Can cravings be a sign of vitamin or mineral deficiencies?

It is possible that nutrient deficiencies may result in cravings for certain foods; for example, potassium deficiency might result in a craving for bananas or potatoes; calcium deficiency might result in a craving for cheese, milk; and B vitamin deficiency in a craving for nuts. There are, however, many other factors such as food allergies and hormonal influences which may play a role in food cravings. There is evidence to suggest that inadequate vitamins and minerals in the diet may result in cravings which cause people to fill up on foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, causing the increasingly common problem of obesity.

Are there tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies?

There are many tests for assessing vitamin and mineral status. They vary widely in availability, credibility and accuracy. A detailed medical history and physical examination can detect clinical vitamin and mineral deficiencies in more advanced stages. Such an examination would involve looking carefully at weight, height, the condition of skin, hair, fingernails, tongue, eyes and the mucous membranes inside the mouth and eyes.

Laboratory tests of blood, urine or tissues can detect vitamin or mineral deficiencies at an earlier stage than a physical examination. Blood levels of various enzymes are also indicators of nutritional status. However, many laboratory tests are too expensive and complicated to conduct on a routine basis.

There are many alternative tests to determine nutritional status. However, there is no proof that these tests can provide a complete analysis of a person’s nutritional state. They may be useful in certain cases. Hair analysis, as a test for nutritional status, is considered unreliable as results can be affected by shampoo, dyes, tobacco smoke and other environmental factors. Hair growth can also slow down in malnourished people, increasing nutrient concentrations in hair while body stores drop. It can be a useful test for toxic metal concentrations.

Are vitamin and mineral supplements necessary?

Whether or not vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary is the most controversial topic in nutrition. The question of a need for supplements is central to the debate about the levels of vitamins and minerals required to promote optimal health. Given that people vary so much in their requirements and that very few people eat really well-balanced diets, vitamin and mineral supplements can be viewed as a relatively inexpensive form of ‘nutritional insurance’. Increasing evidence suggests that the amounts of nutrients adequate to prevent deficiencies are not the same as those necessary for optimal health.

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