Every Sunday afternoon, there is a certain dread that comes over our house. The dreaded “What do you want for dinner this week” conversation. I’d rather swallow a bowling ball for dinner instead of interrupting my precious weekend time thinking of meal planning, healthy choices, and assuring that both the humans and pups have proper nutrients to keep us running for the week. (I know the dogs are spoiled).  

Despite taking time out of our day to create healthy menus that will keep us healthy and more importantly, satisfied, why do we continue to be tempted when going through the ice cream aisle, or the snack aisle at the grocery store? Luckily for you, I did a little investigating!

Described as an intense desire to eat a specific type of food, cravings tend to lean toward energy dense foods. This differs from hunger, as hunger is the feeling you experience in the absence of fullness. This is easily remedied by eating any kind of food. Contrary to this, cravings are normally satisfied after consuming a spec

Interestingly enough, cravings are complex with physiological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components.  Physiologically, the body must prepare to accept food, or ingest. It activates physical responses such as increase of salivary flow and activates the brain’s reward centers. Regarding cognition and emotion, the brain will identify a specific food item or decide flavor palettes that can sometimes be based on changes in mood. Behaviorally, we can train ourselves to seek or consume certain items at specific times.

Recently, due to poor evidence, experts have been doubting the theory that we crave things when we are nutrient deficient. Studies have been carried out to monitor subjects who consumed nutritionally balanced diets and noted that they do, indeed, continue to have cravings. This was reported in studies of premenstrual women, as women who are in menopause experience this as well, indicating this  isn’t exactly a hormonal issue. 

Prominent models are still based on Pavlovian conditioning. In this model, a cue that has nothing to do with food, such as the sound of a bell, is presented simultaneously with food consumption. Eating that food then lights up the brain’s “reward center,” which results in the delivery of “happy hormones” to the body. For a conditioned response, salivation and craving will occur when the bell is presented again, even without food. So, for example, when people eat popcorn while watching a movie, the movie then acts as the bell and will create the craving for that popcorn. And these types of links may occur with things as simple as the time of day, an emotion, or an activity, such as craving wine when your fiancé edits your blog posts.

Furthermore, weight loss studies show that people with long term caloric restrictions tend to show a decrease in food cravings. Suggesting that long term avoidance is a good way to break pavlovian conditioning. However, I know how difficult this can be. I also know that making the healthiest option is usually not as exciting as fats, acids, salt, and sugar. All of which the body does not do well with over indulgence. Due to this, I found a new, and deep, appreciation for spices.

It is easy to (literally) spice up most dishes by adding an additional layer of flavor with simple spices in your pantry. Onion powder, garlic, tumeric, pepper flakes, curry, cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg are consistently on our kitchen counter. So, next time you’re having a craving get creative! Sprinkle some paprika on kale and throw it in the oven! Douse some chickpeas with cinnamon and honey and impress your family! Whatever you choose to do, have fun with it!


Link to article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32578025/

Written by: Maritza Correa LPTA

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