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.