Food Cravings, Diagnosed
Food cravings are one of the stomach’s biggest mysteries. Just what is it that triggers fantasies of chocolate cake or makes your mouth water at the mere thought of a pickle? We asked three nutrition experts to weigh in on the psychological and biological causes behind common food cravings.
Our Panel of Experts
* David “Avocado” Wolfe, nutritionist and superfoods guru specializing in longevity
* Tina Ruggiero, regular nutrition correspondent for WFLA’s Daytime and author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook
* John Douillard, the Ayurvedic physician behind LifeSpa, a natural health center in Boulder, Colorado
Possible cause: Imbalanced intestinal flora or pregnancy
* Wolfe believes one cause of pickle cravings is imbalanced flora in the gut. “Pickled and fermented foods are digestion aids,” he said. “A good sauerkraut has a live culture of acidophilus in it. Pickles are kind of the same, they help us with digestion … [by] getting the digestive acids going.”
* Ruggiero generally believes that food cravings are the result of psychology and habit rather than biological triggers. But she said that pickle cravings during pregnancy are an exception to that rule. “Pregnant women are an exception—they crave things like ice due to hormonal cravings and pickles because of the salt.”
* Douillard said that both pregnancy and intestinal flora can play a role in pickle cravings—sometimes at the same time. He referenced recent research showing that infants develop intestinal bacteria while in utero. “[Scientists] used to think that babies’ intestinal tracts were sterile, but that’s not true. … Moms crave more fermented things that support the growth and development of [their baby’s] intestines.”
Possible causes: Frequent dieting or cold weather
* Ruggiero thinks overindulgence in fatty foods is a psychological response to too much self-denial. “I cook with butter, eggs. I’m an advocate of dairy. I eat meat. I think a problem with cravings is they’re eliminating those. I think deprivation leads to cravings.
“If I tell you ‘You are not allowed to have pink Peeps,’ you will start obsessing. You’ll be dreaming about Peeps. I’m Italian—my family is in Rome, and I visit there annually. Cravings are not a problem there because they’re not obsessed.”
* Douillard said winter weather naturally gears our palates toward heavier, richer foods. “We all crave meats, soups, stews in the winter … more proteins and fats. In summer, it’s very hot out, so summer says, ‘I’ll give you the antidote to the heat’—cooling fruits and vegetables. Nature gives us what we need.”
Possible causes: Candida overgrowth or Ayurvedic body type
* Through his work in holistic nutrition, Wolfe has found that sugar cravings can be a sign of fungal infection. “If somebody is craving candy bars or sugar, a lot of times it’s a psychological throwback to comfort foods from childhood. But if someone has candida, that can lead to sugar addiction … a craving for alcohol, sugary candies, soda pop.”
* Douillard said people with certain Ayurvedic dispositions—or body types—desire sugar more than others and can process it better. Vata dosha types “are very light and sensitive. … They crave things to calm them down. They may crave meditation or things on the heavier side like chips and sweets.” [Take LifeSpa’s quiz to find out if your own dosha type is contributing to your food cravings.]
Possible cause: Nutritional deficiency
* Wolfe said chocolate cravings are often linked to nutrient deficiencies. “Chocolate is one of the most nutritious foods that someone can eat—extraordinarily high in magnesium, chromium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, phosphorous. It contains therapeutic amounts of those minerals, which are antistress.” Wolfe is serious about those nutritional benefits: he even sells bars of raw, organic chocolate through his own company, Naked Chocolate.
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Halley is a Chicago writer with southern roots. When she isn't typing, she enjoys cooking without recipes and designing garments for her upcoming clothing line, Ambidestre.