Smorgasbord Health Column – What causes your cravings – Part Two – Need Chocolate? by Sally Cronin

Welcome to a new series on a sensation that has been blamed for our consumption or over consumption of certain foods since we were old enough to make excuses! How often do we tell ourselves or others that ‘we crave’ chocolate, crisps, cheese, soda, fried food or even something non-food related… such as dirt or coal?

We tend to assume that our craving is a form of addiction that only one food or drink can satisfy, but in fact it is more likely that it is our body reacting to a lack of an essential nutrient absent from our regular diet. Or that we are under stress and that has resulted in a imbalance in our hormone production.

During this series every fortnight, I am going to be looking at some of the causes of a craving, whether it is a need for an essential nutrient or is down to a habit that has formed or because we are stressed. I will also give you the food fix that will supply that nutrient or suggest some strategies to cope with an unreasonable expectation for a food by your body and your mind.

Last Week:

Part Two – Need Chocolate?

Chocolate is delicious, and I am partial to a good Swiss milk chocolate bar, with a large glass of milk in front of a good movie… or to be honest anywhere. There was a time when I would eat not just one bar, but several during the day, and would always have a stash in my office drawer. The taste of the chocolate and its sweetness were not the only reason that I craved it. At that time my job was extremely stressful, I was working 14 hour days, getting hassle from above and below with zero exercise, and little sleep. I was also drinking seven or eight coffees during the day, a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, and meals were definitely more take away than cooked from scratch. I also weighed 330lbs (150kilos, 24stone) which was not doing my general health any good at all.

Something had to give, and in 1995 at age 42, I was told that I was a heart attack waiting to happen and getting to 45 years old was unlikely. Everything that could be elevated was; dangerously so.

It was then that I decided that being good at your job was not worth damaging your health, and when my husband was offered a job in Belgium, I took the opportunity to put my future first. I studied nutrition and the human body to find out what had driven me to such lengths to self-destruct, and you might be surprised by the answer.

As were most of my clients who were very overweight when I told them they were suffering from it too.

Starvation and nutritional deficiency syndrome (my term for long standing voluntary food deprivation)

The body is a complex and highly sophisticated piece of machinery, with many moving parts and chemical reactions that are off the charts. As an entity it requires a constant daily intake of fuel in a form that it recognises, and can process to extract the nutrients it requires. Each major organ and operational system requires its own cocktail of vitamins and minerals to function at optimum capacity, and if they don’t receive what they regard as essential, they will begin to fail.

Think of your body as a formula one race car, with a very finely balanced chemical formula to extract every last inch of performance from the engine. If you put fuel in that has been contaminated with sugar, bad oil, additives that clog the engine and chemicals, the engine will seize up.

That is essentially what millions of people are doing to their bodies each day, as they eat a manufactured industrial diet, that is far removed from the initial food ingredients that you can get.

The body is being starved. And it reacts by urging you to eat and drink to obtain what it needs. But if you are only feeding it rubbish with minimal nutritional content, it will urge you to eat more of it,so it can extract even a small amount of what it needs, and it craves.

It needs fuel and the fastest way to get that is by eating sugars, it is absorbed quickly and burns fast, so you need more and more to satisfy the craving.

Add in a few more elements to your body’s state of health:

  1. Chronic stress, which is relentless day after day. Work, commuting, money, relationships, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, too much of the wrong foods and fluids, ill health.
  2. A decrease in organ and system efficiency. Your digestive system does not know if it is up or down. It is trying to extract gold from a landslide of mud and certain components are running out, such as stomach acid needed to digest the food in the stomach before it is passed to the gut to extract nutrients. You start to suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), hormonal fluctuations, bone and joint problems, allergies, frequent infections. You become host to pathogens as your immune system fails to kill invaders, and your skin, hair and eyesight begin to age rapidly.
  3. Your brain like any computer is working overtime to find a solution to the problem and other functions begin to suffer such as healthy hormone production, already compromised by low nutrient intake. For a woman, this might mean a complete cessation of her menstrual cycle, for a man it might mean a loss of sex drive.
  4. You begin to take supplements and over the counter medications such as pain killers and multivitamins to counteract you lousy diet. Combined with a few too many glasses of wine or spirits, this further impairs your liver function, which is struggling to fill your blood stream with healthy cholesterol which is necessary for hormone production.

But, for a short time at least you and your body are satisfied because you just had a bar of chocolate, filling your blood stream with sugars and calming that craving. Until an hour later when you need another hit.

Calories are not all created equal.

A bar of milk chocolate (100gm) is 540 calories and high in sugar fats, over 50%, dark chocolate does too! Admittedly that with both milk and dark you are going to get some antioxidants, some calcium, magnesium, potassium, some vitamins A, D, E, B6, B12 E, and some zinc, iron and sodium. But just a couple of squares will be sufficient, you don’t need a whole bar.

I have covered the amount of calories the body needs each day and you can find more posts on this in the Health directory

N. B.. the body has an average daily requirement of nutrient dense calories of 1500 for women and 1800 for men. That is to run all the operating systems including the brain and immune system 24 hours a day. This will vary according to age and activity levels.. This also applies to moderately active children…

Girls -1000 calories age 2 years old, 2 – 4 years 1200 – 4 – 7 1400, 7 to age 10 – 1600, 10 – 12 1800 and 12- 18 years 2000 calories.

Boys – 1000 calories age 2 years old, 1200 at 3, 1400 4-7 1600 7- 10, 1800 10 – 12, 2000 12 – 18 years old.

For the purpose for comparing the difference in quality of calories ingested, I am going to use three chocolate bars, vs. a day of nutritionally dense foods. (about the amount of calories that a moderately active person would lose weight healthily eating.

That is 1620 calories for three 100gm chocolate bars, milk or dark with more antioxidants contained in chocolate over 70%.

Approximately 54.21 saturated fats (unhealthy fat) and 12 grms of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (healthy fat)

Here are the same calories but in a high density nutritional daily menu.

Breakfast – A poached or lightly scrambled egg on wholegrain toast, with tomato or spinach with a scrape of butter, small glass of orange juice, cup of green tea.

370 Calories

Lunch – Roasted chicken breast skin off, 100 gm cooked wholegrain rice, Carrots or sweet potato, plenty of broccoli or other green vegetables, and a small amount of gravy.

450 Calories

Dinner – grilled 150gm Salmon, large mixed salad, medium jacket potato or mashed potato and herb oil dressing drizzle.

500 calories

This leaves 300 calories for healthy snacks – half an avocado, plain natural yogurt, an apple, a banana to make up the 1620 calories.

Approximately 10gm of saturated fat but 45gms of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (healthy fats).

If you were to put yourself in the skin of your body for a few minutes, what do you think the body would prefer you to eat each day.

Three bars of chocolate or the full menu I have shared, with all the nutrients that it requires to be replenished every day?

This is not to say that you should not eat chocolate.. I would be very grumpy if I couldn’t have the odd bar from time to time. But I no longer crave them because my body is getting what it needs from the wide variety of foods that I eat each day.

Apart from general nutritional deficit, there are some nutrients in chocolate that you body may need.

This includes magnesium which is high in chocolate and is a common deficiency particularly as we get older. Also Chromium, B-Vitamins and essential fatty acids.

There is a clue to be found in these particular nutrients that identifies why it is women who seem to crave chocolate more than men!

During ovulation, menstruation and the menopause, our hormones have their own agenda leading to a more intense range of PMS or menopausal symptoms.

If our diets are deficient of the above nutrients, possibly because of repeated dieting, narrow range of foods daily, or stress then these vitamins and minerals are mainly to blame. At these times in particular, our craving for chocolate increases, and coming in handy sweet packets, make a bar or two easily accessible and comforting too.

What you need to include in your diet are these foods rather than increased amounts of chocolate.

These are the foods that have the best sources of Magnesium.

The best food sources for magnesium are to be found in dark green vegetables such as spinach also in fish, meat, seafood, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, whole grain cereals such as brown rice, beans and nuts.

Foods rich in dietary chromium.

vegetablesBroccoli has the highest levels of chromium followed by other dark green leafy vegetables, romaine lettuce, onions and tomatoes. Wholegrains, potatoes, oysters and other seafood, liver, cheese, chicken, turkey, beef and lamb also contain good amounts. As you can see even in the sample menu you would be getting the chromium you need without reaching for the chocolate.

B12 is present in beef, offal like liver, eggs and dairy.. also mackerel, shellfish such as clams and crabs, fortified cereals and tofu, Marmite and cottage, feta and mozzarella cheese.

It is better to drink a cold glass of milk than to eat yoghurt as the fermentation process destroys most of the B12 as does boiling milk.

There are very few sources, if any of B12 in plants, although some people do believe that eating fermented Soya products, sea weeds and algae will provide the vitamin. However analysis of these products shows that whilst some of them do contain B12 it is in the form of B12 analogues which are unable to be absorbed by the human body.

Essential fatty acids

Omega 3– flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkinseeds, avocados, dark green vegetables, poultry and seafood such as salmon.
Omega 6olive oil, eggs, dairy and some of the above.
Omega 9
avocado, olives, almonds.
Amino Acids
dairy products, fish, meat, poultry, soybeans, nuts and seeds.

I know that this has been a long post, but I hope that if you have been drawn to the sweetness of chocolate on more than an occasional snack, you may be deficient in one or more of the nutrients I have mentioned or generally.

Keep a food diary for a week and circle the foods that you were drawn to in particular.. a sudden urge for eggs, onions, potatoes… and also the times that you wanted a bar of chocolate!

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments or if you wish email me on

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here:

As always delighted to get your feedback and questions. This is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s presence in your life. But, certainly in the UK, where you are allocated ten minutes for a consultation and time is of the essence; going in with some understanding of how your body works and is currently functioning can assist in making a correct diagnosis.

Some doctors believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, I believe that understanding our bodies, how it works, how we can help prevent health problems and knowing the language that doctors speak, makes a difference.  Taking responsibility for our bodies health is the first step to staying well.

Thanks for dropping in and I hope you find useful.. Sally.


36 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – What causes your cravings – Part Two – Need Chocolate? by Sally Cronin

  1. Inspirational story, Sally, besides all of the valuable information you provide. I agree that stress reduction has been a huge factor in my own journey. When you’re in the middle of it all, it’s hard to get off that train. I retired three years earlier than I planned to focus on my health. Now I don’t have constant stress in my life, and I have the energy and time to exercise.

    The question of food addiction is an interesting topic. I’m curious how much of this is physical or mental. Sugar was also my drug of choice, but with a concerted effort, I only have it in moderation now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Pete.. and I will be covering stress in the heart series in the next week because it is insidious. Acute stress we can deal with but the accumulative chronic stress is very powerful and harmful. Sugar is addictive mentally and physically as we get a hit from it with a boost to our serotonin levels. Considering that from the moment of conception we are drip fed it through the food our mother is eating, being breast fed or formula, eating manufactured baby food, and rewarded with sweet treats, it is no wonder the obesity statistics are straining at the waistband. Other food addictions are likely to be deficiency driven such as eating coal etc during pregnancy which I look at in one of the posts. Glad you have made yourself a priority and are enjoying life..

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I had just sneaked down to get a few chocolate buttons out of the fridge.and then your blog came up Sally.. A girl I used to work with would say she had to go and get a Mars bar on the way home if our boss had been difficult! An excellent explanation, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What an informative post Sally. And I appreciate you sharing your own story. I’m going through my upteenth battle with my weight. I need to lose about 45-50 lbs. My problem is like so many, I’m a stress eater, and my life has been chock full of it for the last ten years. Adding to my problem is that I have health issues that include fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and migraines which make it difficult to exercise every day. However, the apartment we just moved into has a small but lovely pool, and I’ve been swimming every day for the last month. I’ve also been trying to stock the fridge and cupboards more with healthy non-processed foods, which given that my husband is a skinny sugar addict, isn’t easy!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know the feeling Kim of being on a merry go round when it comes to weight. 23 years on I still struggle to maintain a health weight, and that is down to a long history of yo you dieting. My body stores food in case of another famine! Little and slowly is a good way to go and 1lb a week is 52lbs a year. I miss our pool in Spain as I would swim at least two hours a day and I was super fit.. Keep doing what you are doing and your 50lbs will come off.. xx

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for this fascinating post, Sally. I was amazed by the amount of weight you carried and then lost. That’s quite an achievement and one many find difficult to do. I liked the comparison between eating 3 blocks of chocolate (though I could never do that) and the equivalent calories in healthy food. I read a book years ago ‘Why Women Need Chocolate’ (or similar title), but as you say, we don’t need a whole lot of it in one go. I was surprised at what you said about the yoghurt fermentation process as I’ve always thought yoghurt to be a healthy choice. It’s a good thing fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available and delicious, as well as good for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Norah.. Plain natural yoghurt, particular Greek yoghurt is fine and is not harmful … most sold in the supermarket with fruit and toppings has too much sugar. But for the purposes of someone who is in need of B12 it is not a source unlike other dairy products.. and yes we do have an amazing range of fruit and vegetables today including when they would normally be out of season. And if transported well, they have not lost too much of their nutrient content after being cut from the plant.. xx

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I have recently come to the conclusion that I am a stress eater, and I have gained an unhealthy amount of weight over the past five years. I have become more and more interested in eating a diet of whole foods packed with nutritional benefits, and I have noticed during those times when I’m being especially good, I don’t crave the bad stuff. So I know firsthand the truth of what you’re saying. It’s really helpful for me to have your comprehensive list of the healthy foods and the nutritional benefits they each provide. Thanks for another great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A fantastic post, Sally, and it’s full of valuable information. I wish I had known this years ago before I was expecting my first son. My doctor put all of his patients on a very strict diet – listing all the foods we couldn’t eat (no salt, nothing with fat, no sugar, no carbs). I followed his diet and instead of gaining I was losing weight. I got down to 90 pounds and starting having trouble seeing. When I went in to see him, he said, I made the diet strict because I didn’t expect anyone to follow it. (What?) The one thing I absolutely craved during this pregnancy was sauerkraut – for the salt. It’s the only time I have had a true craving for anything. For example – breakfast 2 scrambled egg white and a glass of water, lunch – 1/2 cup low fat, low salt cottage cheese and 1 slice fresh pineapple, dinner – 3 oz. skinless chicken breast poached, 1 cup fresh green beans, no salt or butter, and 2 slices of tomato. Water with all meals. I don’t know how many calories that added up to, but it wasn’t enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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