Diet & Weight Loss
What Your Food Cravings Secretly Reveal About Your Health
Craving these 11 popular foods may mean your body is trying to tell you something important.
Some people really love chewing ice, it’s true. But if you find yourself craving the cold stuff it might be a sign of anemia, according to a 2014 study. Ice cravings are a form of pica—a desire to eat non-food items like dirt and laundry soap—and are linked to low iron levels. The researchers hypothesized it might be because chewing the ice might temporarily increase blood flow to the brain, counteracting the slowdown caused by iron deficiency. Feeling tired all the time is another common symptom of anemia.
If you find yourself constantly reaching for chocolate, you may be depressed and trying to self-medicate with the sweet stuff, according to a study done by the American Chemical Society. An ounce of dark chocolate boosted the levels of serotonin and dopamine, also known as “feel good chemicals,” in participants’ brains. In addition, chocolate contains magnesium and theobromine, two compounds shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and promote muscle relaxation. Ate too much chocolate? Here’s how to undo damage from a sugar binge.
Craving sweets?iStock/Catherine Lane
Are your dreams, both day and night, filled with visions of sugar plums (and more modern sweets)? If so you might need to spend more time in dreamland, according to research done by the Mayo Clinic. People who were short-changed on just over an hour of sleep ate an average of 550 calories the next day—and those calories weren’t grilled chicken breasts and broccoli. Rather, the scientists say that people use sugar as a quick pick-me-up to fight their exhaustion. Unfortunately that’s a short-lived solution as OD’ing on sugar can make you even more tired in the long run. Try these tips all day long to sleep better tonight.
Cheese is a star ingredient in so many comfort foods—and for good reason. The melty treat contains l-tryptophan, a compound that improves mood and promotes relaxation. So if you find yourself craving a cheesy deep dish pizza or gooey mac-n-cheese, it may just be that you’re in need of a little TLC. Indulging in a reasonable portion can be a good way to de-stress and feel better. But if you’re constantly craving cheese it may also be a sign that you’re having cognitive problems with concentration and memory. One study found that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were twice as likely to crave cheese as others. These are subtle ADHD symptoms you might be overlooking.
Craving soda pop?iStock/luknaja
Many a person swears they can’t go a day without their Coke or Pepsi. While you may love the fizzy sweetness, what you’re most likely craving is the caffeine hit. One serving of Coke provides 30 mg of caffeine—enough to give you a nice wake-up jolt but not enough to make you jittery. A less common reason for soda cravings is a calcium deficiency. The phosphoric acid in carbonated drinks can leach calcium and magnesium from your bones, creating a vicious cycle of depletion and craving, according to WebMD. These are signs you might be drinking too much caffeine.
Craving potato chips?iStock/john shepherd
Potato chips and their hot cousin, French fries, are two of the most commonly reported food cravings but downing bags of the fatty junk foods may be a signal you’re low on healthy fats, says Taylor Newhouse, RD, of the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Of particular interest are omega 3’s. Our bodies don’t manufacture the fatty acid so to get our daily requirement we have to eat it in foods like salmon and other fatty fish. Or it may mean you need more healthy fats in general and you’re not getting enough foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
If you’re super thirsty chances are you’re just dehydrated and your body is telling you to pick up the slack with your water bottle. But if you’re always craving the wet stuff it could signal a deeper issue like diabetes. Excessive thirst and urination are one of the earliest warning signs that your insulin levels are out of whack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Extra sugar builds up in your blood, making your kidneys go into overtime to process all of it. When they can’t keep up, it gets excreted through your urine which in turn makes you thirsty again. These are other symptoms of diabetes to pay attention to.
Salt cravings can be a sign of a mineral deficiency, according to a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior. Specifically, women who reported the highest amount of salt cravings were found to have the lowest levels of calcium, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, a insatiable craving for salt can be a sign of Addison’s disease or Bartter’s syndrome, especially if the cravings come with other symptoms like exhaustion, weight loss, and skin discoloration. Here’s what restaurant chefs do to lower sodium in food without affecting taste.
Craving spicy salsa?iStock/rudisill
Eating hot food may be a quick way for the body to deal with hot temperatures, which is one theory for why warm cultures are famous for their love of spicy cuisine. It sounds counterintuitive, but eating hot salsas and spicy curries temporarily increases your metabolism, making you sweat more and thereby helping you cool down. Or, if you’re not overheating, you may crave spicy foods for the adrenaline rush you get from the brief burst of pain. Some people crave the rush so much it is almost like an addiction, according to research done by the University of Pennsylvania. Here are other tricks to cool down on hot days.
Craving kettle corn?iStock/bhofack2
The body needs both sodium and glucose to function properly—two nutrients that are quickly depleted when you exercise, especially if you sweat a lot. So if you are craving a salty-sweet treat it may be your body telling you it needs to physically recover and replenish its stores, Newhouse says. This is why most workout recovery drinks include a hit of both sugar and salt. This is what your sweat can reveal about your health.
An intense craving for any food (but usually treats) is often mistaken as hunger when in reality it may mean you’re dehydrated. Just so you know: thirst is actually the last resort signal for dehydration. “We often misinterpret the signals our body is giving us,” explains Newhouse. “As a society, we are chronically dehydrated. The next time you reach for something sweet or salty try quelling the craving with a tall glass of water. You may be surprised at the result.” Here are clever ways to stay hydrated without trying too hard.