Ask the Nutritionist
Q: I have been having many unusual food cravings lately. First it was orange-colored vegetables, then I started craving mashed cauliflower. Is this normal?
NAT, Cheshire, Connecticut
A: Research in the field of food cravings is contradictory and currently inconclusive, but the psychology of a craving is thought to be associated with mental imagery. Some researchers believe that if a food is seen then repeatedly and vividly imagined, it will be craved by the individual to the point where the person can concentrate on nothing else. This is potentially due to the fact that mentally reimagining the food takes up brain space, leaving less mental power to complete other tasks, and thereby allowing the food craving to literally take over.
Most literature regarding food cravings is related to attempted weight loss. Avoiding foods like chocolate can lead to cravings, and a recent study found that using the mental approaches of suppression, diffusion and control actually had no effect on the amount of chocolate that participants ate in a week. This research is just another attempt at understanding the science behind the psychology of a craving.
However, in your case, the cravings are less of a concern as you are craving healthful fruits and vegetables. The craving for orange-colored veggies could have to do with the season — as mentioned above, if you are seeing them more in the grocery store or on television, it may lead you to the repeated mental imagery of a baked sweet potato or roasted carrots, and therefore become a "craving" that you want to satisfy. And as long as your cravings are for these healthful foods, go ahead and give in. Just be sure you are including some lean protein and whole grains to round out a balanced diet.