We all have cravings. You know, that feeling when you just really want to eat a fudge sundae and are sitting in the back of your anthropology class wondering when it will be over so you can make a dash for the dining hall and fulfill your wonderful chocolatey dreams?
Oh wait, maybe that’s just me.
So why do we crave certain foods?
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t crave foods because we’re lacking the nutrients found in those foods. So no, pregnant women do not crave sweets because the baby is taking up all of their energy. The human body is much more complex than that.
Food cravings are caused by a combination of psychological, cultural, and sociological factors stimulated by environmental cues. When we are sad, stressed, or anxious, our body releases neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which help us deal with physical or emotional pain.
Endorphins are an example of a “feel-good” neurotransmitter, which basically means it causes us to crave foods that will make us happier. Alterations in our endorphin levels increase our food intake, which increase our cravings, which make us “feel good.” Got it?
I’m sure you’ve had a friend who went through a terrible break up and wanted a large bowl of ice cream to feel better. Why do you think that is? It is because they felt emotional, which caused their body to release endorphins and crave certain foods. This is why many people say the key to curing a broken heart is ice cream; it satisfies our cravings and makes us happier.
Studies have shown that sugar has an “opiate-like” effect on our brain, which satisfies our emotional needs, and helps us calm down in times of stress or anxiety.
I’m sure you’re wondering why we tend to crave unhealthy foods instead of things like spinach, broccoli, or other greens. The answer to this is simple: serotonin. Our body seeks serotonin to help balance our brain chemistry that gets messed up because of things like stress and anxiety.
Refined carbohydrates, such as cookies, chips, and other sweets, give us a short-term surge in serotonin which is why when we crave foods we don’t usually want or other type of vegetables.
Low levels of serotonin result in depression and anxiety, and foods high in carbs help level out our imbalanced brain chemistry and bring short-term relief.
So although there may be no scientific evidence explaining food cravings, we know emotions play a huge role.
The next time you see someone shoving a forkful of apple pie down their throats, remember that it’s not because of a shortage of nutrients in their system, but because the hormones in their body are going crazy.