Are you craving orange juice out of the blue? Contrary to popular belief, food cravings don't necessarily indicate nutrient deficiencies. Stress, sleep deprivation and emotional triggers all contribute to the intense desire to eat specific foods. Luckily, orange juice is one of the healthiest beverages out there, so you can enjoy it without guilt.
If you're craving orange juice, blame, stress, sleep deprivation or poor gut health. Contrary to popular belief, food cravings don't indicate nutrient deficiencies.
What Causes Food Cravings?
Anecdotal evidence says that food cravings are a sign of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Chocolate cravings, for example, are traditionally associated with low magnesium levels in the body. However, no studies support this belief. According to a July 2017 review featured in Plos One, almost half of American women experience menstrual chocolate cravings, but researchers have been unable to find an explanation.
A research paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in January 2015 suggests that food cravings involve emotional, physiological, behavioral and cognitive factors. For example, they may be caused by exposure to food cues, such as images depicting appetizing foods. Women tend to experience food cravings more often than men, but this isn't necessarily due to the hormonal differences between genders, but rather to psychosocial and cultural factors.
Another review, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology in September 2014, analyzed the potential causes of chocolate cravings in pregnancy. As the researchers point out, most studies have found no connection between food cravings and nutritional deficiencies.
A poor night's sleep may induce food cravings too, as reported in a study published in the journal Sleep in April 2018. Young adults with depression and poor sleep quality appear to be more susceptible to this issue. The researchers have also found that junk food cravings are a common effect of sleep deprivation.
Most studies are either inconclusive or conflicting. Craving citrus or orange juice, though, isn't as bad as craving pizza or fries. Oranges, lemons, limes and other citrus fruits and their juices are chock-full of nutrition. Processed foods, on the other hand, provide nothing but empty calories.
Craving Citrus? Blame Stress
Stress might be the reason you're craving orange juice and citrus fruits. When you're stressed, cortisol levels increase and your body enters the fight-or-flight mode. If this situation persists, your cortisol levels remain elevated, causing a chain reaction. Depression, anxiety, poor sleep, cardiovascular problems and weight gain are all common side effects of chronic stress.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a potential cause of food cravings is chronic or prolonged stress. This lifestyle factor affects food choices and food preferences by throwing your hormones out of balance. If left unaddressed, it can lead to emotional eating and trigger cravings for comfort foods, such as chocolate and ice cream.
A recent study published in the journal Obesity in April 2018 assessed the effects of stress on food cravings and weight gain. Nearly half of the subjects who were stressed experienced an increase in ghrelin levels and gained weight over a six-month period. Also known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin stimulates appetite and triggers the urge to eat. In the study, elevated ghrelin levels have been linked to cravings for sweets, junk food, carbs and fatty foods.
The study authors point out that chronic stress is a contributing factor to obesity. When secreted in excess, cortisol promotes fat storage, especially in the abdominal area, and supports the formation of fat cells.
Regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing, yoga and other relaxation techniques can ward off stress and minimize its impact on your health. If you're constantly stressed, squeeze more "me" time into your schedule. Meditate for at least 10 minutes, stick to your workouts and get more rest.
Furthermore, stress alters brain function and eating behavior, according to a September 2013 review featured in the journal Minerva Endocrinologica. This lifestyle factor increases the desire to eat hyper-palatable foods, such as those high in sugar and fat.
Orange juice, for example, provides about 10.4 grams of sugars per serving (half of cup). If you're stressed, you might find yourself drinking the whole container to satisfy your sugar cravings.
The same review states that depression, anxiety, anger and other strong feelings are often associated with chronic stress and may lead to emotional eating. Additionally, food restriction further increases cortisol levels, which in turn, can stimulate appetite and trigger cravings.
Gut Bacteria and Food Cravings
Another reason why you might be craving orange juice is that your gut could be out of whack. Gut bacteria influence your appetite, food preferences, metabolism, hormone production and more. These microorganisms also shape your eating behavior, according to a review published in BioEssays in August 2014.
Researchers have found that gut microbes manipulate eating behavior in two ways. Firstly, they induce cravings for foods that they feed on or foods that suppress other bacteria they're competing with. For example, Prevotella lives off carbs, while Roseburia feeds on polysaccharides. Most bacteria species prefer one nutrient or another.
Secondly, gut microbes can induce feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness (a phenomenon known as dysphoria) until you eat foods that enhance their well-being. The bacteria living in your gut may also alter your taste receptors and brain chemicals as well as the cannabinoid and opioid receptors in the GI tract. These factors combined cause changes in your eating behavior.
According to the same review, more than half of dopamine production originates in the gut. Certain bacteria species have the ability to manufacture this hormone, which can further affect appetite. In fact, a March 2016 meta-analysis in the International Journal of Obesity indicates a strong link between dopamine, eating behavior and obesity.
Some gut microbes regulate the hormones that influence satiety and hunger. Others alter the production of histamine and other brain chemicals that influence your mood and hence your eating behavior.
The authors of the review published in BioEssays suggest that maintaining a diverse microflora could be the key to better appetite control. Furthermore, they point out that lack of willpower and nutrient deprivation are not the only culprits behind bad eating as was once thought.
Strategy for Maintaining Gut Health
So, what does this mean to you? Well, these findings show that appetite and gut health are strongly connected. If you're craving citrus or other foods on a regular basis, consider tweaking your diet. Fill up on pre- and probiotic foods that keep your gut functioning properly.
Prebiotic foods, such as green peas, asparagus, lentils, soybeans, grapefruit, oats and cashews, feed the good bacteria in your gut. Probiotic foods, on the other hand, contain live microorganisms that increase the number of beneficial gut microbes. Kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles and tempeh are just a few examples.
Another option is to take probiotic supplements, which have a similar mechanism of action. Beware, though, that little is known about their safety in the long run. Although these products appear safe, they may cause adverse effects in people with underlying health conditions. Ask your doctor for advice, especially if you're ill, pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Plos One: "Does Culture Create Craving? Evidence From the Case of Menstrual Chocolate Craving"
- Frontiers in Psychology: "Food Craving: New Contributions on Its Assessment, Moderators, and Consequences"
- Frontiers in Psychology: "Pickles and Ice Cream! Food Cravings in Pregnancy: Hypotheses, Preliminary Evidence, and Directions for Future Research"
- Sleep: "Nighttime Snacking: Prevalence and Associations With Poor Sleep, Health, Obesity, and Diabetes"
- Health Direct: "The Role of Cortisol in the Body"
- Mayo Clinic: "Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Why Stress Causes People to Overeat"
- NCBI: "Stress, Cortisol, and Other Appetite-Related Hormones: Prospective Prediction of 6-Month Changes in Food Cravings and Weight"
- UNM.edu: "Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight"
- NCBI: "Stress and Eating Behaviors"
- USDA: "Raw Orange Juice"
- Wiley Online Library: "Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota? Evolutionary Pressures and Potential Mechanisms"
- Nature.com: "A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between Brain Dopamine Receptors and Obesity: A Matter of Changes in Behavior Rather Than Food Addiction?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Prebiotics, Probiotics and Your Health"
- Monash.edu: "Which Foods Are Naturally High in Prebiotics?"
- NIH.gov: "Probiotics: In Depth"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Six Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress"