Cravings – What Are The Causes And How Can We Curb Them?

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From time to time, we all find ourselves craving some kind of food or another. From ice cream to French fries, or sometimes even ice cream with French fries. Odd combinations of food that sound just right to us in the moment. While it’s completely normal to have food cravings and while we even give into them from time to time, have you ever wondered what might be causing these frequent cravings? They can sometimes be inconvenient, especially if you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and giving in so much that it’s no longer a treat, but more of an addiction. To help you understand your cravings and for some tips on how to curb them, we had a chat with Sana Motlekar, a Registered Dietitian with a private practice in Toronto, Canada:

What Causes Us To Have Cravings?

Let’s come to answering the first question at hand – why do we even crave foods in the first place? According to Sana, our cravings can be a sign of not eating enough during the day, or eating unbalanced meals. This can lead us to lack certain macronutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fats from our diets, which in turn may trigger cravings later in the evening.

Cravings And Nutrient Deficiency

Is There A Connection?

Some of us may believe that our cravings indicate that we are lacking in certain types of nutrients. However Sana tells us that there is actually very little evidence that supports the idea that deficiency of certain nutrients triggers cravings. She explains that if we are deficient in omega-3, we don’t start craving salmon or oily fishes. Instead Sana believes that there is a very complex reason behind cravings. 

What Are Actual Signs Of Nutrient Deficiencies?

Even if your cravings have nothing to do with being deficient in nutrients, it doesn’t mean that you might not be lacking in any at all. Sana listed some common signs of underlying nutrient deficiencies: low energy levels due to low iron levels, bleeding gums or poor wound healing due to a Vitamin C deficiency, and depression, muscle weakness or osteoporosis can also be a sign that you are lacking in sufficient levels of vitamin D. Lastly, Sana also pointed out that numbness and tingling in hands, legs or feet can be due to low Vitamin B12 levels. Hence, if you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, it would be best to consider talking to your doctor to see if you are indeed lacking in nutrients or if it’s something else.

Causes For Cravings

Physical Causes

Some physical causes that can trigger cravings are:

  • Hormonal changes, like during pregnancy. 
  • Unbalanced levels of leptin (fullness hormone) and ghrelin hormones (hunger hormone). 
  • Poor sleep, which causes us to eat more during the day and crave certain foods. A lack of sleep can disturb the hormonal balance between the fullness and hunger hormones.  
  • Poor hydration can also make us overeat or crave foods. As thirst and hunger are controlled by the same part of the brain, we can often confuse those signals.

Mental Causes

Mental factors too can trigger your cravings. According to Sana, these include:

  • High stress levels, as this causes our cortisol levels to shoot up, which is linked to increased hunger and cravings, including binge-eating behaviour. This explains why we tend to over-eat when stressed out. 
  • Humans also tend to associate food with certain activities, like when we are watching TV, we may crave popcorn or crunchy snacks to munch on. 
  • Using food to help self-sooth. Some people also tend to use food as a reward and may indulge or crave certain foods after completing a big task (e.g., big project at work or handing in an assignment).

Unusual Cravings

Sometimes people may experience unusual cravings, like ice or non-food items – there is an explanation for this. Sana told us that it’s possible that someone who has odd cravings may be suffering from Pica. Pica is a condition that causes people to crave non-food items such as detergent, dirt, ice etc. It commonly occurs in pregnant women and children. Even though the exact cause is still unknown, there are studies that suggest low levels of calcium, iron or zinc may play a role and typically the cravings for non-food items subside after supplementation. There are still a certain percentage of people whose cravings for these items do not subside even after supplements, which is why more research is warranted to understand this condition better.

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