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Why do we crave certain foods? Here's why...

You may well be sat reading this and craving something to eat.

But, while a sudden yearning for a juicy steak could simply point to an empty stomach, it could also reveal more about your general health than you realise. We investigate some of the most common cravings...

Sugar

Don't panic if you enjoy sweet stuff - sugar cravings are common, and usually not a symptom of a serious illnesses. It's a common concern that sugar cravings could be a sign of diabetes, but this isn't the case. Sugar cravings may simply be an indication of a poor diet. If you tend to eat a lot of foods that give you quick energy bursts, rather than a steady release of energy, it's easy to fall into a cycle of craving sugar at certain points of the day. To tackle this, opt for complex carbs instead, such as potatoes and wholegrains, and don't leave big gaps between meals.

Plus, healthy snacks, like unsalted nuts or a banana, will help fight off the cravings. Binging on sugary foods could also be a sign of depression or anxiety.

Chocolate also contains magnesium and B-vitamins, which help us produce energy, hence a possible desire for chocolate when under pressure, stressed at work, or, with women, before or during their period. It's important to address any psychological needs triggering sugar cravings. Exercise can help tackle low mood and boost spirits - and of course it boosts improves general health.

Bread and pasta

Similar to sugar, carbs like bread and pasta are common comfort foods that you may crave when feeling down. These can increase levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin. Again, if comfort carb cravings are becoming all too frequent, think about what the possible psychological triggers may be and don't ignore them - stress and anxiety are part of life but there are coping mechanisms that can help bring them under control, meaning you'll feel better and your cravings can be tamed. Heavy carb cravings can also be a sign that you have low blood sugar and your body is in need of some calories - fast. Sound familiar after a night out? This is the effect hangovers often have, hence those undeniable urges for a fried egg sandwich, or big stack of toast, the next morning.

Salt

If you love the taste of salt and habitually sprinkle it over your food, then it makes sense if you find yourself hankering for it. However, unexplained salt cravings over a period of time could be a sign of a rare but serious condition called Addison's, which occurs due to a lack of the hormone aldosterone. As well as salt cravings, symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, low moods, hyperpigmentation (dark discoloured skin patches) and increased thirst. Over time, complications can develop so diagnosis is crucial. Consult your doctor if concerned.

Ice

Ice-cube cravings can be a sign of anaemia, which means a person's iron levels are too low. Ice won't increase iron levels, of course but anaemia can cause inflammation of the tongue and gums and people with anaemia may crave ice-cubes to reduce pain. If you frequently find yourself raiding the ice tray and are also experiencing increased fatigue (the most common symptom, though others include hair loss, ringing in the ears and shortness of breath) ask your GP to check your blood iron levels. Untreated, symptoms will worsen and your immune system will suffer. Anaemia may also be a sign of more serious underlying health conditions.

Meat

If you suddenly find yourself craving meat more than usual, it could simply be that you are desperate for a good meal. Meat provides a substantial meal but, unlike bread and chocolate, isn't thought of as a comfort food in the sense that it fixes a psychological urge.

However, craving meat could be your body's way of telling you that you need more protein. Meat isn't the only means of consuming protein but it is an obvious one. People who do a lot of exercise will need increased amounts of protein, in order to help the body repair and build muscle and provide vital fuel for workouts. So if you've recently embarked on a new fitness regime, or taken up running, it's likely you'll

find yourself hankering after more chicken.

Cravings for red meat could be a sign of anaemia, though this isn't necessarily the case.

BIZARRE DESIRES WON'T HELP YOUR BUMP

While giving in to some cravings when you're expecting is OK, there are some you should steer well clear of, says Sally Hunter-Madubuko, a Midwife at Al Zahra Hospital, Al Barsha, Dubai. She explains: "Cravings such as ice cream and pickles are very common in pregnancy and harmless to the body. However, other cravings such as dirt, coal or even wall plaster can be very dangerous and this is something I've seen occasionally throughout my career. These cravings are known as 'pica' and can be very harmful due to toxicity and possible blockage concerns and may be due to anaemia and vitamin deficiencies."

Pica, which is also common in dogs, also includes cravings for chalk, crayons, soap, sponge and other non-edible items. Yuck!

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 14, 2013
Words:870
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