What your food cravings could mean

Craving a sinful, chocolatey dessert? You might just be craving the deliciousness, but sometimes cravings can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin deficiency is actually fairly common in the United States. In fact, more than 40 percent of American adults don’t get enough vitamins A, C, D or E, calcium, or magnesium.

Deciphering your food cravings

If you crave red meat or ice, you may be deficient in iron. This craving can be intense — and even people who don’t eat meat can crave red meat because of an iron deficiency.

Adults between ages 19 and 50 should get 18 milligrams (mg) of iron each day. Iron comes in two varieties: heme and nonheme. The best dietary sources of heme iron include lean meat and seafood. Nonheme iron can be found in vegetables, beans, nuts and fortified grain products, such as cereal.

If you think your body is craving iron, you can get the most “bang for your buck” with a serving of fortified breakfast cereal, which contains 100 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron.

If you crave chocolate, you may be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is fairly common — according to the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), 61 percent of adults older than age 19 don’t get enough magnesium.

Adult women should get between 310 and 320 mg of magnesium per day, while men need between 400 and 420 mg.

If you think your body is craving magnesium, fill up your diet with beans, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), milk and other dairy products, and fortified cereals.

If you crave cheese, you may be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids or calcium. With this craving, your body could be deficient in either area. Approximately 49 percent of American adults have a calcium deficiency.

Adults between ages 19 and 50 should get at least 1,000 mg of calcium each day. There’s no specific recommendation for omega-3 fatty acids, which are vitally important for your heart and brain.

If you think your body is craving calcium, eat plenty of milk and other dairy products, kale, broccoli, grains, and fortified foods. If you think your body is craving omega-3 fatty acids, include fatty fish, such as salmon, lake trout, sardines and tuna, in your diet at least a couple times a week. Fatty acids can also be found in nuts and flax seed.

If you crave sugary or salty foods, you may be deficient in calcium or magnesium. Craving either sugar or salt can mean your body is in need of these essential nutrients. Giving in to your craving and being stressed can make your body even more deficient in the nutrients.

See above for what foods to eat if you think you’re deficient in calcium or magnesium.

If you crave clay or dirt, you may be deficient in B vitamins. There are several types of B vitamins, including vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.

This craving may seem the strangest, since it’s not a craving for food. Your body doesn’t need large quantities of B vitamins each day, but you can become deficient in them, particularly if you’re following a vegan diet.

If you think your body is craving B vitamins, aim for a balanced diet that includes lean meats, eggs, low-fat dairy, green vegetables, beans, nuts, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes), fruit, and fortified foods.

Not sure if you’re getting enough of the essential nutrients? Your doctor can check you for vitamin deficiencies as part of your regular checkup. Need a doctor? Find one here.