Most of us are familiar with standing in the pantry and staring at the options to stuff into our mouths the fastest. We may or may not be actually hungry, but sometimes nothing really fits the bill of what we are craving.
Other times, mind, body and spirit are immediately drawn to something that catches your eye, and in a flash, you have stuffed your mouth with what is usually either sweet, salty, or both.
Many times, those cravings are trying to tell you that there is something your body, mind or spirit needs in order to heal.
Learning how to read what your body is telling you is a big opportunity to correct an imbalance. When it comes to deciphering the code of sweet and salty cravings, it is important to understand that foods found in nature (know that all “real” food is found in nature) have associated flavors, and each flavor serves a unique purpose in the human body. In this way, “food is medicine.”
Sugar cravings are a common complaint I hear among my patients. Three common reasons for incessant sweet cravings are:
■ Not nourishing oneself emotionally/spiritually
■ A weak digestive system that leads to symptoms like acid reflux, irritable bowel, inflammatory bowel diseases and excess gas/bloating
■ Candida overgrowth
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sweet-flavored foods strengthen what is referred to as the “Earth” element. This relates to self-nourishment, nutritionally, emotionally and spiritually. A weak digestive system can come from inappropriate self-care, over-worrying, not feeling grounded, and eating greasy or hard-to-digest foods.
Candida, a naturally occurring fungus in the gastrointestinal tract, can overgrow because of a weak digestive system, leading to malaise, foggy thinking, aching joints and depression.
Wait! Before you reach for that candy bar you have stashed, it is not that kind of sweet-flavored food that will help you feel better.
Foods that act to strengthen digestive function include squash, oats, sweet potato, white or brown rice, and quinoa.
Foods that will make things worse include artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Truvia and phenylanaline, high fructose corn syrup, as well as nutrient-deficient foods such as cakes and cookies, candy bars, etc.
If you are craving salt, then it is quite likely your body, mind or spirit (or all three) has reached some level of exhaustion. According to TCM, the salty flavor is associated with the “Water” element, which corresponds to the kidney organ system.
When I refer to the “kidneys,” know that the kidneys in TCM do not fully align with the concept of kidneys in Western medicine. In TCM, the kidneys provide our root source of energy, and they rule our reproduction, bones and water metabolism.
When one craves salt, it is likely that “kidney qi deficiency” is present. The person can have a root-level fatigue, which can be caused by burning the candle at both ends, having prolonged fear and experiencing sex hormone fluctuations.
Other signs of root-level fatigue include anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, dry mucous membranes, problems with urination, swelling of the limbs and decreased libido.
Salty-flavored foods that nourish the kidney qi include seaweed and good quality sea salt. Needless to say, high sodium content in processed foods and salty pretzels and potato chips will not heal the kidney qi.
However, stress management, simplifying schedules, eating regularly and resting well will definitely help.
Listening to cravings and adjusting our lives accordingly is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using food as medicine. There are three more primary elements with associated organ systems and flavors in TCM:
■ Wood/Liver/Gall bladder/sour
■ Fire/Heart/Small Intestine/bitter
■ Metal/Lung/Large Intestine/spicy
I can see it in my mind’s eye now. Instead of tricking the consumer with false advertising by using words on packaging like “natural” and “fat-free,” the food industry could offer real food packed full of nutrients as a selling point.
For that to happen, consumers must demand the best. It is time we pay for quality. If you would like some basic help making healthier food choices, see a chiropractor, acupuncturist, nat- uropath or natural health nutritionist who honors the ideal that real food can be real medicine.
Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine.