Food Cravings Decoded

We’ve all experienced cravings, and according to surveys conducted at the Monell Chemical Senses Center about 100% of females and 70% of males had a food craving in the past year.  In general, women experience food cravings more than men – blame pregnancy and PMS.  

Sorry ladies, but it’s true.

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Sweet, Savory and In Between

Overall, whether sweet or savory, chocolate or chips, people crave foods high in fat and calories. But why?  Why do we crave foods when we aren’t even hungry?  The science is still in its infancy, but cravings, it is thought, evolved as a tool for survival when food was not as easy to come by.  At a time when humans were still hunting and gathering, craving high calorie, energy dense food was a way to ensure we stayed nourished until our next meal.  This may have been a useful tool in the past, but wanting fattening food today more often translates to obesity rather than survival. 

Where Do Cravings Come From?

Cravings then, unlike hunger, are not driven by survival but by some other force.   That force is a combination of body, brain,and chemicals triggering these cravings. You can think of hunger as 2 different things.  Stomach hunger and mind hunger.  Stomach hunger is when you are actually physically hungry and in need of nourishment. Mind hunger is that voice in your head telling you that you absolutely NEED that double stuffed deep-fried cronut with a side of disco fries at 4am.  

Why We Crave

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So, besides vestiges from the past, why do we crave items high in fat and calories instead of celery sticks and spinach leaves? Interestingly, our cravings are much like drug addictions. Foods we crave act like narcotics in that the way our brain interpretsthe consumption of fatty, sugary foods is pleasure and euphoria.  

No wonder we want more, that cupcake is getting us high.  In all seriousness, these foods release chemicals called opioids into our bloodstream.  The food opioids bind to receptors in our brains, release dopamine and give us that addictive food high.The brain-reward we get from fulfilling our craving is most likely what drives us to crave the same things again and again, knowing it will be satisfying.  Unfortunately this satisfaction, does nothing to keep our waistlines in check.