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Cravings – ‘I know it’s bad for me, But I want it!’


In this article we will investigate the interesting topic of cravings. A craving is technically defined as an intense desire for some particular thing. An aversion is technically defined as a feeling of intense dislike.


Nutritional cravings are normal bodily responses that can occur at various times in one’s life. A craving is something that we experience and will feel a need to respond to by consuming the specific culprit. A craving can be experienced as slight desire or can in some instances, can initiate addictive tendencies whereby a person feel as though they are unable to function without it.

In a clinical situation I frequently see patients with strong cravings for sugar, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine or fried foods. Each craving indicates an underlying nutritional deficit. I frequently remind patients that whilst they feel that they cannot control their ‘need’ for the food or drink that it may not be because of lack of willpower but that it reflects a nutritional deficit within their diet.

In instances of excessive sugar or chocolate it can often be as simple as increasing ones protein intake. This is especially achievable when consuming foods from the nut/seed families (e.g. 10 almonds or 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds). This will provide additional supplementation of essential fatty acids which will assist to reduce a person’s anxiety and nervous response.

Cravings related to specific nutrients

A brief summary of the possible nutritional excesses or deficiencies is listed below. Please consider your own cravings and the possible deficiencies they relate to:

MicronutrientCravingFood Sources
B VitaminsCarbohydrate foods – sugar, grains, white floursNumerous foods including – Liver, wheat germ, asparagus, lettuce, dark leafy green vegetables, lentils, legumes, orange juice, legumes, broccoli, nuts and seeds, wholegrains
Vitamin CCaffeinated foods/beverages due to stress responseRed chilli, guava, red capsicum, Brussels sprouts, citrus juice concentrate, papayas, kale, parsley, collards, kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, mango, cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, lychees, oranges, sprouts, lemons, tangerines, honeydew melon, spinach, tomatoes
Vitamin AProtein rich foodsLiver and organ meats, cod liver oil, liver sausage, pate, poultry, cornmeal, cream, cheese, egg yolks
Essential Fatty Acids and Vitamin EFatty foodsVitamin E – Wheatgerm and wheatgerm oil, soybean oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, avocado, brown rice Essential Fatty Acids – Oils, nuts, seeds, fish, avocado
CalciumDairy products, Carbonated beveragesWhitebait, cheese, tinned salmon, tinned sardines, yoghurt and milk, tofu, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, tahini, almonds, parsley, sesame seeds, globe artichokes, sprouts, wholegrain wheat
MagnesiumChocolate, sugar/carbohydratesMillet, wholegrains, lima beans, green leafy vegetables, muesli, almonds, cashews, all legumes, buckwheat, corn, avocado, potato with skin, garlic, blackberries, eggplant, tomato, cabbage, grapes, pineapple, mushrooms
ZincAlcohol, metal substances, dairy to buffer metallic taste, carbohydratesOysters, shellfish and fish, red meat, popcorn, sesame seeds, sunflower, seeds, pepitas, walnuts, almonds, muesli, dahl, wheatgerm, tomato sauce and paste, ginger root, pecans, wholegrains, sardines, split peas
IronDirt, clay, ice or animal protein (meat)Liver and organ meats, red meats, oysters, mussels, enriched cereals, molasses, green leafy vegetables, tomato paste, dahl, dried apricots, prune juice, baked beans, Jerusalem artichokes, sardines, beef, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, pecans, lentils
Macronutrient       CravingFood Source
CarbohydratesSugar, Caffeine e.g. lollies, sweet treatsWholegrains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds
ProteinSugar, Caffeine e.g. chocolateAnimal protein – Meat, fish, eggs, dairy Vegetarian protein – Pulses, nuts, seeds, grains
Lipids (Fat)Salted, fried foods e.g. potato chipsEssential Fatty Acids – Oils, nuts, seeds, fish, avocado

Psychological responses

A craving for a food is something that can be easily interfered with. We can control out thoughts, distract ourselves, ignore them or we can indulge them. This suggests that one’s ability to control the impulse of a craving is governed by the information and communication within our brains. This is controlled by wonderful brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.


Neurotransmitters are chemicals that regulate many body responses such as appetite, mood, sleep/wake cycle and temperature. The most interesting feature of the neurotransmitters is that each and every pathway of their production and utilisation is dependant on numerous nutrients including protein, B vitamins, Magnesium and Zinc. As such, deficiencies in any nutrient will affect their successful roles in the human body – especially in one’s regulation of appetite and satiety.

A brief summary of the neurotransmitters is listed below:

  • Involved in emotional responses and addictive behaviours, regulates skeletal muscle tone and some movement
  • Dopamine and its related catecholamines generally have a stimulatory activity on the brain and cardiovascular system, whilst in the gastrointestinal system they generally induce inhibition.
  • Sensory perception, control of mood, temperature regulation, appetite regulation, & induction of sleep
Norepinephrine (noradrenalin)
  • Regulates mood, dreaming, awakening from deep sleep
Epinephrine (adrenalin)
  • Initiates stress response – enables us to run away from the chasing lion!
  • Induce pain relief, mood elevation, stress-relief, optimism and euphoria.
  • For example – phenylalanine is the precursor to phenylethylamine which is naturally produced in the brain when we are in love. This chemical is also stimulated when we eat chocolate – One of the reasons why people are so addicted to it!
  • Acetylcholine is the most widespread neurotransmitter chemical in the brain and body and is required for normal central and peripheral nerve function.
GABA (Amino Acid)
  • Inhibitory neurotransmitter – sedates and relaxes