We ought to know better, but there's nothing like a good Google search to convince you that you're about to kick the bucket at—oh, wait—three, two, one, dead. For instance, when all I wanted was an explanation for a weeks-long onion-ring craving (ongoing), I emerged fearing that I might suffer from liver disfunction. What's real? What's fake news? Here, we've enlisted Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, and creator of the free guide Three Steps to a Healthier You, to set the record straight.
Are you making daily (double) Shackburger runs? Starting to see how that Rosemary's Baby scene with the raw liver could be a perfectly normal occurrence and not a sign of demonic possession? Although Rumsey cautions that cravings, for the most part, are not evidence of a deficiency—"if that was the case, we'd all be craving fruits and vegetables!"—red meat can indicate a want for iron, an issue especially for women with heavy periods.
Always. "Salt cravings can occur if you're falling short on minerals, specifically calcium, magnesium, and zinc," Rumsey says. But at the same time, a hankering for potatoes bathed in boiling oil, twice, as the best ones are, could mean that you're one of nine in 10 Americans who consume too much sodium. Rumsey says you can retrain your taste buds to crave salt by reducing the amount of sodium you eat.
"Now would be a good time to say 'when,'" says the waiter, as he finishes grinding the whole chunk of Parm onto your cacio e pepe. But you don't stop, because your raging cheese craving won't say "when" until you get the entire wheel, damn it. This may indicate that you're not eating enough fat (yay)—as in omega-3 fatty acids (less enthusiastic yay). Rumsey says the best sources are fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts.
Remember what we just said about salt, as in "the more you have, the more you want it?" Same goes for sugar. "If you're overdoing it on simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, bagels, and pastries, you may find that you end up craving more candy and other sweets. Simple carbohydrates spike your blood sugar, which leads to a big release of insulin, followed by a blood sugar crash. When this crash happens, your appetite can spike and you can crave more sugar." Maybe they weren't kidding when they called sugar our generation's cigarettes.
Take it away, Alissa Rumsey: "[Pasta] is similar to a sugar or candy craving because simple carbs are treated the same way as sugar once they are digested. If you're eating too many simple carbs and not enough protein and fat, your blood sugar levels will fluctuate, causing you to crave more carbs." So like you've always known deep down, more veg, protein, and fat (yay), and less spag bol (noo).
This bonus one is for me, as I would like to have a working liver while adhering to the outer bounds of the recommended 14 weekly units of alcohol. (Because according to some not terribly reputable-looking sites, wanting onion rings = I should be begging family members to be donors.) But Rumsey chalked it up to something else entirely: the ol' carb conundrum (with the breading), as explained in the previous slide. NOT SURE, but will work on it.