Q: Why Do I Get Food Cravings, and What Do They Mean?
A: Food cravings may sometimes arise from old habits or memories (like the smell of your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies…mmm).
However, while most of the research is young and doesn’t show a direct link between specific cravings and nutrient deficiencies, there is some evidence pointing to food cravings as your body’s natural, instinctive way of letting you know you that you need more of an important nutrient.
Listening to your biology isn’t easy in today’s world, but it’s crucial here, especially since cravings may direct you towards a false fix, like processed foods and sugary treats, which will temporarily alleviate the craving but won’t get at the root of the issue.
I stopped by The Doctors recently to share a few of the most common food cravings and what your body may be telling you when you have them, and I’ll break them down for you, here.
Crave This, Eat That
The Craving: French fries
What It Means: If you’ve got a hankering for fries or other salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels, you could be slightly dehydrated. Hey, it’s always great to drink more water, so start there. But it could also mean you need calcium, since studies have shown a marginal deficiency of the mineral could stimulate the desire for salt, and others have shown women on low-calcium diets crave salty food more.
How to Satisfy It: If you indulge the craving, the salt will temporarily increase calcium levels in the blood, essentially tricking the body into thinking it’s taking in calcium when it’s not. Instead, reach for calcium-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, almonds, tofu, sesame seeds, and sardines.
The Craving: Chocolate cupcakes
What It Means: An overactive sweet tooth may be a signal that you’re magnesium deficient, according to research. And while magnesium deficiency is not proven to cause PMS symptoms, some studies have shown increasing the amount of the mineral your diet can decrease PMS symptoms such as irritability, fluid retention, and headaches. I don’t know about you, but for me, those symptoms often lead to cravings for a bottomless tub of chocolate ice cream.
How to Satisfy It: A diet rich in foods such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will ensure that you don’t become magnesium deficient. Then, you can eat sugary treats as conscious indulgences, when it’s really worth it, rather than constantly fighting the urge.
The Craving: A juicy burger
What It Means: Here’s a case where your body’s sending you a clear signal. A strong craving for meat may mean you’re iron-deficient. In fact, studies show that in pregnant women and others with iron deficiencies, food cravings serve to prevent or alleviate the nutritional deficit.
How to Satisfy It: Go ahead, grill up a grass-fed, organic burger, since red meat is the best source of iron. You can also get it from fish and poultry, or if you’re a vegetarian, in tofu, legumes (lentils and kidney beans), nuts (cashews and almonds), seeds (pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds), oatmeal, dried fruit (apricots and raisins), and vegetables (mushrooms and potatoes). Just keep in mind that it’s harder for the body to absorb iron from plant-based sources. To help, pair iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C, as it will help your body absorb the iron.
The bottom line? Listen up! Your body has got a lot to say. Your food cravings may be telling you a lot more than, “Do not pass go, head straight for the nearest Shake Shack.”