You might have heard some of the theories around cravings and nutrient deficiencies – we’re here to unpack how much of it is backed by science and what it means for your health, along with sharing healthier, more satisfying foods to eat instead of your cravings.
Graphic by Grace Martin
Could your cravings for chocolate indicate something more serious at play? While most of us have struggled with intense cravings for this tasty treat at some time or other, persistent urges for chocolate may be related to a lack of a vital nutrient known as magnesium. This essential mineral plays a role in various physiological processes in the body, including muscle function, nerve function and energy production. It is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats. The theory around chocolate and magnesium exists because chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can be a good dietary source of magnesium – but it’s worth noting, we’ve yet to find scientific evidence to support this idea, and it’s also possible that these cravings could be influenced by other elements like stress, lifestyle and even cultural factors. If you suspect that you have a magnesium deficiency, it is important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis. A blood test can be done to measure your magnesium levels accurately. Plus, while chocolate can be a good source of magnesium, it is also high in calories, sugar and fat, and excessive consumption can contribute to an unhealthy diet and potentially lead to weight gain and chronic disease. Your best bet is to stick to dark chocolate with a minimum of 85% cocoa solids, along with enjoying this snack in moderation. It’s also worth ensuring you’re getting your nutrients from a balanced diet – take magnesium, for instance, you’ll find it in higher doses in the following foods:
- Whole grains
- Leafy, dark-green veggies
So, enjoy a variety of foods to ensure you’re meeting your magnesium needs – these come to around 400 mg for men and 310 mg for women.
Craving that salty taste? It could be a sign that you’re lacking in chloride. The reason for this is because sodium and chloride play essential roles in balancing our body’s fluid levels, along with staving off dehydration. That’s why it’s believed you’re your body might be pushing you to consume foods with a higher salt content – if you’re dealing with an electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, you may also notice a number of other symptoms. This doesn’t necessarily mean your sodium levels are too low, it could also occur as a result of excessively high levels! Take a look at some of the symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance:
- Clammy skin
- Excessive thirst
- Mood changes
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle spasms
Now, what does the science say about these salty cravings, you ask? Let’s dive in. There is limited scientific evidence to support the notion that chloride deficiency alone can directly cause cravings for salty foods, with these cravings often pinned on factors like stress, habit and cultural influences. Plus, the body has complex mechanisms for regulating electrolyte balance, and deficiencies in one electrolyte, such as chloride, are usually accompanied by imbalances in other electrolytes as well. Therefore, it is hard to prove that chloride deficiency alone would trigger specific cravings for salty foods. But, if you do find yourself experiencing the other effects of dehydration, it’s worth looking into your electrolyte levels and ensure you’re drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet.
If you’re craving salty foods, you may want to opt for these foods instead of unhealthy snacks like potato chips:
- Feta salad – be sure to enjoy salty cheeses like feta and haloumi in moderation!
You may have heard the rumour around the link between calcium deficiency – or low levels of the mineral – and soft drink cravings. Let’s find out if there’s any truth to it! Research from a 2017 Front Endocrinal paper suggests drink cola drinks could lead to a depletion of calcium, resulting in a never-ending cycle of craving these drinks despite their depleting effects – but overall, we’re lacking in research to prove that this theory is fact. Many may also find – depending on their choice of soft drink – it could be the caffeine they’re craving. The best way to deal with this is to slowly wean yourself off of the stuff, or at least significantly reduce your intake in order to prevent those intense cravings. Take a serve of Coke, for instance, where you’ll find around 30 mg of caffeine – yikes. You probably weren’t bargaining for that when you bought your drink – many of us are aware of the excess sugar and its associated dangers, but the caffeine comes as a surprise to many and keeps us coming back for more.
Here are a few drinks to try instead when those cravings crop up:
- Herbal tea like nettle, green or peppermint tea
- Plain carbonated water
- Still water
- Golden milk
So, if you find yourself craving soft drinks, it might not useful to run out and load up on calcium – but, it’s still important to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs of 1000mg of the nutrient! Here are a few places you’ll find it:
- Cheese, especially hard cheese
- Mung beans
- Milk and yoghurt
- Calcium-set tofu
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