As annoying as they are, food cravings can tell you a lot about your health.
Food cravings, we all get them.
When a craving strikes, there are two options: hope our willpower is strong enough to resist the urge, or, as most likely happens, give into temptation and indulge in the (often unhealthy) food we’re craving.
But you shouldn’t beat yourself up about food cravings, as it’s highly likely they are a sign of a deficiency in your body.
Here are five of the most common cravings and what they may be trying to tell you.
If you can’t stop thinking about eating a big bag of salty chips, low minerals in your diet may be the problem.
According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Physiology & Behaviour, salt cravings may indicate you are deficient in essential minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. Funnily enough, a lot of these minerals are present in sea salt and are stripped away in the refining process. It seems that adding a little high-quality sea salt to your meals may help.
Sugar cravings are the most common food craving. And turns out, gut bacteria may be to blame. The more sweet foods we eat, the more bacteria with a preference for sugar will flourish in the gut microbiome.
An American study in the BioEssays Journal showed these bacteria will send signals to our brain via the vagus nerve (i.e. the axis connecting our gut and our brain), urgently telling us we need to eat sugar.
So much for willpower when we have an army of bacteria working against us. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that can be broken by incorporating pre- and probiotics into our diet. These encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria and help quieten down sugar cravings.
Can’t get your mind off bread and pasta? You may well be lacking nitrogen in your diet. It’s super important to meet your nitrogen quota, as it’s an essential element of protein production in the body.
Luckily, there are plenty of good nitrogen-rich foods you can chose from – think beans, nuts and seeds, meat and fish.
Probably a less common craving, but certainly one to be wary of, as having an urge to eat ice may indicate an iron deficiency.
Doctors have identified a phenomenon known as “pica” where people crave foods with no nutritional value, such as ice. Specifically craving and consuming ice is known as pagophagia, and may be a symptom of iron deficiency, as identified in a 2014 study in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses. If you suspect you suffer from this condition, seek medical advice. However, you may well still be low on iron even if you don’t crave ice. According to the Medibank Better Health index, iron deficiency is on the rise amongst 18-30 year old Australian women. You can up your iron intake by eating red meat, beans and lentils, or by taking an iron supplement.
5) Fatty foods
If you’re craving pizzas, creamy cheeses and other oily foods, it might mean you need to eat some more – you guessed it – fat. But the key part is where that fat is coming from.
Fat was once a much-maligned nutrient, believed to contribute to obesity, heart disease and a host of other health conditions. While fat has subsequently been shown to be essential to good health, the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that Australians are still not meeting their recommended healthy fatty acids intake.
So instead of reaching for a greasy burger, opt instead for foods rich in healthy fatty-acids such as salmon, avocado and almonds.