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Food Craving Meanings Chart: Deficiencies And Emotional Eating

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Last updated on July 11, 2020

Do you crave certain foods like chocolate, salty chips, or bread?

In this blog post you’ll see:

  1. Food craving meanings chart
  2. Information for each craving, deficiency, and healthy option on the chart
  3. Emotional eating information and signs 

The reason we focus on both nutrient deficiency and emotional eating is simple.

Deficiencies and emotional eating go together to explain the meaning of food cravings!

If you just look at food cravings via deficiencies, you’ll miss an important piece of the puzzle.

Likewise, if you just talk about emotional eating without addressing deficiencies, you’ll be lacking something important. 

In this post we’ll talk about both nutrient deficiencies + emotional eating and we’ll answer frequently asked questions too! 

  • What does it mean when you crave certain foods?
  • Are cravings a sign of deficiency?
  • What should I eat if I crave junk food?
  • What food cravings mean emotionally?

Food Craving Meanings Chart

food craving meanings chart pinterest image

Please note this Food Craving Meanings Chart is meant to be a simplified version for nutritional deficiencies.  So, this is just suggestive and may not fit your situation exactly.

If you want more in depth information about deficiencies, please check out the CDC’s assessment of nutrition in the US population.

How To Read The Food Cravings Meanings Chart: What Does It Mean When I Crave Certain Foods?

To read the chart, first identify what you are craving.

  • Chocolate?
  • Sugar?

Then you’ll need to determine whether this craving is because of a nutrient deficiency.

If the craving goes away after you fulfill the nutrient requirement, then you are good to go!

But oftentimes the craving will still be there even after you eat enough of the nutrient deficiency.

When you still have cravings even after getting the nutrient, you have a case of emotional eating.

That’s why it’s important we talk about the two primary meanings behind your food cravings: 

  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Emotional eating 

If you crave certain foods it’s because you either lack nutrients found within that food, or you’re emotionally hungry.

How Do I Know If My Cravings Are A Sign Of Deficiency?

The easiest way is to eat the food you crave and see if the cravings go away.

Just this past July 4th weekend I had a craving for milk. I bought whole fat milk at the store and drank a gallon over the weekend! 

I must have had a calcium deficiency or something because that milk tasted delicious!

And now a few days later, my craving for milk has largely gone away. My calcium deficiency must have been nutritionally satisfied!

This is the easiest way to know if your cravings are a sign of deficiency – after you eat the food you crave, then your cravings go away!

Visit Your Doctor

The easiest but most expensive way to see if you have nutrient deficiencies is to see your doctor. Or another expert who can run blood tests.

Blood tests can reveal if you are lacking certain minerals and vitamins.

However, not everyone can schedule a blood test, and you don’t need to see your doctor to discover what your food cravings mean.

If you are taking the more practical course of action, you’ll need to be patient and harness the power of …

Trial and error. 

Trial And Error: 2-3 Steps To Test If You Have A Nutrient Deficiency

trial and error cycle - try, fail, try, again, success

Step 1) You have a craving, then using the food craving meanings chart and information below in the next section you come up with a hypothesis.

Example hypothesis: I am craving chocolate, so I may be lacking the nutrient magnesium. 

Step 2) Try foods that may replenish your hypothesized missing nutrient . Make a note if the nutrient helps or not.

For example, if you hypothesize you are missing magnesium, try fruits or nuts and see if your craving goes away.

Remember, if you are truly missing a nutrient, then the food will taste amazing. Way better than usual!

Remember me and my milk? How milk was sooo good for me?

And then after I drank a lot of milk the craving went away?

That’s how you test for nutrient deficiencies!

But …

What will happen a good percentage of the time …

You’ll try to meet your nutrient deficiencies, and you’ll still have the craving! 

Then you know you have to deal with an emotional eating issue.

So be sure to check out the bottom section of this blog for more info on emotional eating.

Food Craving Chart Meanings: More Info For Each Craving, Deficiency, And Other Healthy Options 

Chocolate

chocolate bar with sugar crystals

Chocolate has both magnesium and theobromine, chemicals which can help with stress reduction and muscular relaxation. If you have a magnesium deficiency you may be craving chocolate for this reason.

Some other foods that can help your body obtain proper magnesium levels are nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit.

Of course, you may also be craving chocolate because you’re feeling depressed! 

One study with over 10,000 people found “results that provide some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms”.

We’ll talk about emotional eating down below, I just thought this was interesting and wanted to make sure I shared it with you. 

Not all chocolate is bad, far from it!

Non-Chocolate Sugary Sweets

Chocolatey treats aside, if you’re craving other sugary sweets, the most likely reason is because you’re lacking phosphorus. 

To get more phosphorus, try eating more vegetables and nuts.

However, there are other potential deficiencies that may be causing your desires for sugary sweets. You could be lacking:

  • Tryptophan (try raisins, sweet potato, or spinach)
  • Sulphur (try cranberries, broccoli)
  • Carbon (get fresh fruit)
  • Chromium (try broccoli, leafy greens, grapes)

Overall, I would recommend a sweet potato with a hearty slab of butter.

The sweet potato can help you get your body’s desire for calories, and the butter and savory taste of the sweet potato might just do the trick taste wise!

Here’s how to prepare a sweet potato in less than 10 mins.

What Should I Eat If I Crave Junk Food?

food cravings with young woman having urges

Junk food falls within the category of sugary sweets but is slightly different. 

Instead of sugary foods like sugary cereals or glazed muffins, junk food usually refers to candy and small items that come in plastic wraps.

If you are craving junk food, it’s likely that you are using the food to escape from the feelings in your body.

Junk food can provide temporary:

  • Distraction
  • Excitement
  • Flavor
  • Relief

However, since junk food contains no nutrients, it’s unlikely your body has food cravings of this food for nutrient reasons. 

See the bottom section about emotional eating for more information.

Salty

If you are craving salty foods, most likely you are lacking sodium!

At the eating disorder center where I work, clients oftentimes are given salt tablets, or told to add sea salt to meals. The clients simply aren’t getting enough salt in their diet!

However, it’s possible that your body is lacking chloride. If chloride is deficient, you can try getting more fish, tomatoes, lettuce, or olives. 

The other missing nutrient might be silicon, in which case you can try nuts or seeds. 

But salt cravings could mean that you are lacking healthy fats as well! 

Your body needs fat. Oftentimes people eat french fries and potato chips because they aren’t getting enough fat, and these foods provide some fat.

Nuts, avocados, full fat yogurt, and olive oil are healthy sources of fat and protein for your body.

Overall, salt cravings are complicated. Try to add some sea salt to your some meals, and experiment with nuts because nuts have both fat and silicon.

Oily

If you are craving oily foods, it could be because you’re lacking the nutrient of calcium.

To get more calcium try eating spinach, milk, broccoli, figs or plums. 

Coffee

If you are craving coffee, the most likely nutrient deficiency is phosphorus. 

If you’re missing phosphorus, eat more vegetables and nuts. 

There could be several other nutrients lacking as well, which could explain your coffee food cravings.

  • Sulphur (try cranberries, broccoli)
  • Salt (try salt, seaweed)
  • Iron (try  nuts, figs, spinach, plums, figs, broccoli, kale)

Soda

Most likely your craving for soda is more an emotional eating issue. 

For more info on emotional eating, see the section down below. 

However, soda can suck calcium from your bones. If you’re lacking calcium, try getting more milk, plums, kale, figs or broccoli.

Bread

Similar to soda, if you’re craving bread or similar items like croissants, muffins, etc …

Then you’re most likely in an emotional eating situation, more so than a nutrient deficiency. 

However, it’s possible your food craving for bread is because of an insufficient amount of nitrogen.

To get more nitrogen try getting more nuts, seeds, or dark leafy greens.

Pre-Menstrual

Zinc is a vital component of blood, and so if you’re getting cravings right before your period, then it’s possible insufficient zinc is responsible.

In that case, try eating more leafy vegetables, broccoli, kale or root vegetables next time.

General Cravings – Hydrate Or Eat Common Food!

Finally, food cravings in general can be caused by a lack of water!

Your body needs water! And it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. 

My rule of thumb is to have one glass of water when I eat. This guideline helps me remember.

And my body tells me I am not hydrated if I have a headache. That’s a signal from my body to drink more water!

You can also try eating types of common food that have high nutritional value!

For example here are 4 common foods that can help in general and that also are helpful with a lot of the above areas of potential food cravings:

  1. Nuts
  2. Leafy greens
  3. Chicken
  4. Fruit

Eating these foods, along with water, may satisfy your nutritional / mineral deficiencies!

Cravings Meaning: What Food Cravings Mean Emotionally

Emotional eating can easily be confused with nutrient deficiency.

It can be tempting to believe you have a nutrient deficiency for the following reasons:

  • It’s an easy solution If you are lacking nutrients – then just get the nutrients and your problem goes away!
  • Clear problem and solution
  • Means you don’t have to confront deeper, emotional issues

However, if you are still struggling with food cravings even after trying foods to meet your nutrient deficiency, the most likely issue is emotional.

Signs Of Emotional Eating

The reason emotional hunger is easily confused with nutrient deficiency is because both make you crave specific foods!

However, there are differences between the signs of nutrient deficiency versus the food cravings of true emotional eating. 

Not every craving means the same thing!

Here’s how to tell the difference between emotional eating versus regular physical hunger caused by a nutrient deficiency:

Emotional vs Physical hunger - Mums in Heels

Gradual Hunger Versus Sudden Hunger

For starters, you can notice if your hunger comes on suddenly or gradually. 

If you are lacking a nutrient you may be hungry for food, but your hunger will not be sudden. 

For example, let’s say you’re missing calcium. Just like me and milk! 

I was hungry for milk, but I didn’t have any sudden hunger. 

The hunger / craving for milk had been building for a few days before I acted on my desires.

But if you are emotionally hungry you’ll only want a certain food, and you’ll want it right now!

When you are lacking a nutrient the hunger or urge to eat will come on gradually. 

After Eating You Do Not Feel Bad About Yourself

After I had milk, I was fine!

I got my nutrient deficiency met. Then I didn’t want milk so much.

But, if I had been emotionally hungry, then I most likely would have felt guilty or ashamed afterwards!

But the following is one of the biggest indicators …

Specific Food Cravings Versus General Food Cravings

The biggest indicator of emotional eating is that you ONLY want 1 certain food, such as:

  • A specific fast food restaurant dish
  • One particular type of flavor

One client I met recognized his specific cravings for Philly Cheesesteaks because that’s all he wanted and he felt like nothing else could satisfy him!

Likewise, you might be unable to stop thinking about a particular food.

Even if you ate a hearty meal that made you feel comfortably full, you would still want to keep eating!

This happens many times for people. They try to eat healthy, but then after they eat healthy, they still desire something ‘unhealthy’!

This is the biggest sign of emotional eating. 

Only one specific food – that is oftentimes overeaten – will satisfy your craving.

If you need help with either emotionally eating, or with getting your basic nutritional needs met then please reach out to a professional!

(I offer a complimentary breakthrough session you can take advantage of here)

With that being said, just keep on learning, trialing and erroring, and you’ll be on the right path!


PS - Oh, and one more thing before I forget ...

Take the eating quiz by clicking here.

It's 2 mins and will give you a better understanding of your eating habits.


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