The reasons we crave certain foods are many and varied. Not to mention complex.
Your body may be deficient in certain nutrients, you may have a physical condition that needs medical attention, or you may go through hormonal changes. For example, women often experience intense cravings during pregnancy, or just before or during menstruation. Of course, you may also have emotional cravings.
Distinguishing between physical hunger and emotional hunger
Physical hunger is a biological response. Your body is telling you to top up your food tank. This hunger builds up over time—your stomach may start growling, your blood sugar may drop, you may feel tired, become tetchy, or even feel nauseous and dizzy. As soon as you’ve eaten something, these signals disappear.
Emotional hunger is a psychological response to feelings such as sadness, loneliness and fear, even boredom. When you give in to your craving for comfort foods, you may end up hating yourself and feeling guilty. It can also result in you packing on kilograms.
The internet groans under the weight of all the information about sugar-and-carb addiction. But what about cravings that are not related to these foodstuffs?
For example, a craving for iron-rich foods such as beef—sometimes even non-foods like dirt or chalk—may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Restrictive diets may deplete your body of certain nutrients. If you suddenly start craving eggs, cheese and meat, you may be protein-malnourished. Vegans and vegetarians, athletes, dieters, pregnant women, and those with anaemia must make sure their protein intake is sufficient, or else they run the risk of becoming malnourished. For vegans and vegetarians, balance is easily maintained by eating enough legumes, nuts, tofu, and the like.
After sugar and carbs, salt is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to cravings. If you crave salt, the reason is unlikely to be physical. As a rule, we eat way more salt than we need. Reaching for that party-sized packet of smoked beef-flavoured crisps is far more likely the result of you being stressed or bored, or lacking sleep.
One of the physical reasons for craving salt could be excessive sweating. For example, endurance athletes need to up their salt intake, since they lose a lot of sodium when exercising. If you become dehydrated because of over-exercise or as a result of an illness such as a tummy bug, sports drinks enhanced with electrolytes will replenish the sodium in your body.
Should you be unable to find an obvious reason for your craving, consult a medical professional. It could also be the result of a disease like Addison’s, Bartter syndrome, or cystic fibrosis.
By Linda Cilliers
The Content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.