London - Hankering after chocolate? Fantasising about French fries? Your body could be trying to tell you something.
While we all get peckish, there’s a difference between feeling hungry and having a sudden urge for a specific food. In fact, intense food cravings can be a sign you’re deficient in certain nutrients.
So, the next time all you can think about is a juicy steak, Dairy Milk or even ice, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you and try one of our clever food swaps...
You crave: Chocolate
What it means: Chocolate is rich in magnesium, so strong cravings could indicate a deficiency in a mineral vital for your skin and hair.
What’s more, levels of the mineral drop during the second half of your menstrual cycle, suggesting a possible link with many of the symptoms of PMS.
“Drinking too much alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks can also deplete levels of magnesium,” says Nicola Lowe, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Central Lancashire.
Try: If it has to be chocolate, opt for one that contains at least 75 percent cocoa, as this will contain more magnesium and less sugar.
Nuts are actually a richer source, particularly Brazils. Leafy green veg are also good, as are brown rice, wholemeal bread, and pumpkin seeds - though not quite so moreish.
If you’re a chocoholic and suffer from PMS symptoms such as irritability, headaches, cramps and bloating, it may be worth trying a magnesium supplement.
You crave: Ice
What it means: Bizarrely, craving ice is sometimes a sign you have anaemia and your body is deficient in iron.
“Doctors aren’t sure why exactly,” says Professor Lowe, “but it may be that ice helps relieve the painful inflammation in the mouth that can be a symptom.”
If you do crave ice and suffer from low energy, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Nearly half of us aren’t eating enough iron, according to The National Diet and Nutrition Survey, and heavy periods also put women at increased risk.
Try: The best source of iron is red meat, as it’s more easily absorbed than plant sources such as wholemeal bread, figs, apricots, spinach, broccoli and lentils. Sardines are a good choice, too.
Try taking Solgar Gentle Iron during your period, or whenever you feel like you’re running on empty.
You crave: Sweets
What it means: You could be deficient in chromium. “This mineral works alongside insulin to facilitate the uptake of glucose from the blood into the cells of the body,” says Professor Lowe.
“In fact, studies in diabetic patients show chromium can help level out erratic blood sugar levels.”
Top up your levels and you could find those cravings disappear altogether.
Try: Reaching for sweets when you feel low on sugar actually makes the problem worse, as it causes the body to produce insulin, which leads to a sugar crash. Instead, eat plenty of chromium-rich liver, kidney, beef, chicken, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, wholegrains, and eggs and you won’t have those afternoon energy slumps in the first place.
You crave: Meat
What it means: Craving meat can be a sign your body needs iron, but may also mean you’re low on zinc. “Mild zinc deficiency is increasingly common in the UK, as people tend to eat less red meat now,” explains Professor Lowe.
“The mineral plays an important role in immune function, among other things, so, if you’re running low, you’ll be more susceptible to colds and flu.”
Zinc is also vital to cell division and healthy skin, hair and nails. A good reason to throw a burger on the barbecue.
Try: Red meat is the best source, but shellfish, lentils, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cheese and wholemeal bread are also good. Try a supplement .
A review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found upping levels of the mineral significantly reduces the duration of cold symptoms.
You crave: Cheese
What it means: If you find yourself craving Cheddar and have the urge to spread Philadelphia on pretty much everything, you could well be low in the bone-building mineral calcium.
“Calcium is one of the most important minerals for the body,” says Dr Lowe.
“Not only does it help form and maintain healthy teeth and bones, it also plays a vital role in nerve and muscle function.”
Unfortunately, with more and more health-conscious women avoiding saturated fats, an increasing number of us are worryingly low on the mineral, putting us at risk of the fragile bone disease osteoporosis as young as our 40s and 50s.
Try: Cheese, milk, yoghurt, tinned salmon and sardines, broccoli and almonds are all rich in calcium.
In order to absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D, which the skin produces in response to UV rays.
Make sure you’re getting enough by exposing your forearms to sun for 10 to 15 minutes a day (but not long enough to burn).
You crave: carbs
What it means: Constant carb cravings can be a sign you’re low in the amino acid tryptophan.
“The body needs this to synthesise the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin,” explains Dr Lowe.
“A lack of it can lead to low mood, anxiety and problems sleeping. Though carbohydrates don’t contain tryptophan, research suggests increased blood sugar means more tryptophan is shuttled to the brain.”
Try: Upping your protein intake may help curb your carb cravings - and improve your mood.
Good sources of tryptophan include turkey, milk, eggs, cashews, walnuts, cottage cheese and bananas. -