Have you ever needed a burger so badly that you would travel to the end of the earth? Or you are tempted to trade your most prized possession for a bag of chips? Cravings get a bad reputation for things that must be avoided at all costs. But studies have shown that there might be a better approach to our desires that doesn’t involve writing them all off. No, I’m not suggesting that you should reach for candy every time your heart desires, but it could be beneficial to listen to the signals your body presents about your health.
“Cravings aren’t the enemy,” Marci Evans, a Massachusetts dietician says. Instead, Evans suggests, “They’re a communication from our body.” Cravings can be more than basic urges—these impulses can also offer important information about what your body needs.
When life isn’t tasting all that sweet, your body might yearn for sugars and desserts. If you’re feeling stressed or unhappy, sugar can spur the release of endorphins to bring about a temporary, comforting sensation. According to an American Chemical Society study, depressed individuals may self-medicate with sugars to boost levels of serotonin and dopamine. Additionally, out of all sweet options, chocolate, in particular, contains magnesium and theobromine—two compounds proven to reduce levels of stress hormones and promote muscle relaxation.
Craving sweets can also be a signal from your body of dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, it becomes increasingly difficult for organs like the liver, which uses water, to release glycogen—a substance better known as “stored glucose.” To compensate, the body can demand more sugar.
Lastly, sleep deprivation can lead you to crave unhealthy, calorie-dense foods. According to research done by the Mayo Clinic, when just over an hour of sleep is lost, scores of people tend to use sugar as a quick pick-me-up to fight exhaustion.
Cravings for fatty foods are common. Fats are an essential part of any healthy diet, since the human body needs certain fats and oils, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, to function. These healthier fats can be found in foods such as avocados or nuts. People crave fats and oily foods when their bodies are deficient in the essential acids or in fat-soluble vitamins (especially vitamins E, D, K and A).
Despite its flawed public understanding as fundamentally unhealthy, fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing twice as much as carbohydrates or proteins. Fat cravings may be your body’s attempt at getting the nutrition it needs for continuous energy.
A salt craving can occasionally be tied to a medical condition or a sodium deficiency, but most often, like the desire for sweets, these are usually the result of other influences such as boredom or stress.
Additionally, sweat contains salt; therefore, sodium levels decrease throughout the process of perspiration. When a person loses too much sodium due to heat or exercise, the body may begin to crave those missing salts.
A hankering for salt may also signal the place in time of your menstrual cycle. Food cravings, including a yearning for salty foods, are a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These specific appetites may be related to hormonal fluctuations.
Studies show that people who fail to get enough rest at night tend to crave starchy carbs. Sleep deprivation affects hormone levels that regulate hunger, leading to an increase in appetite and therefore a preference for high-carb meals. Additionally, when exhausted, you can crave carbohydrates for their ability to quickly boost energy.
More specifically, maybe you’re craving a grilled cheese or a large pizza. In this case, you may be lacking in tryptophan—an amino acid that creates calming neurotransmitters like serotonin. Because tryptophan needs carbohydrates to convert to serotonin, cheese and bread make for the ideal combination.
If you crave red meat, you are most likely craving its iron. Iron deficiencies can lead to anemia—a condition in which your body is lacking in healthy red blood cells. You may also be in need of other nutrients found in meat such as vitamin B12, folic acid and magnesium. Notably, vitamin B12 is another nutrient that is associated with preventing anemia.
Ever been on a road trip, filled with several consecutive days of snacking and consuming processed foods? What did your body feel like by the end? What were you craving?
Even the biggest fans of junk food sometimes crave healthy foods and vegetables. Many times the desire for fresh ingredients occurs when your body is lacking Vitamin C, calcium, iron or magnesium. Unfortunately, we can only sustain ourselves on chocolate for so long until our bodies begin to beg us for some natural food.