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What Your Food Cravings Secretly Reveal About Your Health

Craving these popular foods may mean your body is trying to tell you something important.

Craving ice?

Some people really love chewing ice, it’s true. But if you find yourself craving the cold stuff it might be a sign of anemia. A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners concluded that doctors should ask patients if they crave ice as it’s a sign of iron deficiency. Ice cravings are a form of pica—a desire to eat non-food items like dirt and laundry soap—and are linked to low iron levels. The researchers hypothesized it might be because chewing the ice might temporarily increase blood flow to the brain, counteracting the slowdown caused by iron deficiency.

blocks of milk chocolateiStock/vesmil

Craving chocolate?

If you find yourself constantly reaching for chocolate—one of the most popular food cravings—you may be depressed and trying to self-medicate with the sweet stuff. A survey of more than 13,000 people found that those who ate dark chocolate during a 24-hour period were 57 percent less likely to report symptoms of depression. In addition, chocolate contains magnesium and theobromine, two compounds shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and promote muscle relaxation. Treatment for depression can be complicated, but these 10 foods can naturally improve your mood.

donut with pink frosting and sprinklesiStock/Catherine Lane

Craving sweets?

Are your dreams, both day and night, filled with visions of sugar plums (and more modern sweets)? If so, you might need to spend more time in dreamland. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people increased the number of hours they slept, they significantly decreased their intake of sugar. So skip the candy and opt for some zzz’s instead.

grilled cheese sandwich on a plateiStock/Funwithfood

Craving cheese?

Cheese is a star ingredient in so many comfort foods—and for good reason. The melty treat contains l-tryptophan, a compound that improves mood and promotes relaxation. So if your food cravings revolve around a cheesy deep dish pizza or gooey mac-n-cheese, it may just be that you’re in need of a little TLC. Indulging in a reasonable portion can be a good way to de-stress and feel better. But if you’re constantly craving cheese, it may also be a sign that you’re having issues with concentration and memory. A 2015 study out of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio  found that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were twice as likely to crave cheese as others. Here’s a list of healthier foods that are proven to boost your mood.

glasses of soda with iceiStock/luknaja

Craving soda?

Many a person swears they can’t go a day without their Coke or Pepsi. While you may love the fizzy sweetness, what you’re most likely craving is the caffeine hit. One serving of Coke provides 30 mg of caffeine—enough to give you a nice wake-up jolt but not enough to make you jittery. A less common reason for soda cravings is a calcium deficiency. According to a 2017 study in Front Endocrinol, the daily consumption of cola can leach calcium and magnesium from your bones, creating a vicious cycle of depletion and craving.

bowl of potato chipsiStock/john shepherd

Craving potato chips?

Potato chips and their hot cousin, French fries, are two of the most commonly reported food cravings, but downing bags of the fatty junk foods may be a signal you’re low on healthy fats, says Taylor Newhouse Leahy, RD, a clinical dietitian at Baylor Scott & White Hospital. Of particular interest are omega-3’s. Our bodies don’t manufacture those fatty acids, so to get our daily requirement we have to eat it in foods like salmon and other fatty fish. Or it may mean you need more healthy fats in general and you’re not getting enough foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. But, if you’re feeling hungry all the time, you should explore these ten medical reasons that could be causing it.

man drinking a bottle of wateriStock/PeopleImages

Craving water?

If you’re super thirsty, chances are you’re just dehydrated and your body is telling you to pick up the slack with your water bottle. But if you’re always craving the wet stuff, it could signal a deeper issue like diabetes. Excessive thirst and urination are one of the earliest warning signs that your insulin levels are out of whack, according to the American Diabetes Association. Extra glucose builds up in your blood, making your kidneys go into overtime to process all of it. When they can’t keep up, it gets excreted through your urine which in turn makes you thirsty again.

pretzels spread across a backgroundiStock/rickszczechowski

Craving pretzels?

Salt cravings can be a sign of can be a sign of Addison’s disease or Bartter’s syndrome, especially if the cravings come with other symptoms like exhaustion, weight loss, and skin discoloration. If you’re worried that cravings are getting the best of you, take note of these  foods that can actually make you hungrier.

brown paper bag of popcorniStock/bhofack2

Craving kettle corn?

The body needs both sodium and glucose to function properly—two nutrients that are quickly depleted when you exercise, especially if you sweat a lot. So if you are craving a salty-sweet treat, it may be your body telling you it needs to physically recover and replenish its stores, Leahy says. This is why most workout recovery drinks include a hit of both sugar and salt. If you have other cravings to combat, check out these science-backed ways to stop your strongest food cravings.

woman drinking a glass of wineiStock/m-imagephotography

Craving… anything?

An intense craving for any food (but usually treats) is often mistaken as hunger when in reality it may mean you’re dehydrated. Just so you know: Thirst is actually the last resort signal for dehydration. “We often misinterpret the signals our body is giving us,” explains Leahy. “As a society, we are chronically dehydrated. The next time you reach for something sweet or salty, try quelling the craving with a tall glass of water. You may be surprised at the result.” And you may be shocked at the range of these nine feelings you don’t realize you’re mistaking for hunger.

Medically reviewed by Elisabetta Politi, CDE, MPH, RD, on November 08, 2019

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.

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