What Do Food Cravings Mean? 9 Things The Foods You Want Can Say About Your Health
If you happen to be struck by a craving for a certain food, you likely react by going out and getting that food. And enjoying it, as you should. But since some cravings can be the body's way of communicating what it needs, it may be a good idea to pay closer attention.
Of course, sometimes you just want a slice of pizza, and it really is as simple as that. "Food cravings can also be associated with emotions or past experiences with a particular food," Brooke Fredrickson, a registered dietician nutritionist, tells Bustle. If you tend to have a particular craving when you're lonely or sad, for example, it's probably not due to a physical health concern but more related to your emotions, she says. And that may be a sign to check in and make sure you're taking good care of yourself.
Other times, food cravings can be a sign of something more, such as a nutritional deficiency or another underlying health concern. "Cravings typically come from nutrient deficiencies if we aren't eating a balanced enough diet," Emily Tills, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition coach, tells Bustle. And when that's the case, you may need to include more varied foods into your meals to make sure you're covering all your bases.
If you notice any of the cravings listed below — especially if they don't go away — consider the interesting reasons why you might be having them, and don't hesitate to reach out to a doctor for their opinion.
1. Chips & Pretzels
Have you ever had an intense craving for pretzels, chips, or other salty foods? While you might think it means your body needs more sodium, it could also be a sign of dehydration. "Salt holds onto and attracts water within the body," Tills says. "When you have excess amounts of sodium in your body and blood, your body may start to crave more sodium-rich foods to aid in attracting more water."
If you keep craving salt, "your best bet is to try to have a glass or two of water and see if that quenches the craving," Tills says. "You can even have some of your salty snack craving, like pretzels or chips, with the water to satisfy both ends."
Believe it or not, "cravings for chocolate may indicate that you have a magnesium deficiency," nutritionist Lisa Richards, tells Bustle. "This is especially true for people who are menstruating or pregnant." So while it's easy to laugh off this craving as no big deal, you might actually want to pay attention to it.
"Magnesium is vital to regulating insulin levels [...] yet most people are deficient," Samantha Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, CPT, the lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen, tells Bustle. "When you feel a craving for chocolate, try snacking on some almonds or eating leafy greens." You can also go for a bar of 70% cacao chocolate, she says, which will give you antioxidants and magnesium.
3. Red Meat
If you have a hankering for red meat — in the form of a hamburger, steak, etc. — it could mean your body is missing a key nutrient. "Red meat cravings sometimes occur in people who are anemic or have low iron in their blood," Fredrickson says. "Red meat has high amounts of heme iron which is the most readily absorbed type of iron found in food."
If you can, add more iron-rich foods into your diet to help with this craving, including peas, lentils, tofu, nuts, and even iron-enriched cereals.
Chocolate aside, craving any type of sweet food could be a sign your body is sleep deprived. "That’s because people use sugar as a way to fight their exhaustion," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, a registered nurse and contributor to Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle.
It can give you a quick burst of energy and help you feel more awake, if only for a moment. "Regrettably, it’s not a long-term solution and can actually make you even more tired in the long run," Wood says. "The key is getting more sleep on a regular basis."
5. Icy Drinks
If you crave iced drinks not for the cold factor, but because you like to crunch on the ice itself, take note. "This can be a sign of iron deficiency," Anthony Kouri, MD, chief resident at University of Toledo Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Some think that chewing these items improves blood flow to the brain, something necessary in a person with anemia," and leading to this weird craving.
While you'll want your doctor to confirm whether or not you have an iron deficiency, you may benefit from iron supplementation, Kouri says.
If you're extra thirsty all the time, consider how much water you're drinking throughout the day. It's necessary to drink enough to keep your urine light yellow or clear, which is a sign you're hydrated.
But if no amount of water quenches your thirst, diabetes might be to blame. "A person who is always thirsty and urinates frequently may be demonstrating early signs of high insulin levels," Kouri says. "When there is excess glucose in the blood, the kidneys attempt to get rid of it in the urine. This leads to excess urine production and dehydration."
So if you're craving water in an intense way, let a doctor know.
While you might crave cheese simply because it's cheese, and therefore highly delicious, it could also be your body's way of getting something it needs. "Cheese contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps with the production of melatonin and serotonin, two chemicals that help us feel positive and relaxed," Danielle Schaub, MSPH, RD, who serves as culinary and nutrition manager for Territory Foods, tells Bustle. "[Other] foods that also contain tryptophan include salmon, poultry, nuts, and seeds."
If you're suddenly hit with a strong desire to drink orange juice, or an intense craving for grapefruit, take it as a sign your body needs more vitamin C — and is possibly even fighting off an infection.
"Since vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all of your body tissues, it’s essential to have enough," Wood says. "It also plays a role in the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, your immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. Some foods to eat that provide vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit and fresh green vegetables."
9. White Bread
However strange it may sound, "if you’re craving white bread, it could be due to a nitrogen deficiency," Wood says. "Nitrogen plays a key role in cellular growth and development and also in the synthesis of proteins." To balance it out, you might try eating foods that contain protein, including beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds, she says.
Keep in mind, though, that cravings aren't the same thing as feeling hungry, "because the cues for hunger come from your stomach," Wood says, "whereas cravings are a signal from your brain." They can come about if you're in the mood for a certain food, if you're in need of comfort, and also if your body is unbalanced in some way.
So while not every craving needs your attention or is a sign of a problem, it may be worth looking into some of them for a possible underlying cause.