Who doesn't have food cravings? Whether it's hormones, pregnancy, or emotionally induced, your brain knows what your body needs!
However, in this technology age, you're more than likely disconnected from your body. You might often think you know better than what your body is trying to tell you... but is that really the case?
"Any craving is a good starting point, because we have several biological mechanisms for correcting specific nutritional deficiencies. When something is interfering with your ability to use sugar, you crave it because if you don't eat it you will waste protein to make it." Dr. Ray Peat, PhD
Causes of Food Cravings
Research tells us a few things about the reasons for food cravings. First, gender appears to play some role, with food cravings being more common among women than men. This is according to a study that showed 97% of women vs. 68% of men reported food craving episodes. 
Sleep also appears to play a part, as a lack of sleep can induce cravings for unhealthy foods. 
Another commonly suggested phenomenon is that food cravings are a way to self-medicate, "This theory postulates that, in essence, food is being used as a form of self-medication to ameliorate unpleasant affective states. This occurs through increases in the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to have a positive impact on mood." 
On the other hand, nutritional therapy ideology most closely correlates food cravings as intuitive nudges from the body to get more nutrients that one may be deficient in or need for optimal health.
What are your food cravings trying to tell you?
Do you have enough healthy saturated fat in your diet (ie. lard, butter, coconut oil, cream, etc.)? What about omega-3 fatty acids (seafood, fish oil, microalgae, hemp, chia, walnuts and flax)?
Cravings for fat can be a sign of a fatty acid deficiency or poor digestion of fat indicating biliary insufficiency. This is especially important if you have ever been on a low-fat diet, struggle with chronic inflammation, weight gain, digestive issues, cardiovascular concerns and/or gallbladder removal.
Healthy fats are your friend — and they don't make you fat! You may have noticed that cravings for things like avocado, butter, and cream are common, but cravings for unhealthy oils like soy or canola are not common because your body is incredibly smart.
Take a hint from your cravings and choose healthy fats that your body actually craves. If this speaks to you, consider fatty acid testing to check in on your fatty acid balance or gut testing to assess fat digestion.
Your body wants chloride. Your best bet here is to make sure you get some unrefined salt in your diet. Cravings for salt are also often a clue of chronic stress and/or adrenal insufficiency . Under the stress response, you lose more sodium, and naturally want to consume more to compensate for the loss.
Listen to your body and salt your food as your taste buds see fit. But please, avoid Pink Himalayan sea salt (why here).
Sugar (glucose) is the body's primary source of energy and is needed to fuel cellular energy production. When your intake is not sufficient (often due to dieting, low carb diets, and starvation), your body starts the inflammatory process of breaking down fat and proteins to make glucose.
Fruits, root vegetables, and below ground veggies are among some of the best carbohydrate choices, along with honey, maple syrup, fresh fruit juices, and small amounts of sucrose (table sugar) used sparingly.
Cravings for chocolate can be due to the need for magnesium or copper, but it's more commonly for magnesium.  If you want to be sure about your magnesium and copper levels, hair analysis is the tool I use on myself and with my clients (Hair Analysis is a very affordable way to find out what your body needs and shows 35 different mineral levels).
Magnesium is lost rapidly under the stress response, so it's very common to have cravings for magnesium-rich foods. Try darker chocolates and seek out other sources of magnesium such as fresh fruits or transdermal sources. Magnesium spray and magnesium lotion are my personal favorites to aid in reversing magnesium deficiency.
Lemon/lime/vinegary food cravings
If you commonly crave acidic foods like lemons, limes, citrus, or vinegary foods, you could be low in stomach acid. Strong stomach acid is your body's first line of defense and serves the purpose of sterilizing your food, disinfecting the stomach, and breaking down your foods (particularly proteins).
When your stomach acid isn't adequate from dieting, chronic stress, h-pylori infection or nutritional deficiencies, it starts a cascade of digestive dysfunction leading to digestive discomfort (read: bloating), food allergies, constipation, and more. Here's two of my favorite tips to increase stomach acid naturally.
Red meat cravings
You could be low in iron, zinc, or amino acids (building blocks of proteins). However, if you regularly consume red meat regularly, and still have cravings, you might not be digesting it adequately enough absorb all the nutrients.
Poor digestion is a common symptom of a slowed metabolism; often a result of dieting and ignoring your body's needs for a long period of time.
Additionally, if you find yourself having what I call a reverse craving, or a strong food aversion to red meat, it may be a good idea to get your iron levels checked. That way, you can rule out iron overload as the cause of your food aversion.
Thirst or hydration cravings
Excessive thirst can mean a lot of different things. Most typically, it's your body asking for more fluids in response to an increased water loss due to exercise or heat and eating salty foods. In extreme cases, excessive thirst can be a sign of diabetes. Certain medication can also increase urine output leading to increased thirst, so always check with your doctor if your thirst correlates with medication use or recent health changes.
One of my favorite thirst-quenching beverages is this super-simple ginger beer recipe.
Looking at the nutrient composition of cheese, it's a great source of calcium and phosphorus, so cravings for such could indicate your body needs more of either. Cheese is also high in the amino acid tyramine which can increase dopamine making you feel good, which also may contribute to cheeses addictive quality.
Junk food cravings
Do you crave pizza like there is no tomorrow? Could you live on potato chips or french fries? Is frozen cookie dough always in your freezer? I often correlate junk food cravings with the need for more calories; a common occurrence if you are on a restrictive diet of any kind. If you're not on a diet, and still craving junk food more often than you'd like, you could be low in minerals, not getting enough easy to digest carbohydrates in your diet, or being using high food reward choices to help cope with stress and emotions.
I'm a big fan of listening to my body over any external food programming. Finding a balance between listening to your cravings or re-directing them to something a little more nutritious is a life skill and the ultimate health balancing act.
I hope this post gives you some more insight into what your body is trying to tell you and what you can do about it.
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- Bruinsma, K, and D L Taren. “Chocolate: food or drug?.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 99,10 (1999): 1249-56. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00307-7
- Nicolaides, Nicolas C, et al. “Adrenal Insufficiency.” Endotext, edited by Kenneth R Feingold et. al., MDText.com, Inc., 14 October 2017.
- Lv, Wen et al. “Sleep, food cravings and taste.” Appetite vol. 125 (2018): 210-216. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.02.013
- Susan Yanovski, Sugar and Fat: Cravings and Aversions, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 3, March 2003, Pages 835S–837S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/133.3.835S