What Your Cravings Really Mean

Natasha Burton
Close-Up Of Woman Holding Hamburg

milana plaksina / eyeem/getty

Eating healthy can come as a struggle for many of us, what with our crazy work schedules and propensity for sugary, salty, yummy foods (did someone say pizza?). But sometimes, the not-so-great-for-you foods that you crave can actually tell you something super important about what your body needs.

Here’s a closer look at what your food wants might actually mean—and how you can maximize these cravings to stay healthy and satisfied.

Sugar: The more sugar you eat, the more you want to eat. Which can be an issue since eating too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain. Another interesting facet of sugar cravings (and insulin resistance), however, is that they’ve been linked to low Vitamin D levels—and according to recent research, not having enough D can mess with your appetite control. Talk about a vicious cycle!

To make sure you’re getting enough of this key steroid hormone—that’s right, Vitamin D is not a vitamin!—clinical nutritionist and health coach Amanda Hayes Morgan says it’s important to eat plenty of wild sockeye salmon, oysters, herring, and pasture-raised egg yolks, all of which are rich in Vitamin D.

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Red Meat: Have to have a juicy steak? You could have an iron deficiency, which is common among women and can cause symptoms such as fatigue, frequent colds, as well as brittle hair and fragile nails, says nutritionist Brian Tanzer, product formulator for the Vitamin Shoppe. “To get your levels up, look for good food sources including lean red meat, turkey and sardines,” he recommends. “Vegetarian sources like legumes, (chick peas and lentils), green leafy vegetables (spinach and kale), as well as nuts and seeds, like pumpkin seeds, are also great. When you mix in peppers, lemon juice or other good sources of vitamin C, this will help with the absorption of iron from vegetables.”

Chocolate: Ever wonder why you crave chocolate during you menstrual cycle? In its natural form, chocolate (or rather, cocoa) contains relatively high amounts of magnesium and can actually alleviate cramping during menstruation, Morgan says. “Magnesium plays a key role in over 300 chemical reactions in the body and is essential for proper growth and development,” she explains. “A magnesium deficiency may cause symptoms such as muscle cramps, anxiety, migraines, and fatigue.”  She suggests looking for raw or unprocessed dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher. Other foods that are rich in magnesium include cooked leafy green vegetables (spinach and chard), nuts, beans, and whole grains.

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Eggs: If you crave eggs, or meat and shellfish, it could mean that you’re not getting enough Vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products. “It’s super important for anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet to visit their doctor routinely and get their levels checked, and supplement accordingly—either orally or via B12 shots,” Morgan says. Signs you might have a B12 deficiency? You may experience brain fog, low energy, depression, anxiety, and even have dry, dull skin. “So, if want to keep that energy high and that skin glowing and beautiful, make sure to either supplement properly or eat plenty of Vitamin B12-rich foods including wild salmon, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised eggs,” Morgan recommends.

Cheese: If you’re dying for a cheese plate, it may mean that you’re lacking omega-3 and omega-6 fats. “These fats are essential for maintaining every cell in the body, healthy brain function and even cardiovascular and skin health,” Tanzer says. But since dairy can make some people break out, and even cause gastro issues, try to get your good fats from flaxseed oil, safflower oil, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables, he recommends, rather than making yourself a quesadilla.