Not Just Willpower Issue: Why Your Cravings Are A Sign Of Vitamin Deficiencies

October 6, 2017

I used to hate the creeping sensation of a craving that stalked me like a shadow. The kind that I knew was planning to stick around. The kind of craving that motivated me enough to get dressed, march to the store and purchase a bar of chocolate/bag of chips/whatever else. But these days, I am thankful for them; they’re insights into what my body is lacking and easy to satiate now that I know what they’re trying to tell me.

Cravings & Vitamin Deficiencies

There are thought to be many mechanisms behind food cravings and it’s really rather interesting when you start looking into them. We know that eating releases endorphins, hence why you might be reaching for the ice cream tub after a bad day. Eating indulgent foods causes the body to release endogenous opioids, or pain-relievers. This is why eating can make all your problems seem to go away (at least temporarily). It’s really no different to coping with the aid of illegal substances or alcohol, only, it’s much less frowned upon. Food for thought, huh (no pun intended)?

But why is it that we crave the things that are terrible for us? I mean, who’s ever heard of a broccoli craving? Not me. It’s always the sugary-sweet, salty and fried. What’s that all about?

A primary reason for chocolate cravings in women is, unfortunately, hormones. This indeed means that there’s not much that can be done to ease the craving. There’s also often positive enforcement occurring with these and all other kinds of cravings. We keep craving those unhealthy foods because we retain the memories that they worked so well in soothing us last time. This creates a vicious cycle. But now, onto the deficiencies.

Chocolate – Magnesium

Hormones aside (or hello, gentlemen), consistent chocolate cravings might be an indication of a magnesium deficiency worth paying attention to. Magnesium is an essential mineral found in greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains and dark chocolate. Deficiencies can cause us to struggle to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D and Calcium (vitamins and minerals often absorb symbiotically), cause hypertension and cardiovascular disease amongst other things. A diet rich in whole foods should keep you topped up with healthy levels, but with many of us consuming a heavily-processed selection of foods each day, chocolate cravings are no surprise. Try swapping a large bar of milky chocolate for a couple squares of the dark stuff instead, or brew yourself a cup of raw cacao. Or, for the ultimate swap try these vegan dark chocolate flapjacks. Oats are an amazing source of so many different minerals, so you really can’t go wrong.

Soda – Calcium

Forget the ‘Got Milk?’ ads – the foods richest in calcium include tofu, greens and beans. As part of a vegan plant-based diet, this should be no problem to maintain. But, low levels of calcium pose many detrimental risks to our health. Calcium is vital for nerve and muscle function, hormone secretion and of course healthy teeth and bones. Running low on the stuff can result in all kinds of problems with some of the most well-known being osteoporosis and worst-case-scenario: rickets. The theory behind the soda cravings is that it’s the body’s way of trying to leach calcium from our bones to free up for use in the body. It makes sense as it’s more important for the nervous and endocrine systems to work well than having strong bones, from a ‘basic human survival’ perspective. Keep up with the kale for sensationally strong bones and a healthy system to boot. Or try these overnight oats with tahini for a super high dose of the good stuff.

Cheese – Calcium & Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We’re not fans of the traditional dairy kind over here at Peaceful Dumpling, but cheese cravings can be indicative of either a calcium or omega-3 deficiency. For pointers on calcium, see the ‘Soda’ section. But, if it’s omega you’re after, rest assured that it’s easy to satisfy with something a bit healthier. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for our endocrine (hormone) system as well as the obvious healthy heart. and the body can’t make them from scratch. Therefore, eating foods plentiful in these is vital. Some great vegan sources include flax and chia seeds, walnuts and leafy greens. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on your breakfast cereal or snack on these nourishing flax crackers to maintain plentiful levels of omega-3 and stave off the cheese-fueled daydreams (or nightmares as may be the case).

Chips – Chloride

Whether it’s chips, crackers, french fries, popcorn or whatever else, the craving for salty foods can be a tough one to satisfy. It can be an indication of a chloride deficiency in the body – an essential ion which helps maintain homeostasis within our cells. Before binging on chips, consider seaweed-rich sushi, tomatoes, celery or olives to meet your needs. Brought about by loss of fluids, such as being exposed to a hot climate or doing intense exercise, boost chloride levels with something a little more nourishing by opting for this rasam soup, perfect for the fall weather.

White Bread/Pasta – Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays an important role in serotonin production (the neurotransmitter vital in making us feel both awake and happy). While white carbohydrates don’t contain tryptophan, it’s believed that because they cause a spike in blood sugar due to the high sugar content, this drives more tryptophan to the brain where serotonin is then produced. Substitute carb-heavy breads and pastas for seeds, spinach, sweet potato and bananas. Try this delicious farro bowl packed with spinach for a tryptophan-rich lunch.

What do you crave? Have you found any healthy alternatives go-tos?

Also by Kat: I Lived A Month With No Social Media–And Found My Life Purpose In The Process

Related: Vegan Bone Broth Alternative (Collagen-Boosting Veggie Plate)

5 Calming Foods To Eat When Your Anxiety Is Through The Roof (And What To Avoid)

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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