Are food cravings ever targeted at the nutrients we actually need?

22nd July 2009
Are food cravings ever targeted at the nutrients we actually need? (iStock)

Asked by: Richard Kemp, Jersey

It's tempting to think that giving in to a craving is simply correcting a nutrient imbalance in the body, but there isn't any good evidence to support this. Chocolate, for example, contains magnesium, and low magnesium levels have been shown to worsen premenstrual symptoms in women. However, you would need to eat 20 bars of chocolate to get enough magnesium that way.

Chocolate also contains many mood-altering compounds, including caffeine, theobromine, serotonin and tryptophan. But dairy products also contain these, and at higher concentrations, yet we are much less likely to crave them.

In some societies, pregnant women may eat clay, soil or termite mounds, but this seems to have a cultural, rather than a nutritional basis. Indeed, women who eat dirt, or 'geophagy' as it is called, often cause their malnutrition, rather than cure it.