From cake to crisps and chocolate: What your food cravings ACTUALLY mean, according to experts
From cakes and sweets to crisps and bread, many of us have a guilty pleasure.
But why do we get such intense food cravings?
An urge to chow down on chocolate or break open a packet of crisps could be your body’s way of alerting you to something.
Some experts have suggested nutrient deficiencies are to blame for cravings, while others say it’s as simple as associating the snacks you enjoy with pleasure.
Here, MailOnline reveals what your food cravings might – and might not – mean.
From cakes and sweets to crisps and bread, many of us have a guilty pleasure but why do we get such intense food cravings? (stock image)
Cake or something sweet
Whether it’s cakes, gummy bears or biscuits, those with a sweet tooth know the feeling of a sugar craving all too well.
But whatever your vice, your urge for a sweet treat has likely been triggered by your body’s sugar levels crashing after a peak.
As you eat, your blood sugar goes up and insulin is released.
And according to experts, if you are eating refined sugar and carbs they will hit your bloodstream fast and cause an imbalance in blood sugar.
The body will then release more insulin to deal with the rapid blood sugar rise.
Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville said: ‘Once dealt with, the blood sugar levels will drop, but because you’ve generated the release of so much insulin, the levels will drop too low and you will soon feel like snacking on a bar of chocolate.
‘The more sweets you eat, the more you will crave them – it is a catch 22.’
And Dr Duane Mellor, one of Britain’s top dietary researchers, says: ‘In terms of general drivers to eat, these are linked to calorie density e.g. sweet and fat.
‘The idea of the pudding tummy, in that when we are full, as our biology has evolved not being assured of the next meal, [so] our body will tend to encourage us to eat calorie-dense foods, such as desserts at the end of a meal.’
And nutritionist Melissa Snover, founder of vitamin brand Nourished, said similar can apply to craving fruit.
‘This can be one of the healthiest cravings to have as long as fruit is eaten in moderation with a balanced diet so that your sugar levels don’t then spike too high,’ she added.
To curb your sugar cravings, Dr Glenville advises taking a chromium supplement.
Chromium is a trace metal, found in the body in the form of trivalent chromium, which may play a role in normal insulin function.
Crisps or something salty
Some people are more partial to a crisp craving.
And your desire for something salty could mean your electrolytes are low.
Electrolytes, potassium and sodium maintain a balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly.
And salty foods are high in sodium, so experts suggest these cravings are your body’s way of telling you sodium is needed — albeit in small quantities.
Shona Wilkinson, a London-based nutritionist, said: ‘If you crave salty food, it could mean that your sodium levels are too low, usually due to dehydration, after exercise, illness or drinking alcohol.’
Sodium is a vital mineral, which helps to maintain water balance in the body, which helps regulate blood pressure.
‘You can quickly replenish your sodium levels by snacking on dried anchovies or salted popcorn, which are naturally high in the mineral,’ she added.
‘You can also find small amounts of sodium in celery and carrots, which should help curb your craving.’
According to the British Heart Foundation, guidelines say adults should eat less than six grams of salt per day — roughly a teaspoon’s worth.
And the NHS says if you have a high-salt diet, your body gets used to those levels.
It also warns eating too much of it can make regular foods taste bland, encouraging you to add more salt — fuelling the cycle.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
Eleanor McClelland, head of food at healthy snacking company Graze, said craving savoury foods could also indicate a lack of protein.
‘It can often lead to reaching for high-calorie, high-in-sodium foods and snacks that won’t satisfy the craving,’ she added.
‘Try foods that are packed with protein and high in fibre such as nuts or roasted pulses or beans.’
Bread or other carbohydrates
Desiring a hearty meal made up of stodgy carbs such as bread or pasta is another common craving.
But when it hits, resist the temptation to gorge on refined, white varieties of your favourite carbohydrate — as the body can’t digest them as easily.
There can be many reasons you may crave carbs, including stress.
Registered dietitian Lindsay Pleskot says: ‘We are wired for survival, so when we don’t feel safe, our brain can increase cravings for fast energy (including bread, pasta, cakes etc) to be stored up for later use.’
Experts say other possible causes of carb cravings can include a need to regulate low mood, as carbohydrate intake is linked to the release of happy hormone serotonin.
And restricting food can also be a cause of cravings.
This is because in response to food deprivation, the body increases levels of hunger hormone ghrelin to drive you to seek out food and energy.
You know that one square of chocolate you were going to treat yourself to and suddenly you’ve demolished a whole bar?
We’ve all been there.
But your chocolate craving could be your body crying out for something else.
Experts have estimated around 80 per cent of the population is lacking magnesium in their daily diet.
The body needs magnesium, as it helps regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure and makes protein, bone and DNA.
And some people have suggested a chocolate craving is really your body signalling that it’s lacking the nutrient.
But Dr Mellor said this is a myth.
He said: ‘Given humans have only known about cocoa for about 1,000 years and chocolate in its current form is a Victorian creation, it (craving chocolate) is about the pleasure triggered by eating sweet and fatty chocolate rather than any mineral it might contain in fraction of a gram quantities.’
Despite not being the root of the craving, dark chocolate can be a source of magnesium.
However, nutritionist Vidushi Binani, co-founder of fitness centre and eatery Cafe Volonte, said: ‘Dark chocolate is popularly known as a source of magnesium, and even though it is a good source, around 60mg in a 25g portion, we would have to eat a lot of dark chocolate to reach the optimum daily intake (close to six portions of chocolate), which of course is too much sugar for the body.
‘Other sources of magnesium include cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds to name a few, which will also help you stay fuller for longer and curb sugar cravings.’