Food Cravings That Actually Mean Something

We all experience food cravings from time to time, but as many dietitians and health experts point out, they can sometimes be a sign of something more serious than just your sweet tooth calling for a little indulgence. As you'll soon find out, feeling a strong hankering for chocolate or dairy can actually be your body's way of telling you it's lacking certain nutrients. Some cravings can also indicate a sugar addiction while others may be the manifestation of increased stress or fatigue. Read on to discover what nine of the most common food cravings actually mean.

Pasta, white bread and other carbs

Digging into a delicious, comforting bowl of pasta can be a real treat, but if you find yourself regularly craving high-carb staples, like pasta or white bread, your body may be experiencing increased levels of fatigue. "When tired, many people crave carbohydrates for a quick energy boost since carbs are our main source of fuel," explains Elizabeth DeRobertis, a registered dietitian. "Carbs boost the 'feel-good' hormone serotonin, and when you eat something high in both carbs and fat, it can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward," she adds. If this is the case, a massage or relaxing bubble bath could be the perfect way to banish your carb craving.

However, there could be a different trigger causing you to dream about carb — one that's completely psychological. "Typically, when someone is on a strict eating plan or has declared certain foods 'off-limits,' they will want them that much more," says DeRobertis, pointing out that many of today's most popular diets are indeed based on cutting out carbs.

Anything sugary

According to a study published online in 2007, the effects of sugar on our bodies are comparable to those of nicotine and other addictive drugs. As Nicole Osinga, a registered dietician, told Huffington Post, sugars actually "signal the body to release serotonin, which boosts your mood." This is why "regular consumption of foods high in sugar is often a result of habit and association, which lead to neurochemical changes in the brain that can hardwire you to crave these types of foods." In other words, the more sugar you consume, the more you'll crave it. And although the craving itself may not be a problem, regular indulgence of it can result in an unhealthy diet with serious negative side effects.

Steaks, burgers and red meat

Craving a juicy beef burger or huge steak can be a sign that you're not getting enough protein in your daily meals. Anyone who works out a lot or is following a strict vegetarian diet is likely to experience such cravings, explains Joseph Colella, M.D., author of The Appetite Solution. How can you deal with this type of craving to ensure it doesn't continue coming back? "Try to eat about one gram of protein for every pound you weigh," suggests Dr. Colella. Alternatively, the same craving could also symbolize a chronic iron or vitamin B deficiency, especially if your diet is low in protein or you experience a heavy menstrual cycle that can drastically decrease your body's iron levels.

Chilis, salsas and all things spicy

As Reader's Digest suggests, craving extremely hot, spicy foods could be your body's way of trying to deal with high temperatures. How is this possible? The paper points to research carried out by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which found that "capsaicin, the active chemical in chili peppers, can induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat." Thermogenesis is described as "one important method of staying warm and is most often seen in hibernating animals." The paper goes on to conclude that "these findings further explain how capsaicin intake can increase metabolism and body temperature." Therefore, as RD sums up, "eating hot salsas and spicy curries temporarily increases your metabolism, making you sweat more and thereby helping you cool down."


Rich, delicious chocolate is hard to resist, but Claire Georgiou, a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist, reveals that craving the yummy treat could actually "indicate the need for magnesium, chromium, B-vitamins and/or essential fatty acids." What's more, "chocolate is also metabolized to serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone so cravings can also be related to an emotional need." If you choose to dig in, Georgiou suggests reaching for the darkest chocolate you can find, one that's boasting a high percentage of cacao, as that variety will have the least sugar. Alternatively, she suggests you "reach for a loved one, friend, pet or any activity that makes you feel good."

Nuts and crunchy snacks

Although nuts are a great source of fiber and protein, as Sophie Skover, author of The Continuous Appetite, tells SHAPE, the reason you crave nuts and crunchy snacks may have something to do with your stress levels. "The act of chewing and cracking the food in your mouth can momentarily release that angst, but the problem is the second that the crunching stops, the frustration returns — and many people go back to eating more and can end up polishing off an entire bag of chips," says Skover. If you decide to indulge your craving, make sure you don't end up eating an entire bag of nuts, which are highly fatty. Instead, Skover suggests opting for carrots or celery.

Caffeine and soft drinks

There's nothing quite like a cup of piping hot coffee to help get those energy levels up in the morning, but as nutritionist Deanna Minich, Ph.D. told Psychology Today, she believes that at the core of all caffeine cravings is "mental exhaustion. The caffeine gives the false impression of keeping it all together and being mentally sharp, but in actuality, it exhausts us further, especially in excessive amounts throughout the day," she writes. "Rather than that next cup of coffee or soft drink, give your mind a break and get some extra rest. Try taking a nap or going to bed early – then you'll really be able to concentrate!"


It's gooey, it's fatty and it's delicious, but an overly strong craving for cheese could very well be your body asking to get an added boost of calcium or vitamin D. As Elizabeth Narins, Fitness and Health Editor of Cosmopolitan, explains, "It's not uncommon to eat insufficient amounts of these nutrients. Luckily, your body produces vitamin D when it's exposed to direct sunlight. But if you work indoors or live in a cold climate, you might still fall short on D, which means your body might crave it in the form of grilled cheese."

Ice, ice, baby

A strong craving for ice can "often mean an iron deficiency or mineral deficiency in general," reveals nutritionist Claire Georgiou. This rather odd craving is known as 'pica', which refers to a strong desire to eat things with no nutritional value, such as ice cubes. As Georgiou explains, "this is more frequently seen in children and during periods of greater nutritional need such as pregnancy" and it's nothing to worry about. The solution? Try loading up on "dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds."

How should you react to these cravings?

Although there is nothing wrong with having any of the above-mentioned cravings, regularly indulging them can have negative effects on your health and weight, especially if you find yourself digging into sugary sweets, pastas, soft drinks, etc. more than you'd like. If you're often tempted by such cravings, consider indulging on "cheats days" and giving one of these healthy snack alternatives a try at other times. And, most importantly, if you're concerned or have any questions about what your cravings really mean, be sure to speak with your doctor.