Cravings are defined as intense, urgent or abnormal desires or longings.
Not only are they very common, but they’re also arguably one of the most intense feelings you can experience when it comes to food.
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.
This article explores whether specific nutrient deficiencies cause food cravings.
A growing number of people believe that food cravings are the body’s subconscious way of filling a nutritional need.
They assume that when the body lacks a specific nutrient, it naturally craves foods that are rich in that nutrient.
For instance, chocolate cravings are often blamed on low magnesium levels, whereas cravings for meat or cheese are often seen as a sign of low iron or calcium levels.
Fulfilling your cravings is believed to help your body meet its nutrient needs and correct the nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient Deficiencies That May Cause Cravings
In some cases, cravings may reflect an insufficient intake of certain nutrients.
One particular example is pica, a condition in which a person craves non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, soil, laundry or cornstarch, among others.
Pica is most common in pregnant women and children, and its exact cause is currently unknown. However, nutrient deficiencies are thought to play a role.
Studies observe that individuals with symptoms of pica often have low iron, zinc or calcium levels. What’s more, supplementing with the lacking nutrients seems to stop the pica behavior in some instances.
That said, studies also report cases of pica not linked to nutrient deficiencies, as well as others in which supplementation did not stop the pica behavior. Thus, researchers cannot definitively say that nutrient deficiencies cause pica-related cravings.
Sodium plays a critical role in maintaining the body’s fluid balance and is necessary for survival.
For this reason, cravings for high-sodium, salty foods are often thought to mean that the body requires more sodium.
In fact, individuals deficient in sodium often report strong cravings for salty foods.
Similarly, people whose blood sodium levels have been purposefully lowered, either through diuretics (water pills) or exercise, also generally report an increased preference for salty foods or drinks .
Thus, in some cases, salt cravings can be caused by sodium deficiencies or low blood sodium levels.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that sodium deficiencies are quite rare. In fact, excess sodium intakes are more common than insufficient intakes, especially in developed parts of the world.
So simply craving salty foods may not necessarily mean that you’re sodium deficient.
There’s also evidence that regularly consuming high-sodium foods can lead you to develop a preference for salty foods. This can create salt cravings in cases where extra sodium intake is unnecessary and even harmful to your health.