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What Do Food Cravings Mean?

Craving a specific food or type of flavor -- salty or sweet, for example -- is not uncommon. While cravings can have a few meanings, a strong craving usually indicates your body is low on a specific nutrient or mineral. The craving is a way for the body to show what it needs. The tricky part can be figuring out what the body needs and satisfying the craving in a healthful way.

Serotonin

The health resource Women to Women notes that many cravings arise from low levels of blood sugar or serotonin. When these levels are healthy, people feel good; when they drop, people may feel as if they need a pick-me-up in the form of a sweet snack. Usually, only a small amount of a sweet food can satisfy these cravings.

The Brain

Hunger is a base, primal feeling that comes from the body, but cravings come from the brain. Often, just thinking about a favorite food can spur someone to develop a craving for it, whether the process takes several minutes or several days. The body naturally tends to desire healthy foods, whereas the brain often pushes for high-fat, high-sugar items.

Familiarity

Sally Squires, health and nutrition columnist for The Washington Post, theorizes that food cravings are actually cravings for familiarity and comfort and that they may be more psychological than physiological. She points out that people only crave foods they have eaten before, which suggests that something about satisfying the craving would return people to an environment of comfort or familiarity.

Nutritional Imbalance

Naturopathic physician Wendy Hodsdon acknowledges that some cravings, especially for sweets, may result from a lack of essential minerals in the body. Another naturopathic physician, Colleen Huber, states more specifically that people craving sweets may need to boost their intake of magnesium, chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur or tryptophan. Among other foods, these minerals are available in nuts, legumes and fresh and dried fruits.
Huber advocates searching for healthy foods to satisfying cravings instead of settling for energy-dense foods without much nutritional value. Most cravings, she says, can be dismissed by choosing whole foods, grains, fruits and vegetables that are packed with nutrients and natural sugars.

Giving In

Although most people crave foods that are high in calories in fat, the cravings usually can be satisfied with just small portions of those foods. Author and registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer advises giving in to cravings in moderation rather than substituting healthier foods. To curb cravings, she recommends eating breakfast every day, maintaining a strong network of friends and relatives, exercising regularly and adopting a healthy diet that includes many whole foods, grains and vegetables.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.