I've done a few searches on this topic but didn't quite find the answer I was looking for.
First of all, I've been paleo/primal for 3 months now. The reason being that I had extreme highs and lows in energy from relying on carbs (bread, potato, pasta). I have no intention of losing weight and have had no other health issues that I wanted to fix.
Before, I made the change in my diet I hardly ever ate the really bad stuff, chocolate bars, sweets or fast food. I never really liked the taste of it. But there's one thing that I liked and still crave which is crisps / potato chips. At the moment I'm constantly wanting to eat some.
I don't miss bread, rice, pasta or normal potatoes (I eat sweet potatoes), I cut them all out in one fell swoop. But I'm always thinking about crisps / potato chips, specifically the salty taste.
Does this mean I need salt or something else? Or is it just a learned behaviour that I have to phase out?
I also forgot to mention that my relation with food is that I've never had any kind of cravings for food or drink and seem to not get addicted to certain foods like other people do. For example I've occasionally tried but never continued with coffee, tea, alcohol, sugary sweets and chocolate.
That's why I've always tended to trust this impulse because it is very uncharacteristic of myself to have an intense need for something specific.
I think a body craves things it wants for some reason. SOmetimes, the want is for health purposes and sometimes the want is due to addiction, like in the case of most caffeine consumption and carb consumption (although I think there are exceptions to both of these).
In the case of a craving for chips but not other carbs or other fats, salt is immediately what I think of. Of course, chips have the ability to provide high levels of salt, fat, and carbs all at once, so there are other options. HOwever, I would assume you are eating good levels of fat on lowcarb and are over any carb addiction by now. Unless you are badly glycogen depleted due to heavy exercise or still not fat adapted, you probably don't really need carbs. THerefore, I think salt is a likely culprit.
Personally, I find myself often at odds with some of the paleo advice to avoid all added salt. Salt is vital to body functioning at the cellular level and we have a salt receptor on our tongue and naturally crave salt. I can't imagine mother nature would put a salt receptor on our tongue and a craving for this natural resource if she did not wish us to seek out salt. Even primitive tribes seek and trade for salt. Consumption of blood is a good source of electrolytes but few of us drink blood anymore. Genetic tendency to excrete salt in sweat varies wildly between individuals. Those who excrete a lot of electrolytes in sweat are at increased risk of having serious bad side effects in hot weather if they don't replace those electrolytes quickly. It may be that those populations that had plenty of chlorides in their diet naturally did not need to conserve electrolyte excretion and so their bodies are rather wasteful of this resource compared to populations that did not have such in their diet.
Certainly, I have heard of people who physically do not do well on a lot of salt but I have also heard of many who have cramps and other illness if they don't consume adequate salt and electrolytes. In fact, epidimiological studies correlate a low salt diet with increased likelihood of mortality.
On a personal level, I find that my taste for salt varies from day to day. Some days, I feel like I want salt on my meat and on those days, I add it and it tastes good. Other days, I do not have a taste for salt and so I lay off on it. Studies show that 97% of the population with healthy organ function have no significant deleterious effects from salt consumption and that salt does not contribute much to blood pressure levels in most of the population. Personally, I think salt phobia in the media is overblown and they would be better off worrying about other more dangerous food items like wheat and high fructose corn syrup.
When I was still including processed foods in my diet, i never felt the need to salt my food.. Now that I've gone to all primal and mostly unprocessed food, I put a bit of salt on my food about every 3rd day, or maybe a bit in my cooking.
I'm only really doing this when i crave salt, and that NEVER used to happen.
I'm still recalibrating what craving mean some 2 years after taking up IF, and some 5 months into primal paleo eating
I have a general opinion that we will never lose a minor need for the representative components of the sea, like salt and iodide, no matter how long our ancestors have bee out ot the original primal ocean.
Here is a list, compiled by Doug Setter, that might be of some use. The author lists a craving, and then states what the body actually needs.
Editing to add, (thank you Ambimorph for prompting the edit): This is all I have found on the web related to cravings and what the body actually needs. I am not recommending the rest of the site, I just thought this list pointed to some things which might be useful, incomplete as the list is.
Food Cravings and what they mean:
I don't know what copyright laws allow for excerpts. Here is what he says about cravings for salty foods:
Craving for: Salty foods.
Body needs: Chloride.
Foods that contain this: Raw goat milk, fish, unrefined sea salt.
And another example:
Craving for: Chocolate.
What the body needs: Magnesium.
Foods that contain this: Raw nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits.
Here are the references he gives:
1.Lectures, Cheryl M. Deroin, NMD, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Spring 2003 (healthy food recommendations)
2.Benard Jenson, PhD, The Chemistry of Man B. Jensen Publisher, 1983 (deficiencies linked to specific cravings and some food recommendations)
I don't know anything about Mr. Setter or these references, but the idea that cravings signal a need for something real makes sense to me.
Hope this is of some help.
I recently posted about this on my website:
I don't know if it's a physical (need for salt) issue so much as I do believe it's somewhat in the mind -- a learned impulse, a desire for "comfort food"?
I think the problem with this idea is one that many theories have in common: it is both easy to overstate to the point of obvious falsehood, and to understate to the point of trivial truth.
Certainly we have addictions that lead us to crave things our bodies miss, but don't benefit from in the long-term sense. These can be true addictions, or more the psychological discomfort of breaking a habit. We are also familiar with mechanisms like the blood sugar roller coaster, in which a high dose of sugar ultimately results in low blood sugar, leading to cravings for another high dose of sugar.
On the other hand, one could hardly argue against the reality of a visceral sense of hunger or thirst, and it seems likely that if we can crave a specific substance when addicted, we should also be able to feel a need for a specific nutrient when it is good for us.
I know of no studies to substantiate this though, and my only guide is to guess whether it is plausible to be missing something, or to try it and see how we feel. Of course, if we feel better, that still doesn't mean we need it, as that would happen in the cases above, too. It may be a case of short-term relief, long-term harm. It's a really tough question!
In your specific example, maybe you could try making some home fries, and at least you would avoid industrial oils.
Just as pregnant women often crave the bizarre and unusual, so do the rest of us from time to time. The issue is to know internally whether it is just a passing phenomenon or an addiction. Even if it isn't clear, just because something isn't "Paleo" per se, shouldn't disqualify it from your diet. I don't think that eating anything at any given time will upset your apple cart. There's nothing like a few good chips every now and then.
I think you can get to a point and determine what your bodies needs are. For instance, last week I took a MovNat Seminar and we took a break for lunch and I had a ribeye and small yam. A couple hours later when the seminar was over, I had some homemade beef jerky and a larabar in the car, just in case. I was craving the carbs and almost was repulsed by the beef jerky (which is very odd for me). So I dove into the larabar and was completely satisfied until dinner.
The tricky part is determining why your body is craving something. More than not, carb cravings are out of boredom for me, but I am able to understand when I really need them.