Food cravings are an intense desire to consume a specific food. Unlike hunger which is milder, and may be satisfied by consuming any foods, a craving is typically linked to one specific kind of food. Cravings are an extremely common phenomenon with physiological and emotional links. As one study showed, of 1000 collegians observed, a whopping 97 percent of the women and 68 percent of the men had cravings.1
What Makes You Crave Sugar, Chocolate, And Everything Sweet?
Since childhood, most of us are trained to associate carbohydrate intake and high energy foods with something sweet. These come to have a “hedonistic appeal” which grows as we continue to imbibe sugary beverages, sweets, and chocolate. The intake of these foods has in fact grown manifold in the past twenty years.2
Research shows that chocolate may actually be a mood enhancer and antidepressant, the true reason why we can’t help reaching for a chocolate bar. Its connotations of being a source of pleasure and self-indulgence have fueled chocolate’s rise to fame as a great pick-me-up and aphrodisiac. You may be using chocolate as a relaxant or tapping into its caffeine power to get an energy boost. One study dug deeper into the psychophysiological effects of consuming chocolate, differentiating between emotional eating and a food craving. Sugary foods are also linked to pain alleviation for some.3
Your cravings may also be gender-linked. Research on binge eating revealed that women tend to crave sweets more.4
What Happens When You Give In To Temptation?
By giving in to temptation and eating the foods you crave, you are actually reinforcing the craving. According to one study, food cravings – including chocolate and sweet cravings – are the result of a robust appetite resulting from hunger in which the food you crave is repeatedly eaten to curb hunger.5
If you are consuming the chocolate or sugary food to meet an emotional need, be warned that the effects may not be lasting. Researchers found that chocolate’s benefits were short-lived, in effect extending the dysphoric mood for an emotional eater. However, they agreed that it would still feel great to have some to satisfy a craving.6
Nutrition Deficiencies: Triggers For Sugar Or Chocolate Cravings?
For years, researchers have believed that there is a link between nutrition deficiency and food cravings.7 Chocolate, for instance, is rich in magnesium. The body may be yearning for the treat to meet its magnesium needs and bridge the deficiency of the mineral. Low serotonin levels also worsen feelings of depression, and chocolate has ingredients that can counter it. Chocolate also contains caffeine as well as chemicals like theobromide and beta-phenylethylamine which are mood enhancers and stimulants. However, as some researchers found, foods that are richer in nutrients like phenylethylamine don’t actually trigger as strong a craving as chocolate. If they did, salami and cheddar cheese would have been found in every gas station, airport, and grocery store checkout counter to meet the craving.8
However, dietary restrictions don’t appear to cause cravings to increase, a sign that there could be more to your chocolate or sugar craving than meets the eye. The fact that most cravings reported in one study were experienced in the latter half of the day indicates it could be mood or emotion linked, when enthusiasm and motivation begin to dip.9
New theories also consider the social and cultural aspects of cravings. For instance, a study of people from different cultures found that cravings varied significantly. Egyptian men and women had very different cravings from those in Spain or in North America.10
Beating The Craving: A Cheat Sheet
Eating a balanced diet that gives you your daily recommended levels of various nutrients, including minerals like magnesium, may help curb cravings for chocolate and sugary food. It is also a good idea to avoid binging on these foods and thereby reinforcing the craving. Consume foods rich in magnesium such as rice bran, pumpkin seeds, soya bean, amaranth grain, Brazil nuts, and almonds.11
To avoid sugary foods that are not good for you, but to still get in the carbs your body needs, have low glycemic index foods to ensure steady blood sugar levels. Stick to cherries, grapefruit, apples, oranges, and pears. If you love the taste of deep dark chocolate but want to avoid the sugar-rush, swap your bar of chocolate or candy for a mug of delicious but guilt-free hot unsweetened cocoa. It may help achieve the psychosensory benefits without the hefty calories.12
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests waiting about 20 minutes for your craving to pass as they usually don’t last much longer. 13
The jury is out on whether food cravings are really caused by nutrition deficiency or have an emotional trigger. Cravings for chocolate may be linked to the psychoactive effects of chocolate, and sugary foods to social conditioning since childhood. Just keep in mind though, that a little indulgence goes a long way, so treat yourself once in a way – just don’t overdo it.
|↑1, ↑9||Weingarten, Harvey P., and Dawn Elston. “Food cravings in a college population.” Appetite 17, no. 3 (1991): 167-175.|
|↑2||Ventura, Alison K., and Julie A. Mennella. “Innate and learned preferences for sweet taste during childhood.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 14, no. 4 (2011): 379-384.|
|↑3, ↑6||Yanovski, Susan. “Sugar and fat: cravings and aversions.” The Journal of Nutrition 133, no. 3 (2003): 835S-837S.|
|↑4||Anton, Stephen D., Jacqueline Gallagher, Vincent J. Carey, Nancy Laranjo, Jing Cheng, Catherine M. Champagne, Donna H. Ryan et al. “Diet type and changes in food cravings following weight loss: findings from the POUNDS LOST Trial.” Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 17, no. 2 (2012): e101-e108.|
|↑5||Gibson, Edward Leigh, and Eska Desmond. “Chocolate craving and hunger state: implications for the acquisition and expression of appetite and food choice.” Appetite 32, no. 2 (1999): 219-240.|
|↑7||Weingarten, Harvey P., and Dawn Elston. “The phenomenology of food cravings.” Appetite 15, no. 3 (1990): 231-246.|
|↑8||Koehler, P. E., and R. R. Eitenmiller. “High pressure liquid chromatographic analysis of tyramine, phenylethylamine and tryptamine in sausage, cheese and chocolate.” Journal of Food Science 43, no. 4 (1978): 1245-1247.|
|↑10||Parker, Scott, Niveen Kamel, and Debra Zellner. “Food craving patterns in Egypt: comparisons with North America and Spain.” Appetite 40, no. 2 (2003): 193-195.|
|↑11||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑12||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑13||Stop the Cravings! Eat Right! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.|