Crave Your Nutrients 101

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought: Why can’t I crave salad? If salad tasted as good as pizza, I would have zero problems getting in my greens.

Often, when we experience a craving, it’s usually for foods that we see as comforting or foods that are high in fats and sugars. Chocolate, potato chips, candy, and other foods that may be delicious, but aren’t always as nutrient-dense fit into this category. But wouldn’t it be great to get a craving and unironically think: Some broccoli sounds amazing right now!

Well, the good news is that you can change your thinking to make this a reality! And the better news is that this process ends up making nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, proteins, and whole grains delicious options instead of boring obligations. Changing your mindset about healthy foods is the best way to start naturally craving them. But before we learn how to crave healthy food, let’s first take a look at what cravings actually are:

What is a craving?

Most everyone knows how it feels to get hit with a sudden craving for something. Sometimes, it’s extremely clear what you want (Oh man, how long has it been since I had wings?), while other times, it’s more nebulous (I just need something sweet).

But what exactly is a craving? Merriam-Webster defines it as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.” Cravings are different from hunger because they’re more spontaneous, often caused by negative feelings or feelings of deprivation, and typically don’t last for very long. Hunger, on the other hand, tends to arise after you haven’t eaten anything for 3-4 hours, and typically comes with a rumbling in your stomach or a lightheaded feeling, and doesn’t pass with time.

Sometimes, hunger and cravings can collide. The trick is to learn how to start craving foods that align with your values (like eating healthier).

So without further ado, here are a few tips on how to crave healthy foods:

Take the flavors and textures from your favorite junk food and apply them to healthy food. 

While there’s nothing wrong with swapping ice cream with apple slices, it’s easy to understand how changing out these foods could lead to deprivation: These foods are so different! If you eat something crunchy and juicy like an apple when you’re craving something smooth and creamy like ice cream, you’re not really scratching what itches. You might feel less deprived if you found nutritious food that was closer to the food you were substituting. And for that, we’ll need some creativity, ingenuity, and open-mindedness!

Think about the qualities of the junk foods you like. For instance, if you’re a fan of spicy cheese puffs, what is it about them that you find enjoyable? Maybe it’s the combination of the spiciness, the crunchiness, and the cheesiness.

Once you’ve got the qualities of that food figured out, you can match up those qualities with a more nutritious food.

Let’s continue using the cheese puff example. The criteria to fill are: spicy, crunchy, and cheesy. 

You know what else is crunchy? Roasted chickpeas. And the best part is that you can roll them in all kinds of spices. You can make them as spicy and flavorful as you want! You could even add some parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast to give the chickpeas a cheesy flavor.

When you approach food this way, you’re showing yourself that junk food doesn’t have to be present in order for you to feel satisfied. You’ve got all the flavor, texture, and satisfaction in whole, nutritious food.

Start describing nutritious food the same way you would describe foods that have less nutrition.

Chances are, at some point you’ve probably asked for a dessert menu and read about how the cheesecake was “decadent,” “rich,” and “creamy.” Or you’ve seen a commercial for pizza, where words like “saucy,” “cheesy,” and “perfect for parties” were used. Why do these foods get all the fun? 

Words and descriptions are powerful. Describing a food in a certain way can make it seem either insanely delicious or just…meh. Think of the last time you ate something that was described as “lite,” “mild,” “low-carb,” or “sugar-free.” How satisfied were you after eating it? Now think about a time when you “indulged” yourself. How satisfied were you then?

And while we don’t have control over the way foods are marketed to us, we can create our own narratives for the food we eat. For example, it’s not just a strawberry spinach salad. It’s sun-ripened strawberries tossed into a bed of fresh, vibrant spinach, with chopped almonds offering a satisfying crunch with each bite. Doesn’t sound half bad, right?

If you’re not used to thinking about food like this (and let’s face it, aside from foodies and recipe writers, who does?), one way to ease yourself into it is to think of 3 adjectives to describe the food you’re eating. For example, if you’re eating some roasted carrots, you could think: “sweet,” “crunchy,” and “earthy.”

At the end of the day, the more we can change our perception of healthy food, the more we can transform it into something that will benefit our health and satisfy us. Plus, we end up adding way more variety into our day when we focus on eating whole foods. 

See just how many amazing, delicious, nutrient-rich foods you can start craving!