From cakes and sweets to chips and bread, many of us have a guilty pleasure.
But why do we have such intense food cravings?
The urge to eat chocolate or open a package of chips could be your body’s way of alerting you to something.
Some experts have suggested that nutrient deficiencies are to blame for cravings, while others say it’s as simple as associating the snacks you enjoy with pleasure.
Here MailOnline reveals what your food cravings can and can’t mean.
From cakes and sweets to chips and bread, many of us have a guilty pleasure, but why do we have such intense food cravings? (archive image)
cake or something sweet
Whether it’s cakes, gummy bears or cookies, those with a sweet tooth know all too well the feeling of a sugar craving.
But whatever your vice, chances are your urge for sweets was triggered by your body’s sugar levels plummeting after a spike.
As you eat, your blood sugar rises and insulin is released.
And according to experts, if you are eating refined sugar and carbohydrates, they will affect your bloodstream quickly and cause an imbalance in blood sugar.
The body will then release more insulin to cope with the rapid rise in blood sugar.
Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville said: “Once it’s fixed, your blood sugar levels will drop, but because you’ve caused so much insulin to be released, your levels will drop too low and soon you’ll be craving a candy bar. “.
‘The more candy you eat, the more you’ll crave it, it’s a cheat 22.’
And Dr Duane Mellor, one of Britain’s leading dietary researchers, says: ‘In terms of general drivers for eating, these are related to calorie density, for example sweet and fat.
‘The pudding belly idea, where when we’re full, as our biology has evolved not being sure of the next meal, (then) our bodies will tend to encourage us to eat high-calorie foods, like desserts at the end of a meal.
And nutritionist Melissa Snover, founder of vitamin brand Nourished, said something similar can apply to fruit cravings.
“This can be one of the healthiest treats, as long as the fruit is eaten in moderation with a balanced diet so your sugar levels don’t spike too high,” she added.
To curb sugar cravings, Dr. Glenville advises taking a chromium supplement.
Chromium is a trace metal, found in the body in the form of trivalent chromium, which may play a role in normal insulin function.
French fries or something salty
Some people are more in favor of a crunchy craving than a cake.
And your craving for something salty could mean your electrolytes are low.
The electrolytes potassium and sodium maintain the balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves working smoothly.
And salty foods are high in sodium, so experts suggest that these cravings are your body’s way of telling you that you need sodium, albeit in small amounts.
Ms Wilkinson said: “If you crave salty foods, it could mean your sodium levels are too low, usually due to dehydration, after exercise, illness or alcohol consumption.”
Sodium is a vital mineral, which helps maintain water balance in the body, which helps regulate blood pressure.
“You can quickly replenish your sodium levels by eating dried anchovies or salty popcorn, which are naturally rich in minerals,” she added.
“You can also find trace amounts of sodium in celery and carrots, which should help curb your cravings.”
According to the British Heart Foundation, the guidelines say that adults should eat less than six grams of salt per day, roughly the equivalent of one teaspoon.
And the NHS says that if you have a high-salt diet, your body gets used to those levels.
He also warns that eating too much salt can make regular foods taste bland, encouraging you to add more salt, which feeds the cycle.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grain, according to the NHS.
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole grain crackers, 2 thick slices of whole wheat bread, and a large baked potato with skin.
• Have some dairy products or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks), choosing options that are lower in fat and sugar.
• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other protein (including 2 servings of fish a week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat them in small amounts
• Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Fountain: NHS Eatwell Guide
Eleanor McClelland, head of food at healthy snack company Graze, said cravings for salty foods could also indicate a lack of protein.
“It can often lead to reaching for high-calorie, high-sodium foods and snacks that don’t satisfy the craving,” she added.
“Try foods that are packed with protein and high in fiber, like nuts or legumes or roasted beans.”
Bread or other carbohydrates
Craving a hearty meal made up of heavy carbohydrates like bread or pasta is another common craving.
But when you arrive, resist the urge to stuff yourself with refined, white varieties of your favorite carbohydrate, like the body cannot digest them as easily.
There can be many reasons why you may crave carbs, including stress.
Registered dietitian Lindsay Pleskot says, “We’re wired to survive, so when we’re not feeling safe, our brains can ramp up cravings for quick energy (including bread, pasta, cakes, etc.) to store for later use.”
Experts say that other possible causes of carb cravings may include the need to regulate low mood, since carb intake is linked to the release of the happiness hormone serotonin.
And food restriction can also be a cause of cravings.
This is because, in response to food deprivation, the body increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin to prompt you to search for food and energy.
You know that square of chocolate that you were going to treat yourself to and suddenly you have demolished an entire bar?
We have all been there.
But your craving for chocolate could be your body crying out for something.
Experts have estimated that about 80 percent of the population lacks magnesium in their daily diet.
Magnesium is needed by the body as it helps regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and makes proteins, bones and DNA.
And some people have suggested that a craving for chocolate is actually your body signaling that it’s missing the nutrient.
But Dr. Mellor said that this is a myth.
He said: “Since humans have only known about cocoa for about 1,000 years and chocolate in its current form is a Victorian creation, (the craving for chocolate) is about the pleasure of eating sweet, greasy chocolate rather than any mineral it may contain in fractional amounts of a gram.’
Despite not being the root of the craving, dark chocolate can be a source of magnesium.
However, nutritionist Vidushi Binani, co-founder of Café Volonte gym and restaurant, said: “Dark chocolate is popularly known as a source of magnesium, and while it’s a good source, around 60mg in a 25g serving, we’d have eat a lot of dark chocolate to reach the optimal daily intake (about six servings of chocolate), which of course is too much sugar for the body.
‘Other sources of magnesium include cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds, to name a few, which will also help keep you full longer and control sugar cravings.’