Food cravings can be emotional or hormonal. For example, we often associate food cravings with pregnancy, but food cravings can also be a sign of nutritional deficiencies.
But, what does it mean when you crave meat? Do your cravings for red meat or a craving for meatballs indicate some sort of nutritional deficiency? Is it bad if you are craving meat?
In this article, we will discuss common causes for craving red meat so that you can understand why you have meat cravings and what sorts of nutritional deficiencies craving meat can indicate.
We will look at:
- Why Do I Crave Meat?
- What Does It Mean If You Are Craving Meat?
Let’s get started!
Why Do I Crave Meat?
Meat serves as a key source of protein for many people worldwide, and given the multitudes of types of red meat—such as beef, lamb, bison, goat, etc.—and the variety of ways to prepare meat—meatballs, tartar, steak, hamburgers, chops, etc.—many people enjoy eating meat every day or multiple times per day.
But, what does it mean when you crave red meat?
In other words, instead of just feeling like eating meat because you’re not sure of what other protein to have or because you like how it tastes if you find yourself asking, “Why am I craving meat?“ it’s a good sign that your body is in need of certain nutrients.
A meat craving can be an instance where your body is trying to compel you to eat red meat in order to ascertain certain nutrients that you may be lacking in your diet.
Generally, meat cravings are caused by deficiencies in some of the key nutrients found in red meat.
Meat provides several essential vitamins and minerals, and it is a complete source of protein (with all nine essential amino acids).
What Does It Mean If You Are Craving Meat?
So, what does it mean when you crave meat?
Here are some potential reasons why you might be craving meatballs, have cravings for red meat, or craving meat in general:
#1: Insufficient Protein In Your Diet
Given the fact that meat is one of the richest food sources of protein, it’s probably not surprising that lacking protein in your diet is one of the most likely answers to the question, “Why do I crave red meat?”
Protein deficiencies are particularly common in those who follow the vegan diet, raw foods diet, or other restrictive plant-based diets because it is more challenging to get complete proteins with only plant-based foods.
#2: Iron Deficiency
If you are craving red meat in particular, perhaps you are craving steak, craving meatballs, or craving hamburgers; an iron deficiency could be at the root of your compulsion to eat meat.
Iron is a vital micronutrient that is crucial for forming hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body.
It is an essential nutrient, which means you must consume iron in your diet or in supplemental form because your body cannot manufacture it endogenously.
An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition marked by fatigue, weakness, pallor, and breathlessness; craving red meat can also be a sign of low iron status.
Women are at a greater risk of iron deficiency due to menstruation and the general trend in dietary intake.
The recommended daily intake of iron for premenopausal women is 18 mg, but the DV for iron drops to 8 mg for men and postmenopausal women.
Vegetarians and vegans are also at an increased risk of iron deficiency because most iron-rich foods are animal-based proteins, such as meat, which are called “heme iron.“
While there are some plant-based foods with iron, such as quinoa and spinach, the iron in these “non-heme” sources of iron is not nearly as bioavailable.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the bioavailability of heme iron is about 14-18% versus 5-12% for non-heme iron.
Red meat cravings are often caused by low iron status, as red meat is one of the best dietary sources of heme iron.
For example, a six-ounce skirt steak provides 9.3mg of iron, which is more than the recommended daily intake for most men and 52% of the RDI for women.
A six-ounce burger made from lean ground beef contains 5 mg of iron, or 62% of the RDI for men and older women.
#3: Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Another common cause of meat cravings is a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 serves many functions of the body. For example, it is required for energy production in cells, brain function, and the production of DNA and proteins.
While short-term deficiency can be troubling enough in terms of causing intense fatigue, depression, and nerve issues like tingling, long-term deficiency can cause permanent damage to the central nervous system and can result in a condition called pernicious anemia.
The daily value of vitamin B12 depends on your age and life stage. Most adults require 2.4 µg of this micronutrient every day or more if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that excess intake is excreted in the urine.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly common, particularly for those who follow a plant-based diet, such as vegans, vegetarians, and even pescatarians and flexitarians in some cases, depending on what you are eating in your plant-based diet.
This is because the richest natural food sources of vitamin B12 are animal products.
Examples of foods high in vitamin B-12 include clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, beef liver, tuna and other fatty fish, beef, king crab, shrimp, lobster, crayfish, and sardines.
Dairy products such as milk and yogurt contain some vitamin B12, and certain breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12.
As can be seen, almost all of the vitamin B12 foods are animal products. The exception is nutritional yeast which contains some natural vitamin B12 and is often heavily fortified with B12.
#4: Zinc Deficiency
Even though the body only needs zinc in trace amounts to function optimally, zinc is still an essential micronutrient that you must get in your diet in order to support immunity and eye health and to make proteins necessary for muscle, tissue, and bone formation.
Although shellfish such as oysters are the best dietary sources of zinc, red meat is also high in zinc, so craving red meat or even craving meat, in general, can be a sign of a zinc deficiency.
Here again, vegans and those following a plant-based diet are at the greatest risk of a zinc deficiency because plants contain compounds called phytates which can impede the absorption of zinc.
Although iron deficiency, zinc deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, and lack of adequate protein in the diet are generally the most common causes of craving meat, there can be other reasons for craving meat.
- Meat cravings can occur if you have recently switched to a plant-based diet and your body and/or mind are missing the taste and nutrients found in meat or the routine of eating some of your favorite meat dishes.
- Craving red meat can occur during pregnancy or periods of growth as a way for your body to seek out more calories—and nutrient-dense calories—as meat can provide essential building blocks for growth.
- Cravings for meat can occur if you are weightlifting, bodybuilding, or engaging in vigorous or long-duration exercise because red meat provides amino acids to repair and build muscle tissue.
- Weight loss diets with insufficient caloric intake can cause meat cravings as red meat is a calorically-dense food.
- Certain health conditions marked by muscle wasting can cause a craving for red meat.
- Meat cravings can occur if your diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
- Craving red meat can be emotional, hormonal, or an addiction.
Overall, as can be seen, there are quite a few potential meat craving causes.
Cravings for meat are particularly common if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, following a restrictive diet, trying to lose weight, or have some other chronic illness or health condition.
If you are concerned about the “red meat craving meaning“ or find that eating meat isn’t satisfying your cravings for meat, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider about the potential causes of craving meat.
There may be underlying nutritional deficiencies for steak cravings or red meat cravings that need to be addressed more aggressively.
If you truly love meat and find that your body functions optimally when you are eating a lot of red meat, check out our guide to the lion diet here.