Spring Clean Your Diet, Satisfy Cravings

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If warmer weather and fresh air send you into tidying mode, don’t forget your pantry. Spring clean your pantry and refrigerator and you’ll make better food choices and improve your health in the long run.

Count on Color for Protecting your Body

The colorful compounds in fruits, vegetables and grains protect plants from diseases and pests. In your body they help protect your tissues including skin, bone and muscle, from harm. Think of all forms of produce and grains in a variety of colors (see below). Fresh, frozen, 100% juice, dried or roasted veggie snacks and dried fruits with no added sugar (I often turn to figs and raisins when I want something sweet).

Here’s an example of of what color can do for you:

Orange fruits and vegetables may be protective against bone loss.

Black, deep red and dark purple produce and grains (examples: black rice, purple carrots, 100% grape juice made with Concord grapes, 100% pomegranate juice) are good for artery health; they help expand arteries to accommodate greater blood flow (very important for maintaining healthy blood pressure).

Dark greens are good for skin and eyes. They can help eyes adjust to bright light and also support night vision. Some examples include spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli, zucchini, Brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce.

Add Snacks that Satisfy Hunger and Taste

When you want to satisfy hunger, look for foods high in protein and fiber. If you want to satisfy hunger and taste at the same time, consider options that fulfill your cravings. Looking for salty and crunchy? Beanitos hint of lime chips are amazing with guacamole. Searching for something sweet? Yogurt parfaits, granola + milk (Purely Elizabeth’s and The Toasted Oat are 2 of my favorites). There are also a number of bars that satisfy hunger and taste at the same time. Check out the newest Luna bars including chocolate dipped coconut (you won’t miss Mounds or Almond Joy). Find a few other crave worthy options here.

Discover Missing Nutrients

Vitamin D has been the rage for years but there are other nutrients that are ‘shortfall nutrients,’ those most of us do not consume in adequate amounts. Among them are potassium and magnesium.  Potassium is important for healthy blood pressure, nerve and muscle functioning and removing waste products from cells. Branch out from bananas and consider including leafy greens, carrots and potatoes and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits for potassium. Think out of the box with kale chips, roasted carrots and potatoes or slow cooker vegetables with potatoes. Magnesium is  necessary for muscle and nerve functioning, blood sugar control, bone health, blood pressure regulation, energy production and normal heart rhythm. It also helps with sleep and muscle relaxation. Get a little more magnesium with beans, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy veggies, avocados and potatoes.

In addition to focusing on the food mentioned here, place foods you want to consume at eye level and treats you want to eat rarely in the back of the cabinet or bottom of the freezer out of sight and reach. Chances are, you’ll forget they are there.

 

Fighting Food Cravings

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It’s 4:30 pm and you’re staring at the computer but can’t seem to read the words on the screen. Instead you are completely immersed in the thought of a light and fluffy cupcake topped ever so gracefully with swirls of sweet light yellow buttercream icing. The plan of action is simple and swift: as soon as 5pm strikes you’ll dash out of the office to the corner bakeshop before they run out of these freshly baked delights. If food cravings make you feel like a hostage to your obsession with a specific food or flavor, you may be wondering what causes them and how you can overcome them.

Just last week dietitian Leah Holcombe and I were talking about food cravings and we both came up with a number of reasons why people get them and how you can overcome them, based on our combined experience. From our perspective, you may be craving a certain food because:

  • You simply haven’t eaten enough calories. Before you cave, sit down and eat a meal or mini-meal, wait and see if you still want to dive into that gallon of ice cream with a ladle. As Leah said – when you are full on healthy items it is hard to overeat.
  • You skipped a meal. Meal skipping is a surefire ticket to overeating and making bad food choices. If you are hungry, your brain is running low on glucose, the first thing you’ll want is sugar or a calorie-dense food (fat). Perfect solution: that cupcake.
  • You crave comfort. One lady I counseled years ago ate extremely large amounts of shelled, roasted peanuts (and she was very specific, they had to be shelled, salted and roasted). Turns out her father brought these home for the family on occasion when she was a kid. She and her siblings dove in with delight. So, it wasn’t necessarily the peanuts she was craving but the fond memory from childhood that she wanted to relive as an adult.
  • Habit. Sometimes we simply eat out of habit. Maybe you are used to ordering fries alongside your hamburger or getting a large sweet tea every time you visit a restaurant. If you eat out of habit you need a reason and willpower to break that habit. But, it can be done.

Well, it turns out that food cravings activate a reward center in our brain according to this article published in the Wall Street Journal. And, interestingly enough, studies show that food cravings involve social, emotional and psychological factors. For more on what the research says, click here for the full article.