When I first read about the concept of certain food cravings being a sign that your body was lacking a certain vitamin or mineral, I thought to myself, “usually my body wanting a cookie means that my body is low on cookies.” Food cravings are an interesting topic of research, actually. For one thing, food cravings have nothing to do with actual hunger. They are purely a mental process in the brain, not a digestive process in the gut. That being said, the connection between the brain and the gut has been proven to be stronger than anyone previously thought because of the vagus nerve.
One thing to keep in mind, is that a craving is not hunger. Hunger is a survival mechanism in the brain that is based on the stomach telling it that you need food for your body to function. A craving is usually your brain simply looking for satisfaction, but according to some doctors, those cravings are actually your body’s way of saying that it needs something.
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One of the most common examples I have found is a craving for chocolate. Supposedly, a craving for chocolate is a sign that your body is low on magnesium. As it turns out, raw cacao is one of the most naturally magnesium-rich foods there is. Now, I mention this example because I have real experience with it.
I used to get these intense cravings for chocolate completely out of the blue. Normally, I don’t have even a minor sweet tooth, but all of the sudden I was driving to a convenience store at 3 in the morning for a bag of M&M’s because I couldn’t get them out of my head until I had them. As it turns out, I had blood work done for something completely unrelated to M&M cravings and found that I was, in fact, super low on magnesium. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but knowing what I know now, it makes sense.
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Now, I am not a medical doctor, but I think that our body’s connection to our brain is a powerful thing. It’s almost like a conditioned response that our bodies develop over time. When you eat a certain food, and your body gets a certain nutrient it is lacking, your body learns to say “hey – when you ate this certain food, I got this certain nutrient – eat it again.” BUT, the brain being the weird little animal it is, it would rather have chocolate instead of another natural source of magnesium like broccoli. I think there is an interesting balance that goes one there, but there is no doubt that our bodies are sending messages to our brains about what it is that they need. They key is knowing what those signals mean, and making healthier food choices. Below is an infographic from PreventDisease.com that details what your body is trying to tell you with some specific food cravings and dietary activities, and more importantly – healthy alternatives.