The 6 Nutrient Deficiencies Behind Major Food Cravings

Your decision to binge on certain food isn’t always dependent on your willpower. No, studies from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics show that magnetic draws to certain foods can be blamed on nutrient inadequacies—to be precise, six nutrient deficiencies in particular.

So don’t be surprised if your body is lagging in the following minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and macronutrients the next time you reach for sweets, fast foods, red meat, or dairy…


1. Iron

Iron is a very common nutrient deficiency for vegans, vegetarians, as well as women during their pre-menopausal years. And iron deficiencies can cause the major meat hungers as well as lagging energy. Even if you’re a vegan or vegetarian who’s sworn off meat—you may find yourself drawn by the scent of grilling burgers, chicken wings, or even fish and chips.

These meat cravings can stem from the fact that iron sources from plant-based foods (non-heme iron) aren’t as promptly utilized by the body as animal based iron sources (heme iron), according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, if you want to stick to your vegan or vegetarian oath—reach for beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for good iron sources. Just eat your iron with a food rich in vitamin C.

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2. B Vitamins

A vitamin B deficiency can cause some pretty wacky food cravings, particularly if you develop a condition known as pica. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pica can be a symptom of anemia (due to B-12, folate, or iron deficiency), in kids and expecting mothers, causing unexplainable cravings for dirt.

Craving foods like leafy greens, rice, fortified cereals, seafood, eggs, bananas, poultry, dairy, and potatoes can also indicate a deficiency from the B-vitamin family (B1, B5, B6, B9, or B12). Oftentimes, stress, depression, and binge eating will also increase with a B deficiency—while mood will become erratic. Check with your doctor to see if a medication you’re taking is responsible.

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3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

You like know, just from reading this site, that certain fats can be categorized as “good” fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are among the best fat sources. This essential fatty acid (ALA, EPA, and DHA) can be found in fish (i.e., canned tuna, salmon, and sardines), eggs, and cheese.

That is why a deficiency in omega-3s might have you dialing your local pizza joint or mowing down on an entire brick of old cheddar. If you’re looking to eggs for omega-3s, Pennsylvania State University suggests sourcing them from farms that pasture feed their chickens in natural sunlight, as they provide a better source of long-chain omega-3 fats.


4. Magnesium

Craving chocolate so much so that nothing else will satiate your cravings? You’re likely dealing with a magnesium deficiency. Ironically, consuming a diet too high in sugar can cause magnesium deficiency. So can high levels of stress.

According to Nutritional scientists at the University of Central Lancashire, many things can lead to magnesium deficiency—including sipping too much soda, coffee, tea, or alcohol. And chocolate cravings during menstruation, ladies, can be blamed on low mineral levels during the second portion of your period. Reach for chocolate with 75-percent cocoa for the best magnesium chocolate source.


5. Zinc

Many of us won’t have to worry about a possible zinc deficiency until we’re seniors—that’s unless you lead a high stress lifestyle. If you do, zinc mineral levels can be in low supply.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, low zinc causes a dulled sense of taste, which explains why you crave sugary and salty junk foods. However, you can reach for eggs, nuts, oysters, liver, and dark poultry meat to satiate and up zinc stores (and lower your risk of catching a cold).


6. Calcium

Calcium and magnesium are closely connected minerals. This means, low calcium will also result in insatiable sugar and salt cravings. Again, stress and excess sugar are typically the prime culprits, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

To increase your calcium stores, look to dairy (i.e., milk, yogurt, low fat cheese). If you have a dairy allergy or intolerance, try leafy greens, broccoli, nuts, and sardines. Supplements can also be an option, but consult your doctor first.

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Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.