We all experience food cravings at one time or another. Food cravings is defined as an intense desire for a particular type of food. The scientific causes of food cravings have not been clearly defined, but there are several hypotheses as to why they occur.
Four reasons why it occurs food cravings
- One proposed reason for food cravings is food deprivation, as when you follow a calorie or nutrient restricted diet. For example, some people feel that salt cravings are brought on as a result of the body’s need for more sodium. Research findings, however, are contradictory as to whether the deprivation theory is really valid.
- Still other researchers feel that people have certain food cravings for their influence on brain chemistry, particularly a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Certain foods, such as those containing the amino acid tryptophan and most dietary carbohydrates, increase the concentration of serotonin in the brain. This produces a calming effect and improves your mood.
- Less scientific, but no less important, theories about food cravings relate to the sensory and psychosocial factors of food. Witness how you may suddenly crave a warm, thick slice of bread after walking through the fresh-baked aisle of your local supermarket. Can you imagine a movie without popcorn, or a birthday party without cake?
- Despite all the proposed mechanisms for food cravings, taste probably leads the list. Take, for example, chocolate. It contains caffeine, theobromine, and two neurotransmitter precursors, phenylalanine and tyrosine. These substances are also found in pickled herring, cheddar cheese, and pineapple juice. It would stand to reason that all items containing these substances would be craved equally. According to various market studies, however, chocolate is far and away the food most frequently craved by women. Why? It tastes good!
Food cravings and the mood
Researchers have speculated that certain foods and nutrients may influence mood. The evidence is really only anecdotal, however. It is still unclear whether food affects mood or whether mood affects food cravings. Some women who crave sweets report negative, rather than positive mood reactions once the food cravings was fulfilled.
In one study, self-described chocolate addicts were more depressed and tense than those women not addicted to chocolate. It also appears that food cravings consumption increases guilt, and as a result, does not improve mood.