Alright, so you have done the big scary thing and taken folic acid out of your diet. That. Is. Huge.
Now, you’re in the scattered and strange landscape of the food that is left over. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but for me, this was a martian landscape. When I eliminated wheat it wasn’t because of the folic acid. It was, in actual fact because I was testing it out to see if I had a food sensitivity. About three years later I discovered my own MTHFR mutation and the whole thing clicked in a big “aha” moment. But I digress.
I took out all the wheat-based foods, which, upon reflection, was about 80% of my food. Let’s face it, I had a little wheat problem. I lived for a good crusty bread dipped in olive oil with a little bit of salt, pepper, and lemon zest. My god. It still makes my mouth water. When I wasn’t eating that, I loved my pasta, tabouleh, barley soup, and I used to make a sprouted grain and nut mixture for breakfasts that was a base of wheat and oats.
Losing most of my food wasn’t pretty. The first three days all I could think about was bread – not the absurd, cardboard based product they passed off as gluten-free bread at that time, but real, crusty, fragrant, lovely bread. At this time I had a bick and mortar practice and was running a wellness center and I’m pretty sure that all of my patients in those three days heard me wax poetic about bread. My office manager, who was on a diet at that time, had to politely ask me to shut up about the bread for a minute because I was making her hungry.
On day three, I remember I sat in the parking lot of a Whole Foods and had to give myself a stern talking-to to prevent the purchase of a Seeduction loaf, which was one of my favorites at the time.
It was a bit sad.
Mysteriously, on day four I woke up entirely indifferent to bread. Like all of a sudden, I just didn’t care so much. It was literally like a switch flipped. If you’re listening to this and nodding sagely, then you know about this switch. Perhaps this switch flipped for you too.
It turns out, this switch is a really great signal from your body, and if you experienced this switch, then you have just learned something incredibly valuable. So let’s talk about the craving switch for a minute.
The Craving Switch
Food cravings are a thing that many people are familiar with. Cravings, especially cravings that are frequent or repeating, can tell you a bit about yourself. They could indicate one of several things:
- A nutritional deficiency.
- An emotional hole to be filled.
- A food sensitivty.
Let’s take a look.
Nutritional Deficiency Cravings
Some cravings arise because your body is looking for a nutrient that is found in a particular type of food. This could be a beneficial fat, a mineral, or a vitamin.
Bear in mind, macronutrient cravings if you’ve been hungry, calorie-deprived, on an intense workout program, or if you’re growing, pregnant, or nursing are a different thing. I’m not talking about a marathoner craving a plate of pasta after a race or a pregnant mama’s pickles and ice cream. Those are somewhat exceptional situations. I’m talking about normal-situation cravings. The hallmarks of this type of craving are:
- The food you’re craving actually has some nutrition in it. (Hint – it isn’t a snack cake, any kind of candy, or found at the top, middle, or bottom of a bag of chips.)
- It usually seems a bit random. Like, why-do-I-suddenly-need-oysters? Type random. It can also be why-do-I-always-need-oysters?
- It may be several different foods that seem unrelated – like if you can’t have oysters, then it’s going to have to be pumpkin seeds.
These types of cravings are surprisingly common and strangely, overlooked. It’s a lot easier to ignore the craving for oysters or pumpkin seeds than it is to ignore the craving for chips. Unfortunately, this one is actually pointing to a nutritional deficiency. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to find it – like why oysters? But with a bit of help from your nutritionist friend on instagram or from the expert internet gremlins at Google, you can figure out what might be provided from that food or group of foods that you’re craving. This could point you to a useful supplement, or possibly to a dietary modification. In the case of oysters, it’s cheaper but far less satisfying to supplement, so choose you own path there.
I think we all know about these. For me, I know it’s an emotional craving if I want creamy carb foods or salty crunchy foods. Those are my emotions talking through that fetuchinni alfredo, lasagne, queso, cheese-smothered nachoes, or pre-menstrual bag of Doritoes. It isn’t nutritional value I’m craving, it’s the filling of an emotional need for comfort, for food-love, for the warm hug that can only be provided by melted cheese.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see the source of the problem. A bad day at work, a crappy relationship bump, or a little pandemic can be enough to trigger these cravings. Sometimes, however, knowing your trigger foods can be a good window into your emotional world – especially if you’re “fine.”
I know lots of people who are “fine” and I myself have been “fine” from time to time. In this context, by “fine” I mean willfully ignoring and or denying any emotional problems exist. Sometimes you’re consciously “fine” and just soldiering on through a stressful situation, but many times you’re unconsciously “fine” and just not letting yourself see how bad things really are internally. If that’s the case, then watching when you reach for your own personal emotional foods can be a great way to pay attention to how your heart is really doing.
This also gives you a good opportunity to either indulge in your emotional craving knowing that you’re doing it as a gift to your soul-self, or to choose a different way to explore and liberate some of those emotions that need a bit of extra care.
Finally, we circle back to my wheat cravings and talk about the cravings generated by food sensitivities. Interestingly, three of the “big four” food sensitivity foods have something called an “exorphin” in them. This is basically a food-derived substance that acts on opioid recepors in the gut and brain. You heard me right – opioid receiptors. Like the ones that react to morphine or, say, heroine. The same opioids of the much-talked about “opioid epideminc.”
These exorphins have been shown in research to exert influence over such major neurological functions as pain perception, emotion, and memory. Also gut-related fuctions like motility, hormone release, appetite, and local immunity.
The major players in this game are wheat and grains, which contain gluten exorphones, milk and diary products, which contain casomorphones, and soymorphins from soybeans. Interestingly, spinach also contains an exomorphone called rubiscolins, but for whatever reason spinach sensitivities and also spinach cravings are thin on the ground. As you can imagine, the bulk of these food-sourced opioids set up an addictive response in your neurological cascade that is similar to the one set up by, you guessed it, opioids themselves.
Interestingly for MTHFR folks, there is also some remarkable research showing that these exorphones, specifically the casomorphones decrease glutathione, which is an end product of the methylation cycle, and also SAM, which is our universal methyl donor. This was studied specifically in the context of autism, but applies to everyone with the MTHFR mutation because solid science is showing that gluten and dairy actually slow down the methylation cycle – something that we are forever working to boost.
So if you, like me, experienced the wild cravings after taking the folic acid (and subsequently the wheat and/or corn) out of your diet, then you might want to consider that there is more than just folic acid going on. That you, like me, might have an underlying sensitivity. If you do have a sensitivity, then actually getting the gluten 100% out of your diet – out even from things like soy sauce, licorice, salad dressings and other such micro-sources, could be incredibly worth it.
Now that I am feeling solidly like a fountain of good news, I”ll sign off. I promise, next week we’ll talk about adding in some wonderful foods that are rich in natural folates.