Craving potato chips or a piece of chocolate candy? A craving, even if you know the food you're longing for isn't good for you, can be a signal that your body is craving a particular nutrient contained in your food of choice. Here's a list of common cravings, and what your body could be telling you:
Candy. If you crave candy, your body may be signaling that your blood sugar level is low. However, eating candy or a similar sweet treat can send your blood sugar soaring and then plummeting a short time later, causing a roller-coaster effect. Choose fruit instead, since it contains fiber that cause the sugars to be absorbed more slowly, lessening the blood sugar spikes.
A constant sweet craving could be due to health conditions, though, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or Type 2 diabetes.
Chocolate. If your craving can only be satisfied by chocolate, you may be stressed, and chocolate may be a "cure." According to a study conducted by the American Chemical Society and published in the Journal of Preteome Research, eating about an ounce-and-a-half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks increased levels of the "feel good" chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, and reduced the levels of stress hormones in people who were highly stressed.
A chocolate craving can also indicate a deficiency in magnesium. Foods are often grown in soil that is deficient in this mineral — some experts suggest that as many as 90 percent of Americans don't get enough.
Red meat. If you can't wait to dig into a nice, juicy steak, chances are you're low on iron. Being low in iron is common among premenopausal women and vegetarians. But you can get iron from sources other than meat, including iron-enriched grains, nuts (cashews), seeds (sesame), beans, and dried fruit. If you choose this route, remember that vitamin C helps your body absorb more iron from non-meat sources, so you might want to consider taking a supplement.
In addition, craving meat could mean you're not getting enough protein in your diet.
Potato chips. If you're craving French fries, potato chips and other salty foods, you could have a mineral deficiency, says a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior. Researchers found that women who reported the highest number of salt cravings were discovered to have the lowest levels of three minerals — calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Cheese. If you have a craving for pizza, your first thought might be that you're low on calcium, and that could be the case. But a hankering for cheese could mean that you're not eating enough healthy fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish or the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados.
Adding omega-3's to your diet could help you cope with stress. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that omega-3 fatty acids helped animals cope with sensory overload.
Yale scientists warn that food cravings could also signal that you're addicted to a food, especially if you're craving those high in salt and sugar. Go here for information on how to download the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS).
Could your craving be satisfied with a simple glass of water? Maybe, say experts, since dehydration can be misinterpreted as hunger and cravings. A survey from the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center found that 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. So, before you reach for a specific food to ease a craving, drink a tall glass of water and wait 30 minutes. Your craving may disappear.
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