Desperately want carbs? You might be tired! What your food cravings say about your health

  • A dietitian explains how the desire to eat certain foods can reveal secrets about your body
  • It’s alright to treat yourself sometimes, just do everything in moderation
Doris Wai |

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What kinds of foods do you usually crave?

Spicy, sweet, salty, sour … and umami. We all have cravings and they can even seem pretty random at times. You could be yearning for a bowl of piping hot ramen one day, and then desperate to pig out on chocolate ice cream and waffles the next.

While there’s no sure way of telling why you have the urge to empty a jar of peanut butter at 3am, dietitian Sally Poon Shi-po tells us how feeling the need to eat certain food might reveal some secrets about your health.

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Many chocoholics say that chocolate makes them feel better. This might just be due to swings in our blood sugar level, which changes during the day. Our body needs to keep that level stable. The high sugar content you find in most chocolates raises that level – and makes chocolate possibly the world’s favourite comfort food.


This might sound insane but craving hot, spicy foods could be your body’s way of keeping you cool.

Studies have found that capsaicin, the chemical that makes chilli peppers hot, can cause thermogenesis – the process by which cells convert energy into heat and increase metabolism. This makes you sweat more, and indirectly, helps your body to cool down.

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This pretty unusual craving is also known as pagophagia or compulsive ice eating. It may be a sign of “pica” – a strong desire to eat things with no nutritional value.

The overwhelming need to chew on ice is also often linked to iron deficiency anaemia (a condition in which the blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells).

Some researchers think that chewing ice triggers an effect in people with the condition, sending more blood – and therefore oxygen – to the brain.

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Rice, bread and pasta

If you find yourself constantly craving fried rice, bread, noodles, potatoes, pasta, cake or donuts, it might be a sign that your body is exhausted. Carbohydrates are our body’s most important source of fuel, and when we’re tired, our body signals that it’s time for an energy boost.

An added bonus: carbohydrates also increase a type of “happy hormone” called serotonin, which improves our mood and makes us feel we’ve had enough to eat.

If you're craving carbs, it probably means you need some rest.

Peanut butter

If there’s a lack of healthy fats in your diet, you might find yourself with an insatiable urge to eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.

This perfect mix of salty and sweet is packed with such essential fats. It also contains nutrients such as beta-sitosterol, which may have an anti-depressant effect. Don’t be surprised if you want a spoonful of the nutty spread on a stressful day.

Healthy snacks for when you’re sick of crisps

It’s all right to listen to your body, and give in to these cravings occasionally. After all, there might be a more important message coming from your brain than “I’m hungry” .

But Poon reminds us the importance of moderation. The foods we crave are often high in salt and sugar. Eating too many snacks high in salt will increase the risk of developing hypertension, stroke and coronary heart disease, while excess sugar will lead to higher chances of obesity and dental issues.

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