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Food Craving Meanings Chart: Deficiencies And Emotional Eating

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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 

Food Craving Meanings Chart

The heart of this blog post is this food craving meanings chart you can see below:

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.

What Does It Mean When I Crave Certain Foods?

Many times, cravings mean you are just wanting a normal food. 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 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!

But what if I eat the chocolate I’m craving and I still am craving chocolate? What then?

This is an important question – what happens if you eat what you are craving, but you quickly soon start craving that food again?

About Persistent Food Cravings

We have to remember that many times when we crave food, we eat the food and the craving goes away.

Me and my milk, for example. But very frequently, you’ll eat the food and you’ll still have a craving!

But what if you keep craving certain foods like chocolate, salty chips, or carbs?

Every single person on this planet gets food cravings. But what exactly do the persistent food cravings mean?

Basically food cravings mean your body is trying to communicate something to you. Food cravings can mean:

  1. You’re haven’t eaten enough nutrients
  2. You’re missing an emotional need

Yes! If you are missing an emotional need then you may start to crave food!

Because food very often gives us the stress relief, distraction and control your emotional self needs to feel safe.

Do I have a nutrient deficiency or an emotional deficiency? Here’s how to tell.

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.

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

But what if the craving is still there?!?

You’re craving chocolate so you chow down on some nuts which contain magnesium.

You even have some chocolate for good measure, but soon after you finish a few bites or even a bar, you are still thinking about chocolate?! What then?

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.

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

Food Craving Chart Meanings

In this section we’ll cover food cravings from the nutrient deficiency perspective.

As you finish reading about nutritional deficiencies, the next section will introduction emotional eating.

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. 

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

colorful candy

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!

For more info on sugar cravings, read here!

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 NOT likely your body has food cravings of this food for nutrient reasons. 

See the bottom section about emotional eating for more information.

Salty Foods

salty foods

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.

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

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

whole grain fiber bread wheat

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!

clear glass of water with water droplets splattered on the ground

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!

But now let’s talk about emotions.

This is when you continue to have thoughts and cravings for certain foods, even when you’ve had them many times in the past.

This post will mainly focus on how to spot emotional eating. If you want more info on how to stop emotional eating, read here.

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.

How to tell the difference between nutritional deficiency versus 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:

Emotional vs Physical hunger - Mums in Heels

1 – 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. 

2 – Do you feel guilty after eating?

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 …

See the emotional eating cycle below! If you feel guilty after you eat then no matter how much or what you ate, it’s emotional eating!

diet cycle with forbidden

3 – 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. For more info on binge and emotional eating, read my 101 guide here.

Conclusion

The point of this article is to help you make meaning out of your cravings.

Let us know in the comments if this was helpful or if you have any other questions.

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


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About the Author

Hi there I'm Jared and my mission is to help people learn journaling to navigate food cravings and stop binge eating. Welcome to Eating Enlightenment :)


For more info about my story read here.

@jared_levenson

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