So, I am not sure what really happened but somehow I have lost an entire version of my draft post which I had written earlier :( Anyways, I did try my best to recreate the post. It is of course not the first version but I hope it helps you!!

“If cravings were an indicator of nutritional deficiency, we’d all crave fruits and vegetables,” says Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN. “The fact that we all want high carb, high fat comfort foods, along with the research, is a pretty good indicator that cravings aren’t related to deficiencies. (Source)”

As I said in the title, the post is going to be all about cravings and why exactly do we get them? What is the science behind cravings? Are they the need of our body or our mind?

This entire journey of finding out what exactly are cravings was the result of my own tendency to crave sweets a few months back. I just wanted to eat sweets all the time. I either craved for ice creams at the middle of the night or the cakes and sweetmeats during the day after every meal.

And, curiously, I have never been a lover of sweets. I have a salt tooth not a sweet one. I, in fact, mix my sweets with snacks so as to balance out my palate. And, that made me concerned if I was getting diabetes or any other undesirable condition which was why I was constantly craving sweets.

I had a talk with my doctor as well at the time when I was getting treated for my acute deficiency of folic acid. He completely denied the assertion that cravings have anything to do with diabetes or pre-diabetes for that matter. Yes, there is something called pre-diabetes as well. Even I came to know of it recently.

Anyways, getting back to the topic, turns out that it is quite normal to crave any food which stabilises you emotionally. Hunger and emotions play a huge role in onset of cravings but there is a lot more involved in it. So, let us see what all can be the reason why you might crave various things at various times of the day.

Interestingly, I have to say that Mike also posted on the same topic a few days back! So, please go and have a look at the post on Nutrition Secrets. I do hope there is no plagiarizing comment made on me!!

science behind cravings

Are you pregnant?

If yes, it is quite prevalently known that pregnant women have the craziest cravings ever! So, moving on.

science behind cravings

Hormonal changes and Mensuration

Valid mostly for females, hormones can play quite a role when it comes to moods and likes of a female. And, of course the PMS days and the periodstime are equally the same.

Hormonal changes also take place in males but they are quite limited as compared to females so I am not sure how much cravings do they get because of their hormones.

science behind cravings

Dehydration

Now, let me come to a simpler reason why you would get hunger pangs and times. I had long back shared that your hunger could only be the sign that your body needs water, including those times when you need late night snack. So, next time you think you feel hungry or you can taste some mouth watering snack in your brain, try having a glass of water.

science behind cravings

Eating Habits

“Eating a diet too rich in sugar (yin) may cause a craving for meat (yang). Eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for extremely cooked (dehydrated) foods and vice versa. (Source)”

Another reason why we crave food is said to be our eating habits. If we are consistently eating carbohydrate and fat rich food, our body recognises that as the sole nutritional source. It is said that our body craves only those things which we eat on a continuous basis, hence the need for carbohydrate rich food.

And, if we suddenly change our diet, it is not able to adjust to the change. This can be one of the reason why people are not able to stick to healthy diets.

Where as this point is not valid in a person who eats a well-balanced meal on a consistent basis. Also, I think a well-balanced diet also keeps a person full longer and such people do not crave for foods usually.

science behind cravings

Nutritional Deficiency

This is another reason which is touted to be the most valid for any sort of a craving. Some claim that cravings are a way your body tells it is deficient in some or the other nutrient. Now, whether this theory is true’ or not is really not proven. Some accept it and few others reject it.

“Certain foods, like sugar, stimulate the reward center of your brain in much the same way drugs such as cocaine and heroin do. These foods cause your body to release endorphins, which are your “feel good” hormones, every time you eat them. (Source)”

Craving of sugar means your blood sugar levels are low, craving salty foods means you are stressed or your sodium regulation levels are haywire, craving chocolate means you are running low on magnesium, cravingcheese or other fatty items might mean you are lacking essential fatty acids in the body. This really sounds improbable actually but then who knows?

Also, there is another type of craving – the one for non-food items like clay, paste, chalk and other things. It is proven that craving for such items means a person is deficient in iron or calcium. And, such cravings are mostly prevalent in kids whose nutritional needs are not being met properly.

Btw, when you are low on energy, have a sweet can immediately perk you up. Now, that is not craving really.

science behind cravings

Emotional Health

This is according to me one of the major factors which plays a role in how human needs his food. Binge eating when you are stressed or sad is quite common in most people. Similarly, a stressful period in your life, unhappy relationships, mental trauma, all can make you crave for comfort foods. This point is actually highly related to the psychology which is the next thing I am going to discuss.

Psychology

So, why do we crave foods? Most of the scientist seem to believe that we crave foods because of how we feel. So, at the time we crave food, our psychological need is more important than a physiological need.

Brain power is focussed on imagining the food. The mental image is very vivid and it triggers cravings. Distraction at that time works best to control the craving.

But that doesn’t mean that cravings aren’t real — and don’t have a true, physiological origin. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have been able to determine that brain regions associated with memory, emotion and — big surprise! — stress light up when a person is having an intense food craving. And that brain response, in combination with a visual cue, another study found, increases the level of the “hunger hormone,” leptin. “That’s why many commonly craved foods like mac and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches or cookies — are childhood foods. They are associated with happy memories, with a feeling of being soothed,” What’s more, there’s a feedback loop of positive re-enforcement. Foods that are high in fat and sugar assist in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed. (Source)

science behind cravings

Physiological Reasons

Sometimes cravings are due to physical needs. For example, if you have worked out a lot or been outside and sweated a lot, your sodium levels become low due to excess of sweating. At this time, you might crave salty foods.

Stress

Well, stress can do a lot of things to your body. One of it is that it produces cortisol which in turn affects the adrenal glands which regulate the sodium levels in the body. Since the production of adrenalin is not proper, you might crave salty foods when you are stressed out due to irregular ex sodium levels in the body.

This is just a small research I have done on why we have cravings. If I do find more arguments about cravings, I shall definitely make sure to get back to you with that knowledge!

So, why do you think you get cravings? Has it ever happened to you that you have just craved for water or indulged in emotional eating? Or, have you noticed a pattern in your cravings? Do share your opinions in the comments below!

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