September 22, 2022
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Food cravings are very common. They’re difficult to ignore and typically manifest through an intense or urgent desire for a specific type of food – though the food desired will vary from person to person.
Food cravings can be brought on by a variety of factors — be it physical or mental. In certain cases, they may also be a sign of an underlying condition and should not be ignored.
This article dives into what your food cravings may mean, as well as the possible reasons behind them.
Possible causes for your cravings
Food cravings can be caused by several factors, which can usually be split into two main categories: physical and mental. Being aware of them may help you identify which factors specifically trigger your cravings.
– Physical causes
– Mental causes
Are cravings a sign of nutrient deficiencies?
There is a popular belief that cravings are a sign that your body is lacking certain nutrients. Yet, in most cases, this theory is not currently supported by science for a few reasons.
For instance, salt cravings may, in some cases, be caused by a sodium deficiency. However, most people who crave salty foods are not deficient in this nutrient.
Moreover, based on this nutrient deficiency theory, you would expect that most cravings would be for nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or legumes.
Yet in reality, most cravings tend to be for foods with low nutritional value, such as highly processed foods rich in added fat, sugar, or salt.
In addition, research suggests that men and women tend to crave different foods. For instance, women are more likely to crave sweet-tasting foods, while men are likelier to crave savory ones.
But there’s little evidence that women would be lacking nutrients more likely to be found in sweet foods and men would be lacking ones likelier found in savory ones.
Finally, research suggests that the less frequently you eat certain foods, the less likely you are to crave them. However, if cravings were initiated by a low intake of these foods, you would expect the exact opposite effect to happen.
What if I crave nonfood items?
Although craving food items is unlikely to be a sign of nutrient deficiencies, craving nonfood items might be.
One example of this is pica, a condition that can cause people to crave nonfood items, such as ice, dirt, or laundry detergent.
Pica occurs most commonly in children and pregnant women, and its exact cause has not yet been identified.
However, studies suggest that people with pica often have low iron, calcium, or zinc levels. Moreover, their cravings for nonfood items often resolve when the lacking nutrients are supplemented.
That said, not all cases of pica are resolved through supplementation. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the exact role that nutrient deficiencies play in pica.
The bottom line
Food cravings can be caused by a variety of physical or mental factors. They may be a sign of hormonal imbalances, a suboptimal diet, high stress levels, or a lack of sleep or physical activity.
Food cravings are seldom a sign that you’re lacking the nutrients found in that food. However, craving nonfood items, such as dirt, ice, or laundry detergent, may sometimes be caused by a diet that’s too low in certain nutrients.
If you’re currently craving nonfood items, speak to your healthcare provider to rule out nutrient deficiencies as a cause.
Source: Health Line
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