The Subtle Message Your Food Cravings Are Trying To Tell You - Women's Health

The Subtle Message Your Food Cravings Are Trying To Tell You

If you suddenly feel a hankering for salty foods, or feel a need to consume lots of carbs, your body might be hard at work trying to tell you something.

by | Aug 12, 2021

When it comes to cravings that fall outside of pregnancy, most of us tend to remain relatively mute on the topic. When it comes to our cycle, we might indulge friends in tales of eating the entire contents of our fridge simply because we felt like it, but for many women cravings can persist outside of their period.

While it’s certainly normal to crave the odd sweet or indulgent food from time to time, intense cravings that border on obsession can actually be your body trying to tell you something. 

As the Harvard School of Public Health suggests, “A food craving is an intense and persistent desire for a food, but that craving isn’t always for something delicious. It can also be caused by a nutritional deficiency, boredom, or self-imposed food restrictions.” Other factors like lack of sleep, stress and even emotional issues can lead to us craving particular foods.

So, if you’ve found yourself drawn to pretzels in recent weeks, or have been craving cookies and chocolate, it might be time to look past the craving itself and try understand what your body is telling you. 

Peanut Butter

Research suggests that craving high-fat foods triggers the production of uplifting brain chemicals. Peanut butter, while delicious, happens to be rich in beta-sitosterol, a plant compound that eases anxiety and enhances wellbeing. Research has shown that beta-sitosterol significantly increased levels of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Peanuts are also high in calming magnesium and tryptophan, an amino acid that is crucial to the production of serotonin.



“These pretzels are making me thirsty!” It’s a line immortalised by the hit show Seinfeld, but for some the craving for pretzels can be a sign of tension. Research indicates that higher blood levels of sodium thwarted the release of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. So, crunching some pretzels can help release frustration and ease stress-induced tension in the jaw. Other studies indicate that people with low levels of sodium crave things like pretzels which are considered a salty snack, as sodium depletion dramatically increases our desire for such foods and drinks. 

Other things to note are your menstrual cycle. Some studies suggest that fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels can boost one’s desire for sodium, often seen in women in the last two weeks of their menstrual cycle who had much higher cravings for salt. 



If you find yourself craving bread, pasta, rice, and other refined, simple carbs, it can be an indication of blood sugar imbalances. That, or you’re suffering from lack of sleep. Research has shown that sleep deprivation disrupts hunger-regulating hormones, prompting the body to eat more while also triggering a craving for carbs, specifically those of the refined variety. It’s often the case that those who are sleep deprived reach for high-carb snacks, rather than protein-rich foods. 



Who doesn’t love chocolate? But if you’re doing multiple trips to the shops just for a block of Lindt, then it might be an indication that you’re lacking magnesium. Cocoa is an excellent source of this mineral which plays an important role in everything from hydration to mental health. Other studies have found that mood can be associated with chocolate cravings, with one report suggesting those with depression had a significantly higher intake of chocolate. 



If you’re craving a burger or juicy steak, it might be a sign you’re lacking iron in your diet, particularly if you’re frequently fatigued. Iron is essential for healthy red blood cell production. Deficiencies of iron can lead to anemia, low energy, weakness and fatigue. Many find that craving meat is also associated with the vitamin B12 which is found in meat, and plays an important role in red blood cell production. 



Cravings for sugar-saturated snacks like cookies and other lollies could indicate blood sugar imbalances and early insulin resistance. If untreated, these two concerns could significantly increase your risk for diabetes. Other studies suggest craving cookies and sweets is a sign of mineral deficiencies like zinc and magnesium, while others put it down to stress. 


Spicy Food

Cravings for spicy food often prompt the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that interact with opiate receptions int he brain and promote feel-good feelings. Some research even suggests that capsaicin – the compound that gives peppers their kick – can have antidepressant-like effects. 


By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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