Have you ever made a special late-night trip down to your local supermarket for a big tub of ice cream? Or perhaps needed chocolate so bad that you simply could not do a single thing without getting your hands on some? Have you ever had a hankering for a certain type of fast food that would not go away until you ordered a feast at your go-to fast food joint?
If you’re human, chances are you have. These are what we call food cravings and they can come in some seriously weird and wacky forms. You might be going about your daily business and out of nowhere… wham! The strange craving hits and it’s a case of consume or be consumed.
It turns out that this is far from a simple case of hunger. Hunger is determined by a straightforward system of caloric intake and metabolism. When your body metabolizes all of the food you ate from the previous meal, your leptin levels drop. A decrease in this hormone stimulates your stomach to release another hormone called ghrelin, which signals to your brain that you need more food.
Cravings do not fit into this calorie versus metabolism equation. While hunger is your stomach’s way of telling the brain that you need more food in order to survive, cravings are the brain’s way of telling you that you’re missing something specific. When your brain generates strong or strange cravings for certain kinds of food or consumables, you need to listen up… it’s trying to pass on a message!
While these cravings may seem like a simple case of your “sweet tooth” kicking in, there’s often a lot more to the story. If you crave something sweet but find your hand reaching straight for the chocolate, it may be that you are in fact deficient in magnesium. That’s because chocolate is one of the highest food sources of magnesium (the dark kinds of chocolate, anyway).
By examining your strange cravings you can seek to fine-tune your body and help it achieve optimum health. Here are some of the most common food cravings and what they mean.
Surprisingly, ice is one of the more common strange cravings and is often associated with an iron deficiency. Sucking on a cube of ice or some icy slush helps to alleviate inflammation in the mouth, which can signify anemia.
We already touched upon this one, which is actually the most common non-drug craving in the United States. Getting a sudden urge to reach for the chocolate can signify a magnesium deficiency, considering raw cacao is an excellent source of magnesium. That being said, nuts are also high in magnesium, so if you’re not feeling the same way about these crunchy numbers, it could just be a sugar addiction.
3. Salty foods
Not too far behind chocolate on the popularity scale is salt, which almost anyone can attest to. Having a strong desire for salty snacks can suggest a serious chloride deficiency. It can be solved the healthy way by eating plenty of celery, olives, kelp or simply a high-quality salt like Himalayan pink salt. Because unrefined sea salt contains a range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients which our bodies need to thrive, that salt craving could suggest that you need to replace your nasty table salt for some health-friendly salt.
If you’ve got an unexplained yearning for cheese, don’t worry, you’re not alone! People who crave cheese may be lacking in either calcium or essential fatty acids. Because cheese is a potent source of both of these, you’re better off giving into your craving and carving off a hearty slice. The more natural cheese the better, and as always, grass-fed is a big plus.
I’m definitely prone to strong lemon cravings once in a while — and I always give in! There are few things more beneficial than a glass of water with half a fresh lemon squeezed in. If you get this craving on a regular basis, you may be lacking in vitamin C.
6. Pasta or white bread
If you have a specific strange craving for pasta or white bread, it may signal a chromium deficiency. Unfortunately, these products are also generally nutrient deficient and loaded with gluten, so here’s a few healthier sources of chromium:
- Romaine lettuce
- Sweet potato
This might seem like a very specific craving, but it’s more common that you might think! If you’re gravitating towards the toaster, you might have a nitrogen deficiency. While toast is delicious, it’s also a source of carbs which you don’t really need, and there are plenty of other healthier choices to boost your nitrogen stores. These include dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts and certain legumes.
8. Potato chips
What’s the one thing that chips all have in common? A lot of salt. And as we explained earlier, a hankering for salty snacks, like potato chips, means you might have a chloride deficiency. Break out the celery and olives, or simply sprinkle more Himalayan pink salt on your meals. Your chip craving should clear right up!
9. Red meat
Constant cravings for red meat could be your brain trying to tell you that more iron is needed. Iron deficiency can certainly be cured by getting more red meat in your diet, and I for one love a good slab of juicy steak! But make sure you’re getting your red meat from healthy animals, especially those raised on organic pastures (grass-fed). If you’re not so into red meat, you can get iron from several other sources, including beans, legumes, figs, spinach and cherries.
Yup, it’s a thing. If you’ve got an unexplained popcorn craving, you could be suffering from cortisone fluctuations. Cortisone is considered the “stress hormone,” so adopting practices which alleviate stress should be your top priority. These include meditation, deep breathing, eating plenty of leafy greens and getting out into nature as much as possible.
11. Burnt food
We’re getting stranger and stranger! If you’ve got a strange craving for overcooked or burnt food, there’s something wrong with your system. One possible explanation is that you have a lack of carbon in your diet. While charring all your steaks to smithereens is one way to do it, it’s also a quick road to cancer. Luckily, there’s an easier, simpler way to get more carbon in your life: fruit. Fruit is a great source of carbon, so ensure you’re getting at least two to three servings per day.
12. Fizzy drinks
Carbonated drinks contain high levels of calcium, so if you’ve got a craving for fizzy drinks or sodas, then a deficiency could be the problem. Introduce healthier foods like sesame seeds, broccoli, kale, legumes and turnip greens into your diet to help resolve the issue.
If you’re constantly getting a strong urge for an even stronger cup of coffee, your body could be crying out for certain important nutrients. One such nutrient is sulfur, which can be addressed by eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables, cranberries and asparagus. Coffee cravings can also suggest an iron deficiency, which means you need more beans, legumes, seaweed, spinach or good quality red meat in your life. Coffee cravings can even mean that you’re lacking in phosphorus, which can be addressed by eating plenty of pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts or lentils.
If you’re a smoker and you’ve got a craving for tobacco, obviously there’s a dependency on nicotine at play. But if you’ve never smoked a cigarette in your life and you find yourself gravitating towards a pack of Marlboros, you might be deficient in tyrosine. A healthy way to restock your tyrosine levels is by eating plenty of avocados and bananas, oats, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds.
Got a burning desire for candy? Believe it or not, certain sweets can actually contain a range of important vitamins including tryptophan (an essential amino acid), chromium, sulfur and phosphorus. Replenish your tryptophan levels by eating spirulina or raw cacao. Up your chromium ante by bringing more onions or tomatoes into your life. Welcome back sulfur with more cruciferous vegetables. Hail a new era of phosphorus with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts.
That being said, if you often get a strong sweet craving, you could just have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Rather than reaching for the candy, reach for fresh fruit, beans or legumes instead.
Alcohol is actually a type of drug, so it’s no great surprise that you find yourself reaching for the whiskey or gin again and again. But this craving can actually be your body’s way of crying out for more minerals, particularly potassium, protein or glutamine. You could even be lacking enough calcium in your diet. Potassium deficiency is solved by getting more citrus fruits and bananas in your diet, calcium by eating plenty of broccoli and kale, and glutamine by eating vegetables like cabbage or beetroot. Protein is an easy one — more meat, eggs and nuts!
Did we miss any? Tell us your weird or wacky food cravings and how you get over them!
— Liivi Hess