This is What Your Food Cravings Are Trying to Tell You

Craving chocolate cake or a bag of chips? Find out what your cravings are trying to tell you.

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Food Cravings Meaning, chocolate
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Why do we crave certain foods?

All day, you’ve had a craving for chocolate cake that you just can’t shake. Is it a sure sign that you’re deprived of the minerals found in this sweet treat, like magnesium or potassium?

Not so fast! A food craving could be sending you a message, but probably not the one you’re expecting. Cravings, after all, are often for nutrient-poor foods like doughnuts (minus this healthy double chocolate donut recipe), cola or chips. It’s hardly likely your body needs them. So what are your cravings really trying to tell you? Read on to find out.

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Food Cravings Meaning, grains
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You’re not eating enough grains

If you’re missing a healthy balance of carbohydrates in your diet, your body won’t have the fuel it needs to function. This can lead to a sugar craving. “It’s common if someone’s on a diet,” says Ali Chernoff, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in Vancouver. “If you’re not eating grains at all, then you’re going to have a sugar urge.” The same thing can happen after meal skipping, a night of drinking, or increased exercise. Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with treats, try upping your intake of whole grains, along with veggies and fruits.

Not sure what to eat for breakfast? Here are the best foods for you.

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Food Cravings Meaning, dairy
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You need more dairy or dairy alternatives

Adults need two servings a day from this food group, or three servings if they’re over 51. “Salt cravings usually have to do with the fact people lack milk and alternatives in their meal plan,” says Chernoff. Most of the time, a craving for something salty can be satisfied with a glass of the white stuff, or another dairy food like low-fat cheese or yogurt.

Find out if dairy-free milk is damaging your brain.

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Food Cravings Meaning, glass of water
Alyssa Ball

You should have a drink of water

If your water intake has slacked off, your body may send you signals that you confuse with food cravings. Before you reach for a cookie, says Chernoff, “first think, did you drink enough water today?” If you didn’t, have a cup of water, and that cuts the cravings.

Read up on why you should get 8 full glasses of water a day.

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Food Cravings Meaning, woman on her period
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It’s that time of the month

Does this sound familiar? Two days a month, you’d kill for a sundae. As if your PMS didn’t throw enough at you with bloating and crankiness, it can also cause cravings. The culprit could be low serotonin. Another factor, says Chernoff, is that your metabolism might be up slightly, along with your need for carbohydrates. “I tell my clients to have an extra half a grain and half a meat serving at lunchtime, and it nips it in the bud,” she adds. What may also help, according to research: Try taking a vitamin E supplement.

Missed your period recently? Check out these sneaky reasons why your period has gone AWOL.

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Food Cravings Meaning, pregnant woman
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Congratulations — you’re pregnant!

It’s no myth. Pregnant women often experience cravings because of the nutrient needs of their baby, or because their own bodies change the ways they process nutrients. Whether you’re craving sweets or salt, make a special effort to eat the well-balanced diet that’s recommended for pregnant women. Having an urge to eat non-food items like ice, soil or cornstarch is called pica. While it may signal that you’re low in certain minerals, you’re better off talking to your dietitian or doctor instead of digging your fork into dirt.

These are the top healthy foods a dietitian always has in the fridge.

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Food Cravings Meaning, meat
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You’re low in iron or zinc

Pregnant or not, pica can be a sign that you’re lacking essential minerals, most often iron or zinc. It’s important that you seek treatment. Besides being a possible sign of an underlying nutritional deficiency, this disorder can lead to stomach or intestinal obstructions. Don’t think that this problem doesn’t affect you if you don’t live in an underdeveloped country. “It’s more common that you think,” says Chernoff.

Lacking iron in your diet? Make sure you add this foolproof one-pan roast dinner to your summer menu.

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Food Cravings Meaning, medical checkup
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Maybe it’s time for a medical checkup

If you’re craving salt like never before, especially if you have additional symptoms like weight loss, fatigue and low blood pressure, you could have a disorder of your adrenal gland. A salt craving can also be a sign of kidney disease. (Find out how this fitness blogger recovered from this disease.)

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Food Cravings Meaning, brain
Alyssa Ball

Your brain is under strain

Studies at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have found that people in mildly depressed moods tend to crave carbs, and actually feel better after eating them. High-carb cravings can also be a symptom of seasonal affective disorder. Food cravings can even signal an oncoming migraine within the next day or so. (For headaches, you’ll want to try this pressure point tip to help heal yourself naturally.) Remember to stick to healthy carbs instead of drowning your sorrows in soda pop.

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Food Cravings Meaning, time clock
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What to do when cravings hit

Sometimes your cravings still get the best of you. If you must have something unhealthy, try tactics like delaying a treat by 20 minutes, or choosing smaller portions. Take a tip from the Mayo Clinic: It recommends choosing dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa) to satisfy your urge, as this contains flavanols that may help fight heart disease. If you’re a potato chip fan, allow yourself to indulge, just not every day. “That’s what I aim for in a meal plan, as opposed to eliminating it,” says Chernoff, adding: “You’ve got to live a little.”

Plus, find out how to maintain a healthy diet in spite of having a packed schedule.

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