Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Are food cravings the result of nutrient deficiencies?



Image by John Hain on pixabay. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

One of the most pervasive myths in the nutrition realm is that food cravings are caused by nutrient deficiencies. I came across this article by self-proclaimed nutrition guru David Wolfe the other day. In it he lists a number of food cravings and then tells you what nutrient deficiency each may be linked to.

While there has actually been very little research done exploring the relationship between food cravings and nutrient deficiencies the evidence is mixed at best. Most of the research investigating cravings has been done with pregnant women and has looked at both food cravings and pica (cravings for non-food substances such as dirt, chalk, and soap). Some researchers have found that pica is linked to nutrient deficiencies. However, some studies have shown that pica is a result of a nutrient deficiency while others have shown the reverse; i.e. consuming non-food substances may cause nutrient deficiencies. To date there is no clear evidence to support the notion that specific food cravings can be linked to specific nutrient deficiencies.

Wolfe asserts that chocolate cravings are a result of magnesium deficiency. Therefore, instead of chocolate, you should snack on leafy greens, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, and molasses. Sugar cravings may be the result of a deficiency in any of five nutrients: chromium, sulfur, tryptophan,  or serotonin (by my count, that’s four so the fifth is anyone’s guess). His advice: “revitalize your diet”. Carb cravings may be a result of a nitrogen deficiency. To remedy this? Eat more fish. Cravings for oily and fatty foods are blamed on a calcium deficiency. Instead of some fries, try having some milk (but not just common pasteurized milk, no you should risk ingesting potentially deadly bacteria and drink raw milk) or turnip greens. And finally, salty food cravings are likely a result of your body wanting chloride or silicon. Instead of chips, grab yourself a plate of fish, nuts, and seeds (aka the new party mix).

Many of us could benefit from including more wholesome foods in our diets. However, if you’re craving chips, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be satisfied with a tin of sardines instead (power to you if you are). At least at this point, there is no evidence to support that specific food cravings equate to specific nutrient deficiencies. Rather than trying to satisfy your cravings with turnip greens, try to eat a balanced, varied, nutritious diet and let yourself have a little of what you’re craving when you’re craving it.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people see food and nutrition from a different perspective and understand that nutrition and health are not necessarily a result of personal choice.

2 thoughts on “Are food cravings the result of nutrient deficiencies?

  1. It’s funny because I’ve never believed that cravings are a result of nutrient deficiencies until I started counselling pregnant mothers. I see cravings for meat/steak when clients are low iron, cravings for salt with low blood pressure, cravings for sugar when their diet is not meeting caloric needs… Not quite as far of a stretch as “craving sugar means low chromium, sulfur, tryptophan, or serotonin”. But I’ve definitely become more mindful of their cravings.


    • Those make sense. It is possible (and probable) that some food craving are reflective of nutrient deficiencies. Wolfe’s connections are tenuous at best though.


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