What Do Your Food Cravings Say About Your Health?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


A man with food cravingsFood cravings are strong enough to make you indulge in eating a little more than you should. Interestingly, such cravings are not only related to satisfying your taste buds and hunger but also say a lot about your health. For instance, your craving for certain foods can indicate that your body is actually in need of certain minerals or nutrients. Satisfying your cravings by eating the relevant foods can help replenish your body’s nutrient requirement as well as give your energy levels a great boost. Therefore, it is essential to satisfy your cravings for a healthier wellbeing. So next time when you have a food preference, indulge in some healthy delicious treat.

Why Do You Get Food Cravings?

There are several factors that propel the intense desire for a food. The part of your brain responsible for reward, pleasure, and memory also controls your food cravings. The memory area of your brain associates specific food with rewards. New research and brain tests suggest that the memory region plays a more crucial role in food craving than the reward center region. When your body detects any imbalance, it sends out messages in the form of cravings. Cravings can be caused due to various factors.

Here are some of the major reasons that are known to cause cravings:

Dehydration

Over 70 percent of the human body is comprised of water. Inadequate water content can leave you feeling thirsty and dehydrated causing hunger. Drinking a glass of water is the first thing you need to do during cravings.

Stress

Besides satisfying your hunger, food also provides you with emotional support. Stress and anxiety can lead to sugar and fat cravings. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response of your body functions as a natural protective agent against stress. When your body detects stressful situations, the brain signals your adrenal glands for secreting cortisol, an anti-stress hormone to combat stress. However, repeated stress puts more pressure on your adrenals for increased cortisol secretion. As a result, your adrenals get overburdened causing a decline in cortisol levels and reducing your body’s stress-fighting ability.

Carbohydrates help boost the level of the serotonin hormone which produces a calming effect. To explore the effect of stress on food cravings, researchers conducted a study on stressed-out rats which revealed that the stressed rats preferred eating sugar and fat. The research also showed that feeding on sugar and fat reduced secretion of stress-related hormones.

Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances can also lead to cravings . An imbalance in the level of leptin, serotonin, and endorphins can make you crave for food. Fluctuation in hormone levels is high during pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause which can give rise to some unique cravings. People with adrenal fatigue have high cortisol levels and crave salty and fatty foods.

Nutritional Deficiency

Food cravings and nutritional deficiencyYour body requires a variety of micronutrients, macronutrients, and minerals for optimal functioning. Nutrients also play a significant role in nourishing your adrenals as well as accelerating your process of adrenal fatigue recovery. However, when your body does not get the required nutrients, it sends signals in the form of cravings. Craving for particular foods reveals the type of nutrients your body is lacking. For instance, insufficient mineral levels can cause salt cravings which can be satisfied naturally by including unprocessed sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, goat milk, tuna and salmon in your diet. Inadequate nutrition can also produce cravings for non-nutritional foods such as caffeine or sugar.

Genes

Individual food preferences can also largely depend on a person’s genes and upbringing. Studies suggest that genetics can affect a person’s intake levels of sugar and salt as well as preferences for food such as dark chocolate, blue cheese, artichokes, bacon, coffee, and broccoli.

Food Cravings: What Are They Actually Telling You?

Cravings can range from salty, sweet, and fatty to sour. They signal you that your body is in need of something. Food cravings can have an underlying cause and maybe symptom or signs of an imbalance. Certain cravings can also be your body’s response to nutrient depletion. In fact, each type of food craving indicates what nutrient your body is actually in need of. Therefore, being aware of your cravings and understanding its real meaning can prove helpful in finding out what your body actually needs. Thus satisfying your cravings is pertinent to meet your body’s nutrient requirement.

Cravings actually help you in identifying the nutrients that your body is lacking. Here is a list of some of the commonly experienced food cravings and the nutrient depletion they indicate:

Craving for Protein Foods

Inadequate protein can make your body crave for protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, and meat. Proteins help in keeping you full and energetic throughout the day. Starting your day with a protein-rich diet can also help fight fatigue.
If you frequently experience fatigue along with one or a set of symptoms that include low energy levels, anxiety, brain fog, a decrease in concentration level, insomnia, difficulty in waking up, or salty and fatty food cravings, then chances are high that you might be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). People usually have reactive hypoglycemia in advanced stages of adrenal fatigue during which a high-fat diet can help minimize tiredness and irritability but can often produce protein cravings. In such cases, a combination of a fat and protein-rich diet can help alleviate the symptoms.

Craving for Salty Foods

This indicates that your body requires chloride which is essential for healthy digestion and maintaining electrolyte levels. Raw goat milk and yogurt, Himalayan pink salt, sea salt and fish are great foods to satisfy your salt craving. A tuna fish sandwich along with goat’s yogurt make a great meal. You can also make salmon and crumbled goat cheese salad drizzled with olive oil, mixed herbs and sea salt. Make sure to avoid extremely salty junk foods such as potato chips.

Craving for Fatty Foods

A healthier option or food cravingsIf you crave for fatty foods such as pizza, French fries and soda then your body is in need of calcium. A healthier alternative to satisfy such cravings includes unprocessed cheese, avocado, mustard, sesame, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, legumes, olive oil, coconut oil and organic butter. Toasted sesame, almond and flax seeds sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper make a tasty and healthy snack to satisfy your salty and fatty food cravings.

Craving for Sweets

If you are craving for sweets then your body needs phosphorus, chromium, sulfur, tryptophan, and carbon. To get phosphorous, consider eating nuts, grains, legumes, chicken, eggs, and fish. Beans, broccoli, unprocessed cheese, chicken, and grapes are sources of chromium. Cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, kale, horseradish, and cranberries are great sources of sulfur whereas unprocessed cheese, spinach, sweet potatoes, and raisins are rich in tryptophan. For carbon intake, include a variety of fresh fruits in your diet. Sweet cravings can also indicate that you are tired and lacking sleep. In such cases, taking a nap or going for a short walk can help boost your energy levels.

Craving for Coffee and Tea

Most of us love to start our day with a cup of steaming hot coffee or tea. But if you have cravings for them throughout the day then your body is in need of one or all of these nutrients: salt, iron, phosphorus, and sulfur. Poultry, black cherries, greens, fish, and meat are great sources of iron. A great option would be to make a veggie omelet seasoned with unprocessed sea salt and served with black cherries. If you are dehydrated or thirsty then it can cause a coffee craving. Drinking a glass of water can be helpful.

Craving for Carbs

This craving indicates that your body requires nitrogen. Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, beans, brown rice and nuts are rich sources of nitrogen. Toasted nuts, turkey burger, steamed fish and black bean curry are great to satisfy your craving for carbs. Cutting carbs from your diet completely lead to carb cravings.

Craving for Acid Foods

Stomach acids help to disinfect your stomach, sterilize food and break down food, particularly proteins. Inadequate stomach acids can cause digestive dysfunction leading to nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, and constipation. Low stomach acids can also cause a craving for acid foods such as lemon, tamarind, lime or vinegar. Eating magnesium-rich foods such as fruits, seeds, legumes and raw nuts can help satisfy the craving.

Craving for Chocolate

If you have chocolate craving then it could be due to the requirement for copper or magnesium. Stress can also lead to magnesium loss. Magnesium-rich foods such as dark chocolate, fruits, legumes, seeds, and nuts can help meet your body’s magnesium requirement. Dark chocolates are especially rich in antioxidants that help fight stress-related issues and cancer.

Craving for Burnt Food

Though this might sound strange, there are people who crave for burnt food which can be due to carbon deficiency. They leave the food to cook a little longer until crisp, browned and a bit charred. Eating fresh fruits can help in overcoming carbon deficiency.

Craving for Ice

Iron-rich foods such as dried fruits can help with food cravingsWhen the temperatures are high, it is natural to have cravings for foods such as cool drinks or ice-creams. However, if you have high desires for chewing ice on a normal day then chances are high that your body needs iron. Overcome the problem by including iron-rich foods such as seaweed, spinach, prunes, beans, figs, legumes and dried fruits in your diet.

Craving for Carbonated Drinks/Soda

Carbonated drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine making them easily addictive treats. However, if you have a high craving for plain soda or carbonated drinks, then chances are high that you have a calcium deficiency. Eating calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, turnip greens, sesame, mustard, legumes, sesame, and kale can help in overcoming the problem.

How to Deal with Your Cravings the Healthy Way

Satisfying your craving does not mean that you need to depend on a double cheeseburger or a high-calorie dessert. Here are some great tips that can help meet your cravings the healthy way.

Deal With Stress – You don’t always need to be hungry to eat. Stress and anxiety can cause emotional eating during which your body depends on food for relieving stress. Therefore, managing your stress levels can help minimize cravings. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or physical activity.

Adequate Sleep – Inadequate sleep can cause hormonal imbalance leading to overeating. Adequate sleep helps in maintaining your body’s hormone balance.

Staying Hydrated – Thirst can often make you feel hungry. Drinking plenty of water can make you feel satisfied.

Eating Adequate Protein – Studies have linked protein-rich diet with reduced cravings. Make sure to include lean protein.

Avoiding Excess Hunger – Excess hunger can leave you craving more food. Follow a regular eating pattern and include healthy snacks to beat hunger pangs.

Conclusion

Food cravings are your body’s natural response system to any imbalance or nutrient depletion. They indicate that your body needs something. Stress, dehydration, hormonal imbalance, genes and nutritional deficiency are some of the major factors that can cause cravings. Interestingly, each food craving relates to the insufficiency of certain nutrients in your body. Including nutrient-rich foods, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated; eating a protein-rich diet and avoiding excess hunger can help deal with your cravings; provide nutrients and restore any imbalance for an optimal health.

 
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Your body responds to any imbalance or nutrient deficiency by producing food cravings. Including nutrient-rich foods in your diet is a healthy to overcome cravings. Satisfying your food craving is essential as in the process your body gains access to the required nutrients which helps regain its balance and energy reserves.


Food cravings