Have you started craving chocolate so much that you dream of visiting the Hershey factory?
Do you consider salt one of the major food groups?
Or maybe you’ve eaten steak for the last three nights.
It might not be your willpower that is collapsing. Food cravings can be triggered by nutrient deficiencies.
Research by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found that the urge to eat certain foods may be a symptom of a specific vitamin or mineral shortage.
These Food Cravings Can Reveal Vitamin and Mineral Shortages
When you have an overwhelming food craving, your body may be trying to tell you something:
Chocolate: Almost everybody likes chocolate. But if you find yourself wanting it several times a day, you could have a magnesium deficiency.
This is more common in women. That’s because menstruation can deplete magnesium.
Magnesium helps you sleep better, eases stress, and prevents diabetes.
Great sources of the mineral include spinach, almonds, avocados, and shrimp. And yes, dark chocolate contains a big dose of magnesium. But opt for an organic brand and make sure it is at least 75% cocoa. High-cocoa chocolates have higher levels of healthy flavonoids and less sugar.
You can also take a magnesium supplement. A sensible dosage is 200 mg a day.
Salt and sugar: A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that people with low zinc levels often have a deadened sense of taste. They compensate by loading up on taste-intensive salty and sugary foods.
As you age, your ability to absorb zinc declines. In fact, 40% of American seniors are zinc deficient. Zinc supports the immune system, and increases heart and bone health.
Eggs, nuts, oysters, grass-fed beef, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, liver, and dark poultry meat are great sources of zinc.
Meat: If you crave meat and are also feeling lethargic, you may be low in iron. This is an extremely common deficiency. About 3 million people in North America suffer from it.
Iron deficiency causes anemia, a shortage of red blood cells. Symptoms of anemia are fatigue, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, brittle nails, and headaches.
Vegans and vegetarians are prone to iron deficiencies. That’s because plant-based iron is more difficult for the body to absorb than iron in meat. Taking daily aspirin can also lower iron levels.
Other than chicken, beef, and pork, great sources of iron include nuts and leafy vegetables such as spinach.
If you choose a supplement, recommended dosages are 8 mg per day for men and 11 mg for women. And make sure you include a good source of vitamin C, like broccoli, red bell peppers, or strawberries. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption.
Cheese: You might think a cheese craving would indicate a calcium deficiency. But nutritionists say it is more likely you’re missing omega-3 fatty acids. Other signs include dry skin and fatigue.
Great sources of omega-3 fatty acids are wild-caught tuna, salmon, and sardines. Cheese and eggs also have high levels. Eggs from pastured organic chickens contain greater quantities of omega-3s.
If you decide on a supplement, take a quality fish oil capsule. We recommend 2,000 mg a day.
Offbeat cravings: Some people have urges to eat things that aren’t food. This is most common in pregnant women and children, although it can happen to anyone. It’s a condition called pica.
The most common pica cravings are those for dirt or chalk. Others include burnt matches, charcoal, and sand.
These unusual cravings can be a sign of a vitamin B deficiency. Check with your doctor to see if a medication you’re taking, such as acid-suppressing heartburn drugs, is causing the deficiency.
As we previously told you, a vitamin B deficiency is serious. If you have pica cravings, ask your doctor for a B12 test. It is a simple blood draw.
If you are deficient, you might be prescribed weekly shots. They deliver the most B12. Absorption of oral supplements can be hindered by stomach acid.
If you use an oral supplement, aim for 50 mg a day. Check back with your doctor after one month of taking the supplement to see if you have increased levels.
Leafy greens, seafood, eggs, bananas, poultry, and organic dairy all contain B vitamins.
If you have an overwhelming compulsion to eat certain foods, don’t ignore it. Listen to your body. It might be trying to tell you something.
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