You probably have some favourite foods, but “If you are quite particular about a certain food or your cravings recently or suddenly changed, it may indicate an illness”, warns Dr. Tei.
There is a profound relationship between foods and illnesses, and Kampo views that an illness makes you crave a certain food. In fact, people with a chronic illness crave foods that can make the illness worse. In other words, they tend to favour the foods that make the illness more powerful. Therefore, if they stop eating those foods, the illness naturally weakens. If your favourite food has suddenly changed, then stop and take a note of it, as your new food craving may be due to the illness that is driving you desire for it.
When “abnormality” happens in the body, particularly when something is growing large fast; what you crave often changes. Pregnancy is a classic example.
Obviously, pregnancy is not illness, but lots of changes are taking place in women’s bodies and something new is rapidly growing inside them. Pregnancy often makes women crave even something that they have never eaten before, and a great deal of it too.
Although there are different kinds of overweight depending on your constitutions, “cold foods” are the most common ones that overweight people crave. You can imagine as follows. Fats (‘illness’) badly crave something cold because they don’t want to melt away with the warmth and want to stay where they are (keeping you overweight).
In general, overweight people start a meal with a sip of ice cold water or a cold dish, such as a chilled salad. Thin people generally do the opposite and start with a hot dish and then move onto cold ones. By starting with warm foods, thin people are naturally enhancing the intestines’ metabolism.
Cold foods lower the metabolism and warm foods raise it, and happens more so in women. It is actually a very good thing that you sweat lightly (a sign of raised metabolism) during or after you eat meals. In other words, a sequence of what you eat can give different outcomes to your health and influence on being, becoming and reducing overweight in the long term.
Cold Foods and the Appetite Centre in the Brain
Why do you eat? Of course you eat to get nutrients for your bodily functions. However, the most important thing about eating is the following: Does what you eat satisfy the appetite centre in the brain? Unless the appetite centre is satisfied, you don’t feel that you ate enough and will end up eating more than necessary.
Interestingly, warm foods satisfy the brain better than cold ones, and here is how they work. With warm foods, digestive enzymes work better; the foods get digested faster; so then the glucose level rises in the blood faster too. In addition, the overall blood circulation improves. This means that the nutrients reach the brain fast, and the brain says, “I had enough and am satisfied.”
On the other hand, when a food at 4℃ enters the stomach, the blood gathers there and tries to warm it up until the temperature of the stomach and food goes up until 37℃, which is the deep body temperature. This reduces the blood circulation to the brain and muscles, leaving the brain not satisfied as not enough nutrients are being carried by the blood there. So, the brain continuously orders you to eat more.
Furthermore, cold foods dull our sense of taste and this leads to the unsatisfied appetite centre in the brain. However, when cold foods/drinks contain a great amount of sugars, the brain can be satisfied sensing a higher level of glucose in the blood. You probably had an experience of drinking a cold coke, but cannot drink a coke at room temperature because you find it too sweet. Manufactures of such soft drinks put loads of sugars or other sweeteners in the drinks so that they taste good when they are cold.
New Craving for Ice-cream and Cancer
Another example of an illness making you crave a certain food is cancer, says Dr. Tei. Cancer cells thrive on 3 ~ 8 times more amounts of sugar than normal cells. In addition, because the cancer cell activities are aggressive, they tend to get overheated. Therefore, cancer cells favour something cold to cool the heat.
Sudden or recent change in cravings for something sweet and/or sweet & cold, such as an ice-cream, may indicate cancer, says Dr. Tei. Kampo doctors have been advising to avoid sweets to cancer patients all along. Now the western medicine also shares the common understanding that cancer cells crave sweets.
Just remember that there is a profound relationship between foods and illnesses. In particular, any sudden or recent changes in your food craving may indicate an illness.
Here is a chart showing how West and East view food cravings. (click here)
Reference: Dr. Munetetsu Tei: “Train Your Intestines To Lose Weight And Become Healthy!” (in Japanese). Shufunotomo, 2011.