What Food Cravings Actually Mean

what food cravings mean

What do your food cravings mean? Here’s how can you stop cravings in a healthy way rather than giving into temptation.

Ah cravings. We’ve all had them before, but for some, this can be a daily occurrence.

Some cravings can be so intense that the mind is completely consumed with the thought of eating that specific food, and no matter how hard we try to resist, it lingers in the back of the mind until we finally cave and binge on it.

Has this ever happened to you?  It definitely has for me, on countless occasions.

That’s one of the reasons I went researching into why we crave certain foods. I wanted to know if there was a deeper meaning behind it, if there was something the body was trying to tell us, and most importantly, if there was a way to stop these cravings in a healthy way rather than giving into temptation.

So, here is what I uncovered.

The Reasons Why We Crave Foods

When your body is low in certain nutrients, it will heighten your desire to to eat to help bring these nutrients in. Shawn Stevenson explains this in more detail in his book, Eat Smarter:

Your brain and other organs are in constant communication making requests for nutrients they need. Omega-3s, chromium, vitamin C, zinc, leucine, niacin, vitamin D… the list goes on and on. There are countless nutrients that humans need to truly thrive, and the way your body signals the request to bring more nutrient supplies in is through hunger. If your body is low on magnesium for your muscle function or calcium to help clot your blood, it will heighten your desire to eat to get a chance to bring these nutrients in.

However, our cravings for unhealthy processed foods to receive certain nutrients has only been a recent occurrence. Flavour is how food communicates with the body, but now with artificial flavourings and formulas created by manufacturers (containing the perfect combinations of sweet, salty and sour to keep us coming back for more), this inherent communication system has been has hijacked, confusing the brain so it no longer knows the difference between a real strawberry and strawberry flavouring.

Shawn Stevenson explains this further:

There was a time when our food choices and biological needs matched up. We’d desire foods, not out of addiction or out of artificial manipulation, but out of cellular intelligence… I mentioned that food does, in fact, speak a particular language, and the language food speaks is called flavour. Flavour is how food communicates with us and it gives us valuable feedback as to what’s actually in the food and what the food can do for us. We’ve developed this communication with natural foods through a phenomenon we call post-ingestive feedback. Essentially, your body learns that certain flavours in foods come along with certain nutrients, and when in need of those nutrients, your hunger will compel you to seek out those foods.

There used to be a time when different foods tasted distinctly like different things. A strawberry tasted like a strawberry, a chicken leg tasted like a chicken leg, roots tasted like, well, roots. The lines were clear. And your taste sensors knew the difference… But, in recent decades, scientists figured out that flavours are linked to certain chemicals. And many of these flavour chemicals could be isolated. Once isolated, those once unique flavours could be used to artificially flavour things and cause those once clear lines to blur…

Now the flavour of a strawberry is no longer simply found in a strawberry. We can infuse that flavour into sodas, candy, ice-cream, cake, and even water… The flavours need not be exact, but they’re close enough to muddy up the waters of your brain trying to see the nutrients that are really in a food…

Resetting your flavour palate is critical to turning this cellular intelligence back on and optimising the function of your hunger and satiety hormones.

Shawn Stevenson, Eat Smarter

Below I share healthier alternatives to common cravings which I hope helps in reducing (or even eliminating) intense cravings that you may be experiencing so you can get on with your day.

Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most common food cravings people experience. If you find yourself craving a block of chocolate, it may be due to a lack of magnesium. This mineral can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, relax muscles, keep bones strong, maintain healthy heart function, regulate blood glucose levels, and assist with energy production in the body (among many other things).

Some healthier alternatives to boost magnesium levels include (but are not limited to) raw cacao nibs/powder/beans, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds (all preferably soaked or sprouted), green leafy vegetables, and fruit.

Sweets

If you crave sugar on a regular basis this could be linked to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), or a deficiency in tryptophan, chromium, sulphur, or phosphorus.

Healthier alternatives for tryptophan include (but are not limited to) spirulina, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, raw cacao, oatmeal, sweet potato, spinach, and raisins.

Alternatives for chromium include onion, romaine lettuce, tomato, cinnamon, grapes, apples, and sweet potato.

Healthier options for sulphur include vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family (like kale, cabbage, etc.), cranberries, horseradish, asparagus, carob powder, garlic, and onion.

Some healthier alternatives for phosphorus include whole grains (again, soaked or sprouted is best), pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and lentils.

Soft Drinks

Why would the body be craving something so toxic for us?

It could be due to a deficiency in calcium. Phosphoric acid, which can be found in carbonated drinks, can leach calcium and magnesium from the bones, creating a terrible cycle of depletion then craving.

Healthier options include (but are not limited to) sesame seeds/ tahini, broccoli, kale, legumes, mustard, and turnip greens.

Cheese

Cheese contains l-tryptophan, a fatty acid that can help improve your mood and promote relaxation. If you find yourself craving this popular comfort food, it may be due to a deficiency in essential fatty acids.

Some great alternatives for omega 3 (EPA and DHA) include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, and fish oil.

Other plant based options for omega-3 include flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Bread, Pasta, and Pastries

Nothing beats the delicious smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the bakery.

If you’re constantly craving these carby foods, it may be due to a chromium deficiency. Chromium works with insulin in the body to help metabolise carbohydrates.

Healthier options for boosting chromium levels include onion, romaine lettuce, tomato, cinnamon, grapes, apples, and sweet potato.

Red Meat

Craving red meat can be a common sign of iron deficiency. However, eating too much red meat can cause its own problems. Therefore, it’s much healthier to include a variety of iron-rich foods into your diet. Pairing vitamin C-rich foods with foods high in iron is a great way to boost iron absorption in the body, especially if your iron intake comes predominantly from plant-based sources. Vitamin C is well-known for its ability to help synthesise red blood cells in the body (where iron is found).

Alternatives for iron (other than red meat) include (but are not limited to) beans and legumes, sulphur-free prunes, figs, and other dried fruits, seaweed, spinach, cherries, and vitamin C rich foods to help with iron absorption.

Potato Crisps

Who doesn’t love to munch on chips. It’s up there as one of the most commonly craved foods. If you find you’re downing a bag of crisps every other day, it may be a sign you’re low in chloride and essential fatty acids. Chloride works with electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, to help balance fluids, acids and bases in the body.

Fatty acids help manage inflammation in the body.

Some great alternatives for the fatty acid, omega 3 (EPA and DHA), include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, and fish oil.

Other plant based options for omega-3s include flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Toast

If toast is something you regularly crave, it may be a sign you have a nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is found in amino acids in your body (which are the building blocks of your cells), and also in your DNA.

Plant-based foods containing protein include green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains (again, best when soaked or sprouted).

Other sources of protein include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods.

Burnt Food

This may sound like an odd craving to have, but if you’re someone who craves burnt food it can be a sign that you may have a carbon deficiency. Carbon makes up around 18% of the human body. It’s the basic building block to most cells in the body, and helps with cellular respiration, a process where sugar is broken down into a form the cell can use as energy!

Fresh fruits are a wonderful, healthier alternative.

Coffee and Black Tea

Do you crave a cup of coffee on the hour, every hour? Can you go a day without this delicious beverage?

If coffee or black tea is something you crave regularly, it may be an indication that you’re deficient in phosphorus, sulphur, iron, or NaCl (salt).

Healthy alternatives for phosphorus include whole grains, pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and lentils.

Foods high in sulphur include cruciferous veggies (cabbage, kale, etc.), horseradish, cranberries, asparagus, carob powder, garlic, and onion.

Iron rich foods include beans and legumes, sulphur-free prunes, figs, and other dried fruits, seaweed, spinach, cherries, and vitamin C to aid in iron absorption.

Foods high in NaCl include Himalayan or Aztecan sea salt, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha (if you buy store-bought kombucha, look for ones containing no added sugar).

Crunching On Ice

This isn’t for those who simply enjoy chewing ice. No. It’s if you crave ice often.

This can be a sign of an iron deficiency. The reason behind this is still yet unclear, however in one study, chewing on ice was shown to help increase alertness in people with iron deficiency anaemia.

Foods that may help to boost iron levels in the body include beans and legumes, sulphur-free prunes, figs, and other dried fruits, seaweed, spinach, cherries, and vitamin C to assist with the absorption of iron.

This above list of cravings is just a handful of the most common cravings experienced by the majority of people. When I learnt what all these cravings might be telling us, I became very conscious of my body. I kept my eye out for any cravings that I was experiencing regularly and did some research into what nutrients I possibly needed as a result of those cravings.

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.

Did you recognise any of the food cravings mentioned above? What has been your experience with cravings? Share in the comments below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa

Sources:

Hilton Andersen, Charlotte. What Your Food Cravings Secretly Reveal About Your Health. Reader’s Digest. Retrieved from https://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/cravings-meaning/

What Do Food Cravings Mean? 21 Common Food Cravings And What You Can Do About Them. Ben Greenfield Fitness. Retrieved from bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/fat-loss-articles/what-do-food-cravings-mean/

Easton-Smith, Kim. (June 14, 2018). What Your Food Cravings Say About Your Health. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/diet-nutrition/a21342964/food-cravings-what-do-they-mean-health/

Marks, Lynn. (2016-05-09). What Is Chromium Picolinate?. Everyday Health. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/chromium-picolinate

Lee, Elizabeth. (August 29, 2011). The Truth About Red Meat. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-red-meat#1

The Relationship Between Iron and Vitamin C. Fergon. Retrieved from http://www.fergon.com/the-relationship-between-iron-and-vitamin-c/

Stress Symptoms. (July 11, 2017). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body#1

Mayo Clinic Staff. (April 28, 2016). Stress Symptoms: Effects On Your Body And Behavior. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

What Is A Chloride Test?. (December 16, 2016). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-a-chloride-test#1

Lewis, Sherry M., Knapka, Joseph J. (2006). Learn more about Chloride. Nutrition. ScienceDirect. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/chloride

Floyd, Margaret. What Are Fatty Acids Used For In The Body?. Share Care. Retrieved from https://www.sharecare.com/health/fats-nutrients-diet/what-fatty-acids-used-for

Feed The World – General Briefing Sheet (TV). Why Do We Need Nitrogen?. Retrieved from http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/Inspirational/resources/6.5.1.pdf

Eddy, Catherine. (March 12, 2014). The Role of Elements in the Human Body: Carbon. Prezi. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/kedbi6unipvy/the-role-of-elements-in-the-human-body-carbon/

Cellular Respiration. (October 9, 2018). Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellular_respiration

Pruthi, Rajiv K., M.B.B.S. Craving and chewing ice: A sign of anemia?. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/expert-answers/chewing-ice/faq-20057982

Stevenson, Shawn. (2020). Eat Smarter. Little, Brown Spark. 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Print.

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