Long story short, probably no.
Pica is a rare eating disorder where cravings for unusual foods or non-food substances like clay, chalk, or dirt crop up. They are most common in children and pregnant women. One form of pica is tomatophagia or the craving for tomatoes.
A tantalizing argument for such cravings is that it is your body’s way of telling you to load up on nutrients you are lacking. Based on this theory, you will crave for foods rich in the nutrients you are running low on. However, evidence for this is mostly anecdotal and scientific understanding is poor.
Tomatoes Are Packed With Minerals And Vitamins
Before digging deeper into tomato cravings, let’s gain a better understanding of why tomatoes are good for us. Here’s what a cup of cherry tomatoes (149 gm) has to offer:1
|Calcium||15 mg||Vitamin C||20.4 mg|
|Iron||0.4 mg||Vitamin A||63 µg|
|Magnesium||16 mg||Vitamin E||0.8 mg|
|Phosphorus||36 mg||Thiamin||0.055 mg|
|Potassium||353 mg||Vitamin B-6||0.119 mg|
|Sodium||7 mg||Folate||22 µg|
|Zinc||0.25 mg||Niacin||0.885 mg|
We can, thus, safely conclude that tomatoes supply us with nutrients that work to our advantage when we are not in the best of health. Prevention of certain types of cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and UV-induced skin damage are some of their well-known implications.
Tomato Cravings May Indicate An Iron Deficiency
You may come across articles on the Internet listing out a bunch of nutrient deficiencies that cause tomato cravings. We advise you to believe only evidence-based information.
While tomatoes are rich in vitamins A, C, and E and potassium, we don’t know for sure if tomato cravings are linked in any way to their deficits. There is, however, preliminary evidence implicating an iron deficiency in tomatophagia.
[pullquote]If you have iron-deficiency anemia, you may have unusual cravings for tomatoes.[/pullquote]
A study was conducted on a 66-year old woman suffering from anemia, a deficiency in red blood cells.2 She simultaneously had intense tomato cravings for about 2 months. After several weeks of iron supplementation, her red blood cell count showed a significant increase and her cravings for tomatoes disappeared.
We can look at this study in 2 ways. The first is that just like some studies on pica, supplementing the missing nutrient, in this case iron, helped remove the cravings, in this case tomatoes. The second explanation could be that this was purely coincidental.
Food Cravings May Not Indicate Nutritional Deficiencies
Current research provides strong arguments to believe that cravings may not be linked to nitritional deficits at all. If they were, then pregnant women would be craving nutrient-rich foods, particularly in their final trimester. This is because a bigger fetus needs more nutrients. However, this is not the case. Pregnant women tend to crave fatty, unhealthy foods and mostly in their first trimester.3 4
Also, women are likely to crave sweet foods while men crave savory foods.5 If the basic lack of nutrients caused cravings, such gender discrepancy would not exist. Moreover, all people having nutritional deficiencies would have foods cravings – again not universally true. Craving the same type of food for the same deficiency are a whole other story.
It can also be argued that a nutrient deficiency should make you want to get the missing nutrient from all possible sources, not just one type of food. However, this too is not the case.
Tomato Cravings May Be Psychological
Researchers have reason to believe that food cravings like tomatophagia have emotional and hormonal roots. This is easy to comprehend when you bring to mind your favorite comfort food or recall a particular time you were so upset that you couldn’t help but stress eat. Sometimes lack of sleep and poor diets too can make you want to overeat certain foods.
Tomato cravings, in particular, may implicate a texture-flavor craving more than anything else. Their being such a vital part of our childhoods in pizzas, pasta, and the smiles in clown sandwiches may have something to do with it as well.
|↑1||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑2||Marinella, Mark A. ““Tomatophagia” and iron-deficiency anemia.” New England Journal of Medicine 341, no. 1 (1999): 60-61.|
|↑3||Orloff, Natalia C., and Julia M. Hormes. “Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research.” Frontiers in psychology 5 (2014).|
|↑4||King, Janet C. “Physiology of pregnancy and nutrient metabolism.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 5 (2000): 1218s-1225s.|
|↑5||Zellner, D. A., A. Garriga-Trillo, E. Rohm, S. Centeno, and S. Parker. “Food liking and craving: A cross-cultural approach.” Appetite 33, no. 1 (1999): 61-70.|