Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I crave for ice now

From TODAY Health – Eating Disorder
Tuesday August 5, 2008

Yearnings could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies


WHILE other expectant mothers crave for things such as decadently rich sweets, well-greased steaks and preserved plums, I found myself crunching on ice — something which I had never craved for — throughout my pregnancy last year.

So obsessed was I with ice that I actually chipped a tooth filling from all that grinding.

Was it merely pregnancy hormones, or was the ice craving a sign that I had a nutritional deficiency? According to nutrition experts, it might have been the latter.

Said Ms Yondi Lee, a holistic nutritionist from Ascension Healing: “The mechanisms of cravings are still not well understood by scientists, but it is possible that cravings could mean that your body is lacking in something.”

Ms Nehal Kamdar, a dietitian at Raffles Hospital, added that because expectant mothers require better nutrition, cravings may be a sign that the body needs more of a certain mineral.

For instance, a vegetarian who suddenly craves meat may signal that the body needs more iron while a craving for fruit could be a sign of Vitamin C deficiency, said Ms Kamdar.

She added that a yearning for pickles has been associated with low levels of sodium.

But how about a bizarre craving for ice? Interestingly, “what your body craves for doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you”, said Ms Lee.

An eating disorder called pica may also cause you to have “weird cravings” for things that are not ordinarily considered food and have no nutritional benefits, said Ms Kamdar. They include substances such as clay, toothpaste, sand, flour and ice.

While pica may be linked to emotional or developmental problems, it may also indicate nutritional deficiencies, especially in calcium and iron, said Ms Kamdar.

“An abnormal craving for ice could possibly mean you’re low in iron. Children who begin eating chalk or scraping walls and eating the debris may have a calcium deficiency.”

However, Ms Kamdar stressed that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to linking cravings to specific nutritional deficiencies.

For those who have a fondness for chomping on unusual things, it is best to see a doctor, she advised.

An abnormal craving for ice could possibly mean you’re low in iron.
Ms Nehal Kamdar, a dietician at Raffles Hospital


Ms Lee noted that most people tend to crave sugary foods and carbohydrates when they are unhappy or stressed. Before menstruation, women also tend to crave sweet things as hormone levels fluctuate.

“If you’re already nutritionally deficient, then your cravings become even more obvious,” she explained.

“You would look for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods to keep your mood up. When you reinforce the craving, the body will then yearn for such foods whenever you are stressed or depressed, even though you’re not deficient in carbohydrates or sugar.”

Such cravings, she added, are more likely “an indirect link to get more tryptophan into the body”. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which helps the body to produce serotonin, a brain chemical that makes a person feel calm and happy.

Foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates help make tryptophan more available in the body, explained Ms Lee.

But what many people don’t know is that eating some protein and “a small amount of less refined carbs” such as buckwheat, can actually achieve the same effect, said Ms Lee.

To prevent unhealthy snacking, Ms Lee advised taking more magnesium-rich foods — such as green vegetables and wholegrains — whenever you’re stressed.

“Magnesium is a ‘relaxant’ mineral. When you’re stressed, your body uses up a lot of magnesium. So, eating more of such foods may help to prevent unhealthy cravings,” she said.

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