This week’s Nutrition Mythbusters takes on a question I get frequently.
Q: If I’m craving a certain food, does that mean my body is telling me I’m missing the nutrients found in that food?
A: I hear this a lot—I’m craving a burger, so I must be low on iron. I’m craving salt, so my body must need more salt right now. Unfortunately, there is no scientific basis for this claim. If that were the case, we’d all be craving fruits and vegetables, as they are often the best source of many vitamins and minerals! Most often, cravings involve high fat, high sugar, or salty foods, which have a lot of calories, but not a lot of nutrition.
There are many things that contribute to cravings—external cues to eat from television, the internet, or even the smell from a bakery window. Who hasn’t watched a Facebook recipe video or surfed tempting foods on Pinterest that made your mouth water?
How do you deal with a sudden onset of cravings? To make sure you’re not just hungry, try reaching for a healthy snack first. As a colleague of mine says, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, it’s probably not real, physical hunger. Especially if you’ve missed a meal, just eating something will often make a craving go away. If external cues are making your cravings worse, step away from the TV, computer, or bakery window for a few minutes. Take a short walk, or do something else to keep you busy and distracted. Most of the time, you’ll find the craving will pass, or you’ll simply forget about it.
If you’ve tried everything and you still want to indulge, go ahead and indulge! Just do it sensibly. If you’d be satisfied with a piece of cake, buy one piece of cake and enjoy it. I particularly like mug cakes—just one serving and I’ll get it out of my system. Try not to make a whole cake that will still be on the counter even when the craving passes. If it’s salt, buy a small bag of chips or pretzels and enjoy them. Cravings can feel overwhelming, but with a little planning, they can be managed.
(Author's note--I originally included a piece of cake as the accompanying graphic to this post. But that triggered a craving for cake, so I changed it to fruit!)