A lot has been written about food cravings and it is a complex issue. A craving for a particular food is one of the most common and intense food experiences. Food cravings are not necessarily always based only on taste but can be the body’s way of satisfying a nutritional deficiency or counteracting mild depression.
Food cravings have been documented in women suffering Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a mild form of depression brought about by not enough direct sunlight daily. Food cravings can be reduced in cases where SAD is present by the person getting one hour of direct sunlight daily.
People who crave carbohydrates while dieting can control this more easily by eating mini meals and snacks throughout the day. It is important for to have meals and snacks at the same time each day.
Carbohydrate craving can result when there are low levels of a brain nerve chemical called serotonin. This chemical regulates mood, sleep and other physiological functions. A low level is also associated with depression, irritability and feeling agitated. It is thought that this metabolic imbalance can be brought on by fad dieting. Serotonin is manufactured in response to the dietary intake of an amino acid called tryptophan.
The brain levels of serotonin also rise when carbohydrate rich foods are consumed, because these foods have low levels of amino acids that compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain. Some research shows that high-protein fad diets lower brain serotonin and this results in carbohydrate cravings in some people.
Other research indicates that compulsive behaviours result when brain chemicals are changed, as in the case of smokers. Ex-smokers who try to solve nicotine withdrawal by eating more, usually choose sweet foods. Some evidence shows that a high-carbohydrate, high-tryptophan (protein)diet can help ex-smokers stay off cigarettes and refrain from bingeing on sweets.
A wide range of specific food cravings can result when a person’s body is actually seeking a nutrient.
Elderly people who have reduced taste acuity will add salt or sugar to their food. A pregnant woman can become hooked on lemon delicious dessert as the body seeks an acid food or a protein food.
Where there is a craving for a particular beverage such as cola drinks, coffee or tea this is a form of mild addiction.
These beverages contain caffeine and this lingers in the system for three to four hours after drinking.
The levels then fall and a person can feel energy levels dropping along with feelings of uneasiness and possibly mild depression so more of the beverage is drunk and the cycle continues ie: forming a habit.
When caffeine beverages are eliminated from the daily intake symptoms of tightness in the neck, headache, nervousness and mild depression is experienced for a few days. Many food cravings are just habits.
What to Do About Food Cravings
- If you feel a food craving is interfering with your healthy lifestyle:
- Find an alternative away from the kitchen such as going for a walk.
- Substitute a lower-fat food or beverage such as popcorn or mineral water.
- Simply stop eating the food and the craving will subside in a week.
- Face the reality as to why you crave a particular food and go all out to change. This may mean travelling to work using a different route to bypass a coffee bar.
- Brush your teeth after eating to signal the brain that eating has ceased.