Why eggs? Why now?
January 1, 2008 8:59 PM   Subscribe

In my family we've always said that if you have an intense craving for a food that you don't normally eat, it's because your body really needs something in it (and that all efforts should be made to acquire said food-- this has led to some funny stories). Following this (seeming) logic, I am curious if any nutritionists understand why I get insanely intense cravings (only about once every 6 weeks or so) for egg salad sandwiches. Because, you see, eggs normally make me really nauseated. Scrambled especially (I basically can't eat them, for whatever reason). But when I need egg salad BAD, it's literally the only food that appeals to me in the entire world. (And it's ALWAYS egg salad-- I don't have too many other of these sudden cravings.) It doesn't even need to be good egg salad. It can even be warm (yuck). But nothing else seems to fill the need. Any idea what might be in it that my body is so sorely missing? This is perplexing, since I have the cravings again tonight.
posted by dmaterialized to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I want to hear the funny stories :)

Is it possible that you just remember the taste of the food randomly and decide you should eat it, but the actual process of eating it reminds you of how much you dislike it, which causes you to avoid it until you inevitably forget? Pancakes and milkshakes have this effect on me.
posted by DMan at 9:01 PM on January 1, 2008

Sometimes I crave steak, which I don't eat that often. My wife and I have speculated that this means I'm missing iron, but it is an entirely made-up theory. It has never required an amusing effort to satisfy, sadly.
posted by Lame_username at 9:10 PM on January 1, 2008

I don't know of any justification for the idea that we crave certain foods because they're rich in specific nutrients that we are lacking. I've heard that theory before, but it's always been from the kind of people who tout blackstrap molasses or macrobiotic foods as cure-alls.

Evolution isn't quite that good. What we do have is a general craving for a variety of foods. When we eat the same things for long periods of time we get bored and restless and want something else. The reason for that is because we do need a wide variety of nutrients, and a varied diet is more healthy than one which isn't. So there's an evolutionary advantage to getting bored with a monotonous diet.

Which is to say that you don't crave eggs because there's something in eggs you're lacking. You crave eggs simply because you haven't eaten them in a long time.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:39 PM on January 1, 2008

My mother in law is seeing a nutritionist who claims that we crave foods that we are (unknowingly) allergic to. That makes less sense to me than your thesis; that we crave foods which have something in them we are missing, as I can't imagine any evolutionary purpose for all humans craving something that will harm them.

In your case your craving is so specific and overwhelming and unlike your usual likes and dislikes, I wonder if there is a connection to some experience you aren't consciously remembering-that your body associates egg salad with a really powerful memory, for instance, and that is triggered every once in a while.
posted by purenitrous at 9:46 PM on January 1, 2008

Mumsie apparently was apparently rather taken with salade de carottes during her pregnancy which she always thought explained my penchant for vinegar. Occasionally I just take sips of it. White, Balsamic, Red wine, white wine, it's all wonderful.

So, perhaps blame Mum?
posted by oxford blue at 10:01 PM on January 1, 2008

I have heard that this is the case too, but couldn't tell you where I heard it. It certainly makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that one would crave food that contained nutrients that were lacking from one's diet. However making sense is not sufficient (or even necessary) for truth. I would also be interested to hear the opinion of a qualified nutritionist.

A quick Google Scholar search unearths a lot of articles, but they all seem to deal specifically with cravings/aversions during pregnancy or with the nitty-gritty neurobiology (and mostly in rats rather than humans it seems).

DMan: I also experience this. I'm fairly sure it's just conditioning. For example: I hate KFC but my friends all like it and my parents prevented me from eating it when I was a child, both of which would ordinarily imply that it's something that I should find tasty. I usually remember exactly how much I hate it as soon as I open the box :-/
posted by psychopomp at 10:09 PM on January 1, 2008

I've heard the same theory too but I think at best, it's only partially true. I crave bad things like chocolate every day. I don't think chocolate has any nutritionally-beneficial item that my body needs every day, I think I just love chocolate and will eat too much sugar if I allow myself. I suppose you could argue that my body gets into a cycle of sugar-binging and therefore "needs" more sugar to maintain the high. But that's not very beneficial or needed :)
posted by Joh at 11:32 PM on January 1, 2008

The idea that the body craves foods that contain specific micronutrients isn't really born out in science. Vegetarians suffer from iron and B12 deficiencies unless they monitor the levels in their diet. Alcoholics can suffer from thiamine deficiency to the point that it causes their death. Thiamine deficiency was much more common before the advent of enriched flour, in fact, it's part of the reason it was invented. A significant number of American right now are probably walking around with a vitamin D deficiency because it is winter and American diets are low in vitamin D containing foods but does anyone ever get a craving for kippers? No, and it's probably because most craving are psychologically and culturally based. People who eat rice crave rice. People who eat wheat crave wheat.

Maybe the body is able to detect deficiencies of some micronutrients but it misses on some pretty vital ones, and that makes me doubt that it has this ability at all.
posted by 517 at 11:45 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, what do you put in your egg salad sandwich? And how often do you eat those other things? Eg, is it the only time you ever eat mayo?
posted by salvia at 12:59 AM on January 2, 2008

Historically, people with scurvy do not crave oranges. They feel depressed, nauseated, and eventually die. If your hypothesis is true then we'd be seeing a lot more medical literature to back this up. The lack of such proof speaks volumes.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:09 AM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, if the body is able to do this then we'd see a whole lot of people craving multi-vitamins, not really tasty foods and then marking it up to "well, my body needed that big mac."
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:10 AM on January 2, 2008

I follow the same way of thinking. And yeah when I need salt I don't find myself thinking "Mmm could go some salt right about now" - I think mostly about mashed potato... but if there's fresh bread in the house - it's egg salad...

Think about the eating of it (your tongue holds the answer), at what point will egg by itself become 'egg salad' :) and by that definition - now satisfying?

And to all the nay say-ers... not everything is 100% the same for 100% of people. Synesthesia for example...? Just because you don't experience something doesn't mean that it's untrue. It's more likely it's an indication that you're close-minded or ignorant.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:56 AM on January 2, 2008

Is your diet very low in fat or salt? Whenever I am too strict with myself my body rebels with an unhealthy craving. It's my personal belief that you need to give your body enough salt/fat/sugar that it won't rebel.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:24 AM on January 2, 2008

I know someone that has anemia that has an overwhelming urge to eat the dirt from her dirt basement and I hear the urge to eat dirt isn't uncommon.
posted by beccaj at 5:25 AM on January 2, 2008

I agree with DMan. I had a similar relationship with dumplings. I'd order them when I was out to eat, then remember that I hate dumplings. I'd remember until about two months later when I'd go to order soup with dumplings again because the idea just seemed so good. Two months was just about long enough for me to forget that dumplings are just bits of boiled dough that I hate.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:01 AM on January 2, 2008

It's a seductively logical-feeling theory that we crave what we need, but it's not borne out by research into food cravings. (My internets is semi-borked...I'll look for citations later today.) Dunno why you crave egg salad, but I suspect that you've now talked yourself into a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even with pica...the materials consumed by those who are iron-deficient-anemic do not necessary have iron in them.
posted by desuetude at 6:19 AM on January 2, 2008

Obviously, your body craves space worms, and is looking for that particular truck stop egg salad sandwich.
posted by Caviar at 6:43 AM on January 2, 2008

I don't think chocolate has any nutritionally-beneficial item that my body needs every day,

posted by almostmanda at 6:47 AM on January 2, 2008

And to all the nay say-ers... not everything is 100% the same for 100% of people. Synesthesia for example...? Just because you don't experience something doesn't mean that it's untrue. It's more likely it's an indication that you're close-minded or ignorant.

I don't think anyone is saying it's false. Most are just saying we have no reason to think that it's true. It's folly to put stock in any arbitrary statement just because no one can prove that it's false.
posted by cmiller at 6:56 AM on January 2, 2008

Haha, this is all awesome. I suppose it's true that that idea really isn't borne out in any scientific literature either way. But it's not just a question of "I forgot how much I hate that" because, when I really want to eat egg salad, it tastes REALLY good.

Probably, after all these years, just an arbitrary craving.

@Oxford Blue, my mom first found out she was pregnant while in China for several weeks, and I've always had the ability to eat and enjoy virtually all Chinese food repeatedly and continuously for weeks on end (way more than any other type of food)... so "mom's diet" does have an effect on most people, I'd imagine.

@purenitrous, I've heard that theory as well. I've been told I have what's called an "allergy-addiction" to grains, which explains why I always eat some kind of grain product (not really because I want to, but because I can't even conceive of foods that don't have grains with them). I seem to keep eating them, even though I know they don't make me feel all that great. Maybe I just borked my own theory :)

Thanks for the replies-- very useful!
posted by dmaterialized at 7:08 AM on January 2, 2008

I know someone that has anemia that has an overwhelming urge to eat the dirt from her dirt basement and I hear the urge to eat dirt isn't uncommon.

this is known as pica.
posted by sdn at 8:00 AM on January 2, 2008

I get cravings for two foods specifically - bananas, and purple grape juice. Some time ago, in conjunction with actual MDs, we figured out my potassium levels occasionally drop too low and trigger the banana craving along with Deja-Vu (I'm avoiding posting the link there on purpose). So when I get deja-vu I eat raisins or whatever and it goes away, where as before I'd get it for several days in a row, sometimes as many as a week. I now understand it was probably happening till I happened to actually eat a banana, raisins, etc.

Purple grape juice made no sense till Factor V Leiden was discovered in the family. It means people form blood clots too easily, and guess what Purple grape juice does? I tested negative thankfully but I still hunt it down when I get the urge.

As for egg salad, it isn't necessarily what's in it as how MUCH is in it. Scrambled eggs might be 2 or 3 eggs, whereas egg salad you're probably getting 4 or 5, so if your body needs eggs it's going to point to the salad not the scrambled. Logically it'd also point to quiche and custards too though, but that hits on the third part of the theory - I think it only works off of food you ate during childhood. So... how many quiches and custards did you eat during childhood?
posted by jwells at 8:24 AM on January 2, 2008

Oh, and for the science side of things... the poor knowledge of people's nutritional needs coupled with the nutritional content of foods (many minerals and such aren't posted on the label) would prevent many people from making these links. That's the beauty of it. They're more likely to follow the urges and take care of the problem without understanding any of it.

As for pregnant women's cravings...? I kinda think that's just the hormones having fun, but who knows. Maybe that's how the baby's brain learns these things in the first place. That should be easy to test.
posted by jwells at 8:30 AM on January 2, 2008

Well, normally I despise liver, but when I was pregnant with my son I craved chicken livers.

Haven't TOUCHED them since, and that is over 23 years ago!

You know, egg salad doesn't really taste much like scrambled eggs, so that to your taste buds they could be two different kinds of food...anyway, could you be iron deficient?
posted by konolia at 8:34 AM on January 2, 2008

My one recurring, nonsensical craving is for tuna salad. I trace it back to a week at the cabin with family when I was in grade school. It was Monday, and a character in a book I was reading ate a tuna salad sandwich. Never having eaten tuna salad before, I was suddenly very curious about how it would taste. However, we always packed enough food for the week at the cabin, and there was no tuna in our provisions. I spent the next 6 days with an ever-increasing craving for the stuff, and by the time we got home on Sunday night I was ready to die from how badly I wanted a tuna salad sandwich. Mom made one for me, and it was good, and I mostly forgot the tuna-craving misery of the previous week. But for the last 15+ years since then, I still get random cravings for tuna salad. I think it's just because I went through a very emotional, intense period of wanting it so very badly in my youth.

Or else my body is running low on mercury...

Anyway, was there ever a time when you really really REALLY wanted egg salad, and couldn't satisfy that desire for an extended period of time?
posted by vytae at 10:06 AM on January 2, 2008

You never mentioned how you normally react to egg salad. Because in my mind, egg salad doesn't taste particularly egg-y. For that matter, cold eggs lack that strong egg odor/flavor that freshly cooked, warm eggs do. It's possible that your craving allows you to eat egg salad because it's cold, creamy, salty, spicy, crunchy (if you add celery), and only very mildly egg-y.

For me, I love scrambled eggs when they're made with cream, butter, or diced spring onions to mask the egg smell but when it's made straight, I get slightly thrown off while eating it. When it's made in the microwave, I won't even get close to it.
posted by junesix at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2008

I occasionally crave green things- broccoli, bok choi, asparagus- just about anything. When this happens and I think back, usually I haven't had anything green in some weeks.

When I lived in Russia I spent way too much money buying the nasty sour pomegranates that were available. I also craved those sugar covered cranberries you get on the trains there (or did). I could not get enough cranberries or pomegranates! I'm convinced I was craving vitamin C or some other vitamin that I get a lot of here in California but wasn't getting in Russia.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2008

junesix- try scambled eggs with goat cheese and chives... mmm!
posted by small_ruminant at 10:22 AM on January 2, 2008

I think this is a very valid assumption. Usually when people have stomach problems they crave foods like bananas and yogurt (low-acid, rich potassium etc) and stay away from caffiene and food high in iron. I think if you pay really close attention...when you eat food you make a mental (perhaps subconscious) connection on how it behaves when it reaches your stomach. Chemically I'm willing to bet it's the same type of endorphins that tell you when you're hungry or full (those are much easier to recognize).

Speaking of weird cravings, I've seen someone eat coffee beans right out of the can when she later found out she had a vitamin-c deficiency. *shrugs*
posted by samsara at 10:48 AM on January 2, 2008

Just as a data point, I cannot eat eggs without becoming at least a little ill (anywhere from bad gas to vomiting) unless I have a craving for them. When I do crave eggs, it is very strong, and I can eat them without side effects.

One doctor I told this to told me I shouldn't get a flu shot (it is egg based, apparently), and that I shouldn't eat eggs unless I craved them (duh). Why this happened, he had no idea.
posted by QIbHom at 11:39 AM on January 2, 2008

It's not that the flu vaccine is egg based, it's that the virus for the vaccine is cultivated inside chicken eggs and then extracted and killed, and there may be some residual egg protein.
posted by Caviar at 6:48 AM on January 3, 2008

Thanks for the clarification, Caviar.
Didn't mean to derail.
posted by QIbHom at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2008

I used to get the same kind of weirdo cravings for egg salad, even though I generally like eggs. However nowadays I am much more likely to get struck with a craving for chopped liver — a food I had NEVER eaten until I was struck with the first craving.

But I have no idea why I get these cravings for strongly flavored foods from the deli, except that I'm Jewish.
posted by chelseagirl at 4:17 PM on January 4, 2008

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