What Do Your Food Cravings Really Mean?

By: Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND

While cravings can mean a number of things including psychological reasons, a strong craving usually indicates your body is low in a specific nutrient, vitamin or mineral. The craving is an indication that it wants to make sure it gets what it needs, the difficult part these days is, we have so much processed unnatural food at our disposal that we often get confused about what our bodies are actually asking for. The foods you crave may NOT contain that nutrient and often the person eats unhealthy empty calories in place of nutrient dense wholefoods.

Having some knowledge about what our cravings can mean, may help us to reduce unhealthy habits and poor food choices.

Over eating can also be attributed to stress, loneliness, low serotonin and dopamine levels, depression, low blood sugar, boredom and more. I talk more about this in Hunger versus appetite.

There have been a number of studies that have shown sugar can affect the same brain regions as drugs and alcohol. People can experience a momentary mood improvement from sugar that will then be followed by a serious drop in mood and well-being; this is where people tend to reach for that sugary snack again. This pattern will set them up for an addictive cycle. Here is more on added sugar versus natural sugars.

Food or sugar addiction often goes unnoticed because the food choices change although the essential components are the same. Let’s take for example, a person rises in the morning drinks a glass of bottled juice (high in sugar and low in nutrients), has a processed white flour and sugar based cereal, mid-morning they eat a few biscuits or a muffin then for lunch it’s a sandwich, pasta or noodles, then afternoon tea they crave a sweet for a quick afternoon pick-me-up then it’s time for dinner and it’s off to grab something quick such as ready-made meals, hamburgers or pizza. White flour and sugar made up the majority of this person’s food intake with some bad fats for good measure. This person may see their food choices as different but essentially they were the same and they will often have strong cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugar on a daily basis and may not even realize this because it’s so natural to them.

What you eat regularly will also be closer to what your body will tend to crave. When a patient tells me that they never crave vegetables but they often crave sugar and salt, this person often doesn’t want them because their bodies to some degree have forgotten that they need them. You can’t really crave something that you eat rarely. So committing yourself to a Reboot will engage and remind the body what it actually wants and needs. Often people who have juiced regularly for some time will find that if they stop they really miss it and will notice a difference in their energy levels, thoughts and vitality.

The danger with unhealthy food cravings is it can stimulate binge eating in some individuals. This can be a serious health concern as it will contribute to obesity and poor health.

So here is a basic guideline as to what your body may actually need.

What your food cravings mean:

Chocolate – may indicate the need for magnesium, chromium, B-vitamins and/or essential fatty acids. Chocolate is high in magnesium so it is best to reach for the 100% cocoa in smoothies or snack on nibs or eat the darkest chocolate you can find. Here is a post about beating those chocolate cravings. Chocolate is also metabolized to serotonin, a mood boosting hormone so cravings can also be related to an emotional need.  Besides healthy cocoa or dark chocolate, reach for a loved one, friend, pet or any activity that makes you feel good.

Carbohydrates (white flour based food cravings) – this may indicate insulin resistance, hypoglycaemia (blood sugar fluctuations), chromium deficiency or fatigue. This is separate to sweet cravings, often it can go unnoticed, people often crave crackers, savoury biscuits, noodles, white breads, chips, etc. Including more fiber in your diet for better blood sugar control and eating more chromium and magnesium rich fruits and vegetables such as bananas, apples, apricots, capsicum, spinach, beetroot, avocado, broccoli, celery, chard (silverbeet), carrot and parsnip will help overcome this craving.

Sugar – may indicate blood sugar imbalances and mineral deficiencies such as chromium and magnesium. Giving into biscuits, cakes, lollies, soft drinks or other refined sweets will only make the problem worse and cause a blood sugar roller coaster that leads to more cravings. Instead, choose a piece of fruit when you’re craving sweets. Here is more information on how to manage your sugar intake while rebooting.  Sugar cravings are also more common when you are dehydrated and may signal a need for more water.

Salt – this can be aggravated from stress hormone fluctuations and low levels of electrolytes. Here is more information on how to increase electrolytes in your diet and during a reboot. B-vitamin rich foods are important during periods of stress. Consume foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.   Similar to sugar cravings, salt cravings can result from under hydration.

Fat –craving fried foods and other oily foods can indicated a simple essential fatty acid deficiency, simply eating more good quality fats will solve this in a flash. Here is more information on what fats and oils to consume for a healthy diet.

Cheese – this can also indicate an essential fatty acid deficiency as above.

Pica –cravings for non-food items such as ice, clay, dirt and chalk. This can often mean an iron deficiency or mineral deficiency in general. Consume plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds for the prevention of pica. This is more frequently seen in children and during periods of greater nutritional need such as pregnancy.

Note: This list is only an indication; cravings can mean different things for different people.

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Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND

Claire Georgiou is an Australian Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist who has completed a Bachelor of Health Science (Compl. Medicine) and an Advanced Diploma of Nutrition, Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine. She has more than 14 years of clinical experience specializing in liver disease, autoimmune disease, thyroid conditions, diabetes, insulin resistance, digestive disorders, chronic infections, children’s health, fertility and pregnancy care. Claire consults in private practice in Sydney and also offers consults out of area and is an accredited member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. Claire has worked closely for many years with Dr. Sandra Cabot, who is known as the “Liver Cleansing Doctor” and has written more than 25 health related books. Claire writes health related articles, creates healthy recipes and is one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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