Food Cravings: Is Your Body Missing Essential Nutrients?
Ever had a craving for something that you couldn’t explain? A craving that no matter what you seemed to try, it wouldn’t go away until you ate that food you were craving? Did you know that certain cravings can actually be a sign that you may be deficient in a certain nutrient? Read on!
Craving Ice or Ice Chips
A craving for ice can indicate an iron deficiency (Johnson, 2016). Solve this deficiency with lean meats, poultry and beef. If you are not a meat eater, iron can also be achieved in the diet from iron-fortified cereals, beans, spinach, and lentils. Having vitamin C in the diet at the same time as your iron source (such as a bell pepper with your chicken) aids in the absorption of iron into the body, helping increase iron stores more quickly.
The All-Day Chocolate Craving
For as long as I can remember, I have been hearing that craving chocolate is a sign of magnesium deficiency. Indeed, there are many scientists that agree with this. Dating back all the way to 1985, we have seen that supplementing magnesium can indeed reduce the severity of a chocolate craving, showing this relationship to be more true.
There is also a truth that craving chocolate is a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) among women. This truth is a little complex, so bear with me: stress can contribute to low magnesium stores in the body. When the body is deficient in magnesium, it can lead to a depletion of dopamine, a hormone that interacts with serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone) to regulate our mood. Those who are experiencing stress from PMS may experience a fall in magnesium, dopamine, and therefore experience cravings for chocolate. I know that’s a lot of complicated science in those last few sentences, but basically take comfort that you can now justify monthly chocolate cravings with science.
Additionally, craving chocolate and/or sweets in general can be a clue a sign of emotional eating. Read my post about emotional eating for more information on how to navigate these tricky waters.
A Craving for Fizzy Drinks
According to Shona Wilkinson, RD, “’Fizzy drinks leach calcium from the bones, so if the body needs calcium quickly, a fizzy drink is a quick way to get some released into the body. This is very detrimental for bone health, however, so it’s much better to get your calcium from dark green leafy vegetables or low-fat dairy products.”
Salty Food Cravings
Craving salty foods can certainly be a sign that you are in need of some extra sodium (salt) in your body. Those with adrenal fatigue may experience imbalances of salt and experience cravings for salty foods to correct this imbalance. Patients with Addison’s disease, a disease affecting the adrenal glands and leading to sodium depletion, have been seen to have higher cravings for salt as the body tries to correct the low levels of sodium in their system. Another reason can be just because someone is used to eating salty foods and have acquired quite a taste for them. If this describes you, be careful as too much sodium in the diet has been shown to contribute to a variety of heart conditions, fluid imbalances, and weight irregularity. Salty foods are also common cravings in those who struggle with emotional eating.
PICA, the condition of eating nonnutritive substances like paper, soap, hair, cloth, wool soil, chalk, paint, clay, starch, and ice (among others) is most frequently found in pregnant women and children. A common belief about PICA is that it points to an iron, zinc, or calcium deficiency. Some reporting does show that those with PICA had zinc deficiencies, and that zinc supplementation reduced the PICA symptoms significantly. However, there has been too much varied research to truly confirm this. In a study done in 2004, children in Zambia who were eating dirt were found to be low in iron, however, iron supplementation had no effect on PICA symptoms, suggesting that supplementing the nutrient did not actually solve any strange cravings.
Bottom line? PICA (with the exception of ice) may or may not mean there is a nutrient deficiency, and supplementing won’t necessarily solve it. Additionally, PICA is considered an eating disorder by the National Eating Disorders Association. If you are experiencing PICA symptoms, remember it is very dangerous to eat non-food substances. Speak with your doctor about this immediately to check for any potential poisoning or other PICA-associated risks you may have.
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Hodgekiss, A. (2011). What your food cravings say about your health. Daily Mail, 20. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy1.ncu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bwh&AN=63576823&site=eds-live
Johnson, A. (2016). Is your body trying to tell you something? Common nutrient inadequacies and deficiencies. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/is-your-body-trying-to-tell-you-something-common-nutrient-inadequacies-and-deficiencies
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Michelle Yates, RD, LMNT, is a clinical dietitian at CHI Health Lakeside Hospital, specializing in the Medical/Surgical unit & the Oncology unit. She doubles as a dance instructor as well as a master’s student for Health Psychology. Her passions are to help others break free from any negative ideas of food they carry, along with opening their eyes to the joys of “everything in moderation”.