Your personal chemistry, eating patterns and what you’ve eaten that day largely determine your evening cravings. Perhaps you’re low in the magnesium, calories, or fat that chocolate provides. Perhaps you’re slightly dehydrated and need to retain the fluids in your system, which sodium would do.
It’s rare that a person would eat table salt straight. Think of what salty foods do you reach for and the answer may reveal what else is triggering the craving. Potato chips could also meet an urge for more fat, calories, or potassium. Pickles could also mean you’re thirsty. Jerky, sharp cheese or seaweed might just mean that you want an umami taste. Sometimes a recent change in the diet to healthier foods can trigger a bit of sodium withdrawal. Persistent salt cravings may signal that there is an underlying medical issue and require an evaluation by a healthcare provider.
To best satisfy a craving without eating too much, choose the purest form of the item you desire. It takes less of an intense flavor to hit the spot. So for chocolate, go for an ounce of dark (at least 65% cocoa) chocolate instead of multiple chocolate flavored cookies, or a bowl of pudding / ice cream. For salt, try nibbling on roasted sunflower seeds or pistachios in the shells. Also, getting through the exterior might slow you down from eating too much. Another option is to make your own kale chips in the oven.
Often a routine habit of turning to a particular type of food in order to be satisfied makes you “need” that food to be satisfied. In that case, you’re basically training your brain to end the craving with that item. Over-riding the habit of turning to chocolate or salty foods takes patience and repeated effort — first by eating properly during the day to prevent deficits by evening; second by consuming healthier replacements that nourish you. Granted, a cup of Greek yogurt with berries and raw nuts contains no chocolate and little sodium, but it does fill you up with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals leaving little room for junk.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
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