Food cravings are an intense desire and longing for a particular type of food. However, are your food cravings a sign of a nutritional deficiency? The answer is not necessary.
For example, a craving for chocolate, which is rich in magnesium, may not necessarily be a sign that you need to increase your magnesium intake. You may be a sweet tooth longing for a sugar hit. Similarly, craving a juicy steak may mean that you love eating steak for dinner rather than your body needing more iron.
Natural vs. Unnatural Impacts
Before humankind became ‘clever’ enough to enhance and ‘improve’ the flavors and tastes of food, food cravings would have been possible triggers to the brain to seek foods that would remedy nutritional deficiencies.
Wild animals in their natural environments self-select their foods to overcome any deficiencies. Domesticated animals do also to the degree that they are able. However, because their diets are often partially or supplied to them, they can be easily tricked into eating less healthy inputs by adding taste-enhancing fractions.
Does that sound familiar? So many processed foods we consume today do not have optimal nutrition as their base precept. The ultimate goal is to repeat sales, and the means to this end is to make the product as tasty as possible. It is possible to create ‘foods’ that have little to no nutritional value and contain toxic elements to health but taste great.
The bottom line is that food cravings today are unlikely to be related to dietary requirements as much as other factors.
Food Cravings and Nutritional Deficiencies Today
Nutritional deficiencies linked to cravings certainly exist. However, they are not common today. For example, pregnant women may crave high-carb and fatty foods during the first half of their pregnancy. If nutritional deficiency was the sole driver, wouldn’t a pregnant woman only be craving healthy foods rich in nutrients for their growing baby? Especially in the later stages of their pregnancy when the developing fetus needs more nutrients.
What Triggers Food Cravings?
So if a nutritional deficiency is not the culprit behind food cravings, what could cause our intense desire for certain foods? Unlike true hunger, which would occur after fasting for a period, food cravings are more likely due to psychological factors.
Here are some of the potential reasons for food cravings.
Visually Appealing Images of Food
Images of food bombard us all day – from advertisements to social media. It also doesn’t help that foods we often see are high-calorie foods. Being constantly exposed to all these visual images can trigger our food cravings, leading to the overeating of less healthy foods.
Another possible reason for experiencing food cravings is our psychological conditioning toward a specific type of food. For example, if you eat popcorn while watching a movie, you could trigger a craving for popcorn every time you watch one! You are conditioning yourself and also creating a bad habit. Therefore, this craving is motivated by a learned behavior rather than a nutritional deficiency.
Consciously limiting our intake of a particular type of food may further increase our desire to eat it. For example, if you love snacking on different savory delights after your evening meal and make an effort to stop this habit, your desire becomes a compulsive craving that you have to fight!
Your gut microbes could be influencing your food cravings. The microbes in your digestive system can manipulate you into eating a particular food to help your survival. Some gut microbes survive in a highly acidic state, while others don’t. Depending on what type of microbes are present in your gut, they can send signals from the core to your brain, letting you know what they want you to consume in their best interest, not yours!
The case for food cravings mainly points to psychological factors rather than physical requirements. Experiencing cravings can also tell us a lot about our relationship with food. Either way, knowing what causes your food cravings could help you understand your eating habits better and make healthier choices.