The Real Reason You're Craving French Fries

Craving French fries, baked potatoes, or salty snacks? It might be time to pay more attention to your needs. Food cravings can have physical or psychological causes, from stress and sleep deprivation to vitamin deficiencies. "They may also be caused by a combination of social, emotional, cultural, and environmental cues," explained registered dietitian Vandana Sheth in an interview with Shape.

For example, sugar cravings are often associated with stress, anger, or other negative feelings. Chocolate cravings can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, while salt cravings may indicate electrolyte imbalances. "If you exercise a lot, you're sweating and losing salt, which means you end up craving [it] more to replenish those stores," says nutritionist Dr. Lisa Young (via Shape). A 2018 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests that chronic stress might be the culprit behind food cravings. This lifestyle factor not only triggers food cravings, but also affects our eating patterns and can lead to weight gain.

But what does it mean when you're craving French fries? Should you tweak your diet, get more sleep, or squeeze more "me" time into your routine? Read on to find out. 

This is why you are craving fries

French fries are high in sodium, carbs, and fats. As mentioned earlier, salt cravings can be a sign of an electrolyte imbalance, which can result from dehydration, strenuous workouts, or strict dieting. You may also crave salty foods because of stress, says Holland and Barrett.

Carb cravings, on the other hand, are associated with fatigue, tiredness, or blood sugar highs and lows. This explains why you may feel the need to eat fries, bread, or pasta after a long day at work. Strict dieting plays a role, too. "Typically, when someone is on a strict eating plan or has declared certain foods 'off-limits,' they will want them that much more," dietitian Elizabeth DeRobertis told Shape.

A 2011 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that fries and other fatty foods stimulate the production of endocannabinoids in the brain, as cited by Live Science. Simply put, they have pretty much the same effect as marijuana. These chemicals influence appetite and taste perception, increasing hunger and food cravings. The question is, what can you do about it? 

Try these healthy alternatives to french fries

While they may be a better choice than potato chips or other snacks, French fries can still put your health at risk. In a 2017 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fried potato consumption has been found to increase mortality risk. As the researchers note, this beloved comfort food may lead to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and other conditions linked to heart disease. But you can mitigate these risks by seeking healthier ways to satisfy your cravings. 

Oven-baked sweet potato fries pack just as much flavor as French fries, but without the extra calories. You could also try roasted parsnip fries, kale chips, air-popped popcorn, or roasted chickpeas. Meanwhile, try to get more rest and limit stress. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night and steer clear of fad diets.

Fill up on nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, and snack on whole-grain crackers, pumpkin seeds, nuts, or leafy greens after exercise to prevent electrolyte imbalances. Canned beans, avocados, mushrooms, tuna, or dark chocolate are just as beneficial for athletes and gym-goers, suggests the National Academy of Sports Medicine.