Humans evolved to seek out high calorie foods – particularly sugars and fats – instinctively as part of our survival mechanism. Human breast milk is quite high in both (around 4g fat and 7g lactose per 100ml).
Most of us experience food cravings – strong desires for certain types of foods beyond normal hunger, especially at times of stress. In-depth research has now begun to reveal the mechanisms behind craving but the story is quite complex and often involves a degree of emotional association.
Often it’s the case that eating food with quick-release calories allows the body to feel “safe” – in other words it tells us that we don’t need to stay in survival mode.
The main problem in the modern world is that a lot of processed foods use fats (or fat substitutes) with salty and sweet tastes to mask ingredients that lack nutrition – we can’t trust our instincts to tell us that we’re eating the right foods anymore and the prevalence of these foods in stores has contributed to our losing dietary balance and the ability to just go by instinct. Intensive agriculture and the processing of foods also reduces their mineral content considerably.
As children, many of us were given sweets as a treat or a reward for good behavior so eating sweets will continue to have a soothing effect – this conditioning can be hard to control in later life. Some of the foods we crave trigger the release of serotonin in the brain – stronger cravings have been linked to low serotonin levels in some individuals. Attraction to salty foods can also be caused by dehydration because more salt leads to increased water retention.
Fortunately there is increasing knowledge about the composition of foods and we can rely more on what we know to make good choices. In some cases, it could simply be that a lack of essential minerals can lead to certain cravings although research is still limited in this area. The best approach to this news is to ensure that you keep up your intake of minerals for good health so we have provided this simple chart as a guide to what our bodies might be trying to tell us!
Here’s more info about some of the essential minerals and why they could produce food cravings:
Chromium has been linked to insulin action and glucose metabolism, helping to balance our blood sugar level.
Carbon is found in sweet fresh fruits but for some this only applies if they are naturally ripened. Fruits such as avocado, kiwi, banana, apple, mango, pear and papaya provide soluble carbon even when picked early.
Craving oily foods can be a sign of calcium deficiency and an imbalanced diet as well as a call for more foods rich in fatty acids.
Chocolate leads to a pleasurable release of endorphins but also contains a high level of magnesium, which we need in our diet, so magnesium deficiency can increase chocolate craving. It has also been shown that certain kinds of physical activity can reduce cravings.
It’s fascinating to discover that the hippocampus, a part of the brain connected with emotion, has a relatively high concentration of magnesium – this could explain how cravings are a natural response to the need to balance our emotions!
PS: Don’t forget to eat organic for best nutritional benefits.