-Dr. Conan Shaw, Functional Medicine, Certified Clinical Nutritionist – Pittsburgh, PA
Do you crave different foods at different times of the month? Are food cravings a sign of addiction or do you crave foods because your sub conscious mind secretly knows what nutrients you are deficient in and drives you to eat specific foods to replenish your metabolic needs? Do you crave certain foods because of stress? Do fluctuating hormone levels change the foods that you are interested in? Do different people in different climates crave different foods? Are food cravings habitual? (Pizza during a Pittsburgh Steelers game). Are you a chocoholic?
There are many reasons why we have a strong desire toward different foods at different times. Although food cravings are a nearly universal human trait, science has only recently started to unravel their origins. While the meaning of a craving is quite to the point — “I want a strawberry cupcake with vanilla frosting” — the interaction of our stomachs, brains and the hormones that elicit these cravings is far more complex.
The answer behind the mystery of specific food cravings can sometimes be found in a simple hair test. When we evaluate the hair for mineral balance of the body we often find reasons behind cravings of specific foods. On the outside of mineral imbalances, there are specific hormones that elicit different chemical responses and cause specific food desires. Interestingly, overgrowth of certain bacteria or fungus in the intestinal lining can cause specific food cravings.
Often, people crave items high in fat and calories. The reason for this lies in the brain. Fatty, sugary foods release chemicals called opioids into our bloodstream. Opioids bind to receptors in our brains and give us feelings of pleasure and even mild euphoria. In this way, our bodies, at least momentarily, give us a “thank you” for ingesting a box of truffles.
As a Certified Clinical Nutritionist I rarely have a patient come to my office for treatment based solely on their food cravings. However, it is a regular question asked in the medical history that often lends insight into the metabolic needs of the body. Frequently food cravings end up as obesity. This is the more common presentation of a patient into my office.
In any weight loss plan, one primary goal is to stop specific food cravings to make people feel less “denied” while they are going through the process of losing weight. This returns to the concept of dieting: “giving something up”-many people feel as if they are depriving themselves of pleasure. Actually they are, because the pleasure of satisfying a craving releases the opium drug response. So, if we use therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals to offset cravings, people feel less denied of pleasure and more likely to stick to a weight loss regimen.
Food cravings are a fun concept to consider, I look forward to meeting you and determining where your chemical imbalances are contributing to health related concerns.