Nutrition Myth: Craving Means Deficiency


The Myth


One common dietary myth, that I keep hearing and reading, is that when our body is deficient in an important nutrient we will experience cravings for specific foods that contain that nutrient. For example, according to the Journal of the American Dietary Association, chocolate may be used by many as a form of self-medication for a magnesium deficiency. Various established nutritionists and fitness professionals in the media have echoed this sentiment and it appears to have well and truly stuck.


I have heard many people say that cravings for chocolate increase significantly during times of high stress. Females will often report craving chocolate at certain points in their menstrual cycle and this has subsequently led many nutritionists to note chocolate’s effect on various hormones within the human body. There are also cases of nutritionists noting how chocolate cravings disappearing when magnesium levels are increased. However, the later example is anecdotal. If I give you a pill and tell you it will make you think more about eating broccoli, the placebo effect dictates that it might! We need harder evidence than this.

Why do we believe it?


There are a number of reasons why the myth of deficiency has stuck.

#1 We, you and I would love a genuinely scientific excuse to eat more chocolate! Of course we are going to eat a little more chocolate, and feel better about doing so, if health professionals tell us to. “Darling, I think I might be low in magnesium… I’d better grab a few chocolates before I leave for work.”

#2 The theory is plausible. Chocolate does contain a good amount of magnesium and magnesium is depleted during certain stages of the menstrual cycle and general episodes of high-stress (be it exercise or work stress). It makes sense, in theory.


What’s the truth and what should I know?

The truth is that we crave chocolate because 1) it is designed by food manufacturers to taste delicious, and 2) the reason it tastes delicious is because it’s the perfect combination of fat and sugar. Fat and sugar combined in this way is your human brain’s dream meal, providing an extremely dense source of both quick- and slow-release energy. We are wired to look for these foods for evolutionary survival.


There are many foods with fantastic magnesium contents; dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, beans and avocados. However, I have yet to have one of our personal training clients tell me that they can’t stop eating mackerel when they are stressed-out at work. All of the foods that we crave are high-GL carbohydrates, which both taste good (fulfilling an emotional attachment that many of us have, between food and happiness) and raise insulin to suppress our adrenal hormones.


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Our body is very clever, it knows that eating sugar will cause a rapid elevation in insulin, activate various “feel good” receptors in our brain and suppress our stress hormones. These are the true reasons we crave various foods at certain times. All you need is to be mindful of this fact and do what you can to manage your stress in a positive way. A bit of chocolate won’t harm you, but don’t feel you have it on prescription.

Thank you for reading.


Read On!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Helen Harding McLaren

    This is a great article Alex – how I wish I had read it years ago! 🙂
    Helen Mc

    • mm
      Alex Chaple

      I’m really pleased you liked it Helen! Thanks.

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