cravings have been tied to a diet deficiency. A need to chew ice has been linked to an iron deficiency, and if you are lacking in sodium, which few are, you will crave something salty. Research from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University shows that the most commonly craved foods, regardless of reported deficiencies, were salty snacks or sweets high in sugar and fat.

Much research and numerous studies show the main cause of cravings are rooted in our collective heads. The hippocampus, insula and caudate regions of the brain activate during a food craving episode. For many people, these foods address an emotional need like calming stress or reducing anxiety.

Carbohydrates have been shown to boost serotonin hormone levels, which helps create a soothing effect. Many foods we crave also taste good and are associated with pleasurable memories like sweets from a birthday party or a fun night out eating pizza with friends.

When it comes to satisfying those cravings, try to find low-fat, low-sugar alternatives that are also reduced in sodium, but don’t let yourself get too hungry. Skipping meals can eventually lead to overeating.

Craving this… try that

Use these substitutes for healthier alternatives to traditional snacks:

  • Craving salty snacks? Low-salt peanuts, almonds or cashews usually do the trick. Low sodium dill pickles and seaweed snacks offer a crunchy low-calorie fix as well.
  • Craving chocolate? Turn to dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa powder (think 70 percent or greater) the better, as it contains more antioxidants and nutrients that may help cholesterol and blood pressure conditions.
  • Craving cookies? Eat fig or protein bars instead. Most nutrition bars contain sugar so your sweet tooth gets satisfied. They also contain fiber and protein to help fill you up.
  • Craving bacon? Eat center-cut pork bacon. It is similar in nutrition to turkey bacon (25 more calories and only .5g of additional fat per serving) but with the flavor of traditional pork.
  • Craving pasta? Try spaghetti squash. It’s 30 calories per cup and 10g of carbs, but it’s also packed with antioxidants, beta-carotene and potassium.
  • Craving fries or potatoes? Create sweet potato fries or mashed cauliflower. Both are easy to make and delicious. Cauliflower is loaded with vitamins C, K and B6 and nutrients like niacin, magnesium, fiber and manganese. Sweet potatoes are a good source for vitamins A, C, B1, B2 and B6.

Visit HLMS.com for recipes that offer a healthier twist on some common cravings.