Let’s face it – Junk food just isn’t healthy. So why does our body call out for it when we smell the aroma of fast food, or pass by a food stall at the mall?
Our brains operate on different levels when it comes to food, and what modern day nutritionists deem “healthy” is not always what our brain thinks we need.
What we typically consider the “optimal” diet is really just a luxury concept, and a fairly recent one, in terms of evolutionary history.
Hundreds of centuries ago, our eating habits were extremely different, and though availability has changed, our brains are stuck in the past. Combine that and the power of our bad childhood eating habits, and you are left with a bad recipe for fats, sugars, and salt cravings.
We Can Blame It All On Evolution
Fats, sugars, and high calorie are all unhealthy words when it comes to the modern American diet (MAD), but in our past, they were the difference between life and death for our ancestors.
As early humans, we lived our lives as hunters, gatherers and foragers … largely depending on a fertile season, and moving around to find the next food source – and to avoid becoming food. When the hunt for food was, people had to load up on nourishment (calories and carbs) whenever and wherever they could – binge eating on certain ingredients made perfect sense for survival.
Fats and Sugars Were Very Helpful
The more calorie dense the food was, the longer the meal would provide life-sustaining energy to make it to the next day.
Fats and sugars are both excellent choices when it comes to calorie dense diets and readily available energy. You have to consume 9 calories in every gram of fat (a gram of protein or carbohydrate brings a mere 4 calories), while 1 gram of sugar provides quick energy but can also be stored as fat for later use.
Our Primitive Biology In Our Modern World
Even though the humans have come a long way, there are built in instincts of evolution that has not been bred out of the population.
The availability and convenience of our modern day food supply has changed drastically. But, our brains are still wired to take in high-calorie foods for survival, which explains why fats and sugars are so hard to resist. The temptation is non-stop, and it is important to find ways to deal with it on a daily basis.
The Salt Connection
Experts have been warning for a long time that too much salt in our diet can have terrible health consequences, but just like sugars and fats, our bodies are designed to enjoy the taste of salt because it is so important for our survival.
Salt is not calorie-dense, nor is it immediately energy-boosting, but it’s one of the largest motivators driving our food cravings. Depending on your habits and nutrient balance, your desire for salty things could indicate an imbalance in your sodium intake, or even a psychological need.
Is It a Salt Deficiency?
For many, a lack of sodium can lead to strong cravings, and even mood swings and dips in performance – both mental and physical.
People on a very low-sodium diet, active people, and people with an underlying thyroid or adrenal issue may find they begin to crave salty foods much of the time, which can be a signal that your body is in need of more sodium.
In some cases though, a mineral deficiency could be the cause of your salt craving. It could be a craving for magnesium, zinc, calcium, or other trace minerals.
Salt Habits Form Early
In our modern eating habits, salt is likely the most prevalent and popular seasoning. It sits alongside spice racks, and is on most kitchen tables. Most cooks use salt without even thinking about it.
If you grew up in a salt-heavy household, like most people and discover that you salt dishes before you even taste them, your taste buds are likely desensitized to the effect. You probably find salt-free food bland and, boring.
How Food Associations Factor Into Your Diet Choices
Evolution can account for a lot of your cravings, but so can your upbringing. Sugary treats at birthday parties, and savory and fattening meals marked all sorts of holidays and special occasions. It is completely natural to associate calorie-dense, indulgent food with happy times and personal rewards. We tend to recapture those feelings with tasty snacks.
Taste can be innate, but it can also be learned. One of the major reasons we crave junk food is that processed foods is introduced in our childhood, and these sugar and salt-laden foods are designed to concentrate flavor and texture in an extremely appealing fashion. If you develop a desire for salty snacks or a specific sugary dishes early in life, odds are you will continue to crave those the rest of your life.
Making The Switch To Developing A Healthy Food Habit
It is very difficult to change our desires of what we want to eat, especially if those cravings have been instilled in us since our childhood. It is a matter of removing your bad food habits by re-training your brain to enjoy other foods. It cannot be done overnight, but you can do it with a smart and balanced approach and patience.
- Eliminate processed foods
- Taste before adding salt
- Find your favorite herbs
- Eat consciously.
Our biology is mysterious, and the survival instinct we all have is powerful, but you can improve your willpower with a better understanding of where your cravings come from. After that, you can then begin to make smart substitutions that will eventually satisfy you as much as the unhealthy treat, but just as evolution forged your tastes over time, it will take time to re-train your brain.