Food cravings are defined as 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 necessarily.

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. It may be that you are a sweet tooth longing for a sugar hit. Similarly, craving a juicy steak may simply mean that you love eating steak for dinner, rather than your body needing more iron.

Natural vs Unnatural Influences

Before humankind became ‘clever’ enough to enhance and ‘improve’ the flavors and tastes of food, food cravings would have been viable 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 totally supplied to them, they can be easily tricked into eating less healthy inputs by adding taste-enhancing fractions.

Does that sound familiar? So many of the processed foods that we consume today do not have optimal nutrition as their base precept. The ultimate goal is repeat sales, and the means to this end is to make the product as tasty as possible. It is very possible to create ‘foods’ that have little to no nutritional value and contain elements that are toxic to health but taste great.

The bottom line – food cravings today are unlikely to be related to dietary requirements as much as they are to other factors.

Food Cravings and Nutrient 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 Causes 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 a result of psychological factors. Here are some of the possible reasons for food cravings:

Visually Appealing Food Images

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, which can lead to the overeating of less healthy foods.

Habits We Create

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 type of craving is motivated by a learned behavior rather than a nutritional deficiency.

Food Restrictions

Consciously limiting our intake of a certain 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 you make an effort to stop this habit, your desire becomes a compulsive craving that you really have to fight!

Gut Microbes

Your gut microbes could be influencing your food cravings. The microbes in your digestive system can manipulate you into eating a certain type of food to help with their own survival. Some types of 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 gut to your brain, letting you know what they want you to consume in their best interest, not yours!

In Summary

The case for food cravings mostly 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.