Food cravings are intense yearnings for a certain type of food. Sweet or salty foods are common cravings as are protein foods such as meat or cheese. Most are thought to be caused by hormones, fluctuations in blood sugar levels, emotional and psychological reasons or sometimes by nutritional deficiencies.
Hormones such as those produced in pregnant women can cause some very strong food cravings. Studies show that men experience cravings less than women. Pregnant women tend to experience them during pregnancy as their body's way of making sure they eat to feed the growing baby and/or to ensure they receive all of the nutrients they need for the baby and themselves.
"Pica" is the name given to the unusual food cravings pregnant women may sometimes experience such as a craving to eat mud. Cravings for things that are not normally eaten as food may signal iron or other nutritional deficiencies. Some nutrition experts state that some cravings for chocolate may be a sign of a B vitamin deficiency. People allergic to a certain food may sometimes actually experience urges to eat that food.
We do not always crave foods that are good for us. Stress, depression and a lack of sleep can cause "junk" food cravings. We sometimes may turn to "comfort foods" that we associate with pleasant feelings and overeat these foods when we are stressed, depressed or tired. Urges for quick sugar energy, alcohol or foods or drinks containing caffeine or carbohydrates are common when we are tired and want to feel energized.
Fluctuation in blood sugar levels may cause food cravings. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be caused from not getting enough calories or not eating at regular intervals. Hypoglycemia can cause a person to crave food as the body feels as though it is starving.
Food cravings tend to lessen if we eat regular balanced meals and get all the vitamins and minerals that we need in our diets. Exercise may also help control them by keeping the body in a more relaxed and fit state. Regular exercise has been shown to increase endorphins in the blood and this often leads to a feeling of well being and lowered tension in the body.