Some believe that cravings are caused by nutrient deficiencies and view them as the body’s way to correct them.
Yet others insist that, unlike hunger, cravings are largely about what your brain wants, rather than what your body actually needs.
As of now, there is no evidence one way or the other. Most cravings from my experience are usually ‘above the neck’ and not hunger related. It is all in the mind.
An example would be chocolate cravings for those who are ‘magnesium deficient.’ It could be argued that people with nutrient deficiencies would benefit from craving a wider variety of foods containing the required nutrient, rather than a single source.
For instance, it would be more effective for those deficient in magnesium to also crave magnesium-rich nuts and beans, rather than chocolate alone.
So why do we have cravings?
Cravings are likely caused by factors other than nutrient deficiencies. They can be explained by the following physical, psychological and social motives:
- Suppressed thoughts: Viewing certain foods as “forbidden” or actively trying to suppress your desire to eat them often intensifies cravings for them.
- Context associations: In some cases, the brain associates eating a food with a certain context, such as eating popcorn during a movie. This can create a craving for that specific food the next time the same context appears.
- Specific mood: Food cravings may be triggered by specific moods. One example is “comfort foods,” which are often craved when wanting to get over a negative mood.
- High stress levels: Stressed individuals often report experiencing more cravings than non-stressed individuals.
- Insufficient sleep: Getting too little sleep may disrupt hormone levels, which may increase the likelihood of cravings.
- Poor hydration: Drinking too little water or other liquids can promote hunger and cravings in some people.
- Insufficient protein or fiber: Protein and fiber help you feel full. Eating too little of either may increase hunger and cravings.
Cravings can be caused by a variety of physical, psychological or social cues that have nothing to do with nutrient deficiencies. Take a look at the vitamin/mineral deficiency chart if you are concerned of a deficiency with noticeable signs/symptoms.