Cravings are different from hunger. Humans obviously need to eat, and ignoring hunger pangs can make you dizzy or weak. True cravings are not hunger, but a desire to eat a specific food. There may or may not be biological reasons for meat cravings, but healthy vegetarians can certainly overcome them without returning to a meat diet.
The biology of cravings
Scientists are divided on the biological reasons for cravings. Some argue a specific craving is a way for your body to signal a need for a specific nutrient. For example, a banana craving may signal a need for potassium. Vegetarians who crave meat may be lacking B-Complex vitamins or iron.
Some researchers trace the science to our ancestry or nutrition in the womb. When food was more scarce and expensive, early humans may have loaded up on fat to store the greatest amount of calories in each meal. It’s also possible in some cases the brain was trained before birth to like fat if that is what the fetus received. Vegetarians’ brains know meat tends to be more fatty than vegetables, so they might crave meat.
The mentality of cravings
Of course, a craving is not always a biological instinct. Some studies have debunked the whole idea of biological reasons for cravings. It’s hard to argue for the biology of a chocolate cookie craving that is not satisfied by another type of cookie, or for the need for popcorn every time a movie begins.
Sometimes, it’s just a longing for an old comfort food. Most vegetarians are former omnivores who chose to forego meat or other animal products for various reasons. They have tasted meat before, and sometimes are tempted by the sight or smell of fried chicken, salty bacon or a juicy hamburger.
How to satisfy the craving
Whether biological or mental, many vegetarians have meat cravings, so here are a few ways to satisfy the craving.
• If you believe the biological arguments, eat some protein and consider a multivitamin that includes iron and B-complex vitamins. There is plenty of good protein in soy and other nuts, as well as most beans. For more details on the protein content of various nuts and seeds, read this article. For more on beans (which may need to be combined with other foods for a complete protein), read this. Other popular options are meat substitutes. Fake burgers, chicken and bacon are all widely available, though newly converted vegetarians will argue the products taste nothing like meat.
• If you think it’s in your head, switch off the desire for meat by reading articles or watching videos about the abuse of animals and factory farming. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offer plenty of information that may get rid of meat cravings or even hunger altogether.
• Give it time. Many long-time vegetarians say they forget the taste of meat and never miss it anymore. Some are turned off by the sight or smell of meat.