Food cravings

A taste for chocolate can reveal a magnesium deficiency. (Marcus Lund/Cultura RM photo)

"I'm desperately craving some beans," says no one ever.

But in reality, when people are craving chocolate, their bodies may actually need something else — something healthier, according to recent food craving theories.

There are ways to figure out what your body is actually craving, as long as you understand what your food cravings mean, said Colleen Huber, a naturopathic medical doctor at Nature Works Best Cancer Clinic in Arizona and author of "Choose Your Foods: Like Your Life Depends on Them" ($20 at amazon.com).

"A lot of people say, 'I crave this, so I'm going to have to eat it,'" Huber said. "But you need to get to the cause, and that's a nutritional deficiency. That's something that's missing in the diet."

Magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the U.S., and chocolate is high in magnesium, which is why chocolate is such a common craving, Huber said.

Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 chemical reactions in the body including regulating the absorption of calcium along with sustaining the health of the heart.

Magnesium is a common deficiency because for every gram of sugar that you eat, you need 54 grams of magnesium to process it — and magnesium isn't very common in an American diet, Huber said. It's found in seeds, nuts and in some vegetables.

"You hear people say that they just have to have their chocolate, and it becomes a self-repeating cycle," Huber said, explaining that eating magnesium-filled chocolate makes you crave magnesium.

Instead of constantly eating chocolate to satisfy the magnesium craving — and to spur a greater magnesium craving — Huber recommends that when you crave chocolate, you eat other things that are high in magnesium, such as legumes, nuts and seeds.

This doesn't mean that you have to cut out chocolate altogether, as skipping straight to seeds probably won't get rid of your entire chocolate craving.

"If you start working in more of the nuts and seeds and the legumes, then you will be able to resist chocolate more," Huber said.

Another common craving is potato chips, which could signal an iron deficiency because an iron deficiency makes you want to chew on something crunchy, Huber said. Instead of eating potato chips, she recommends chowing down on dark meat, fish, poultry, dark greens and cherries.

Cravings aren't always so black and white, however, said Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and founder of the online iDiet weight loss program, My

idiet.com.

"I wish it were so, that we only craved the things our body needs for nutrients," Roberts said. "But when we crave chips — that is not because we need sodium and white carbs — it is because we have managed to set up a habit of eating them and the habit has — as habits do — turn into a craving."

Roberts suspects that sometimes these cravings are the result of nutritional deficiencies, but, she said, there is also a lot of data showing that most cravings reflect unhealthy foods, which are packed with calories.

Cravings can also simply reflect the food messages that have been bombarded into your brain all day — and in those cases, they have nothing to do with your nutritional deficiencies either, said Tara Gidus, a registered dietitian, co-author of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies, and host of the national TV show, Emotional Mojo.

"A co-worker opens some pretzels, and even hours later, the thought of pretzels can pop into your head," Gidus said.

In those cases, she said, it may be best just to eat the real thing to satisfy the specific craving rather than trying to figure out a healthy alternative.

"If you try to eat something else, you could end up eating and eating and eating various foods to try to satisfy that craving, and never really get it."