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Do you find that you’re always craving chocolate? Or maybe you’re more of a carbs person. Perhaps your vice is cheese, or coffee, or sweets. Don’t beat yourself up; it’s likely there’s more to your cravings than will-power alone. Strong food cravings usually indicate that your body is low in a specific nutrient, vitamin, or mineral. We’ve looked into the most common cravings and deciphered what they mean for your body.
Craving: Chocolate What it might mean: You need more chromium and magnesium. Unfortunately, craving chocolate doesn’t indicate a chocolate deficiency (we should be so lucky)! A lot of women crave chocolate before menstruation; this is because hormone imbalances occur during this time, and chocolate contains tryptophan, which metabolises into: serotonin, a mood boosting hormone, low levels of which can negatively impact pre-menstruation; and melatonin, which helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. What to eat instead: If you really want some chocolate, choose the best quality, dark chocolate, organic, if possible. Some people like raw cacao “chocolate”. Better still, tackle the craving head on by topping up your magnesium and chromium levels. Although there are high levels of magnesium in nuts, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables, it is very difficult for our digestion to extract it from plant sources, as the magnesium and other minerals are bound tightly to things like phytic acid. Fruits like bananas, avocados, dates, raisins, berries, pineapples, and papayas are the best plant food sources. Of the highly bioavailable, animal food sources, dairy products are great if tolerated, and animal meats and sea food, especially fatty fish and shellfish, have good amounts. Bone broth is a good source if it is cooked for at least 24 hours with apple cider vinegar added. You may wish to invest in a magnesium supplement to top up levels. Chromium is a trace mineral present in small amounts in all foods. The richest sources of bioavailable chromium are mussels, oysters, brown shrimp, and pork, and smaller amounts in bone marrow, beef tallow, poultry, meat, and eggs. Dates, pears, apples, and tomatoes contain a good amount and the nutrients in fruit are generally more bioavailable than in vegetables. Vitamins B3 (niacin) and C aid absorption of chromium. Eating sugar depletes chromium and magnesium, so avoid refined sugar and you may find you feel better.
What it might mean: You need more nitrogen. Certain emotions have an impact on the foods we crave. It’s incredibly common to crave carbs when we are feeling stressed or nervous. This is because eating foods like bread, biscuits and sweet treats has a calming effect, temporarily boosting levels of serotonin, but causing a crash afterwards. What to eat instead: Boost your nitrogen levels with high protein animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, organ meats, and shellfish. Blood sugar fluctuations can also make us crave carbs. Adding more animal protein and fat to your diet helps to regulate your levels.
What it might mean: You need phosphorous, sulphur and tryptophan. Phosphorous, sulphur and tryptophan all help to regulate your energy levels. When you crave sweets, it’s usually an indication of blood sugar fluctuation. When your blood sugar levels drop, your body instinctually craves sweet things in an effort to get more fuel and keep your blood sugar levels stable. Eating sweets, biscuits and cakes only exacerbate the problem, sending your blood sugar levels in a spin with extreme spikes and dips, ultimately leading to more cravings. What to eat instead: To up your phosphorous, tryptophan, and sulphur levels, eat more animal foods – especially eggs and dairy, and beef, ham, chicken, duck, turkey, organ meats like heart and liver, fish, and seafood. In the plant kingdom, dried fruits like peaches, apricots, and figs are high in sulphur, and add sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapple, tomatoes, and raisins for tryptophan. When a craving strikes, choose a piece of fruit over a bag of lollies.Craving: Salty Foods
What it might mean: You need more sodium, chloride, Vitamin B complex, and Vitamin C. Cravings for salty foods like popcorn and chips usually indicate that our body is in a stressed or depleted state. Our Vitamin B and C stores may also be low. Together, sodium and chloride make up refined table salt. Even when you look at unrefined sea salt that still contains all of the trace minerals, sodium and chloride make up the bulk of the volume. Both are essential in the digestive system, for nerve conduction, water and pH balance, and healthy blood pressure. What to eat: If you are eating a whole food diet, then salting your food, to taste, with an unrefined sea salt, should provide you with enough of these essential minerals. Increasing your intake of Vitamin B complex and Vitamin C will help to keep your body from entering a stressed state, in turn decreasing your salt cravings.
What it might mean: You need more calcium and essential fatty acids. What to eat: A craving for cheese often indicates a calcium or fatty acid deficiency. If tolerated, eat cheese! Whole fat dairy products are rich in essential nutrients. If you cannot tolerate dairy, to increase your calcium intake, try some canned fish with the bone-in, or chewing on cooked chicken bones (they become quite soft), or boiling and powdering eggshells to sprinkle on food, or long cooking a bone broth with plenty of apple cider vinegar added, or having a bone meal supplement. Plant sources are much less bioavailable, but you could try dried figs or soaking and activating some sesame seeds. Essential fatty acids are best obtained from animal fats, fatty fish, cod liver oil, etc.
Craving: Red Meat
What it might mean: You need more iron…or zinc…or vitamin B12…or amino acids that only meat contains – carnitine, carnosine, creatine, etc! Not surprisingly, cravings for red meat often indicate an iron deficiency. Women of menstruation age are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiencies because of the amount they lose each month. What to eat: This is one of those rare instances where you should actually give in to the craving. Eating organic, lean red meat will absolutely help to boost your iron, zinc, B12, and amino acid levels. Vitamin C really only helps with the absorption of non-heme iron from plant sources, so taking a Vitamin C supplement if you have plenty of red meat and vitamin C-rich foods is not necessary.
Craving: Fizzy Drinks
What it might mean: You need calcium. Carbonated drinks draw calcium from your bones. If you’re craving fizzy drinks, it’s possible you are low in calcium and your body is desperately trying to tap into the source that resides in your bones. What you should have instead: Start with water or herbal tea to quench the thirst that drove you to fizzy drinks in the first place, and then focus on upping your calcium levels. Bioavailable calcium-rich foods are dairy, canned fish with the bone-in, or soft-cooked chicken bones, boiled and powdered eggshells, bone meal, dried figs, and activated sesame seeds.
Craving: Coffee or Black Tea
What it might mean: You need phosphorous and sulphur. Fatigue has been linked to phosphorous and sulphur deficiencies. Rather than trying to use caffeine to wake up, try investigating the root of the problem. What to have instead: See the “craving sweets” section above for sulphur and phosphorus food sources. Other sources of sulphur include kale, cabbage, cranberries, horseradish, asparagus, carob powder, garlic and onions. For plant sources of phosphorus, you could include small amounts of properly prepared beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and lentils, if tolerated. Again, minerals are bound to substances like phytic acid in plant foods. You may not want to rely on them for your mineral intake. Sometimes it feels like cravings rule our lives. We agonise over them and reprimand ourselves for giving in, but research shows that all we really need to do is a little more digging. Look after your nutrient deficiencies and see what happens. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Can food cravings be a sign of nutrient deficiencies?
What are some healthy ways to satisfy a food craving?
Some healthy ways to satisfy a food craving include choosing nutritious substitutes, practising portion control, distracting oneself with other activities, and satisfying the craving in moderation.