Do we crave food because we need it or because we have restricted ourselves from eating it?
Food cravings are very common.
A study of more than 1000 people revealed 97 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men experienced cravings. Most people had food cravings later in the day and craved food two to four times a week.
It has long been believed that food cravings were down to the body’s effort to make up for nutritional deficiencies or food restrictions. A craving for meat might indicate the body’s need for iron or protein. A craving for chocolate may indicate people lack phenylethylamine, a chemical associated with love.
Deficiencies in vitamins may result in food cravings – sailors whose severe deficiency of vitamin C led to scurvy craved fruit.
But in general there is no real evidence to link our common food cravings with nutritional deficiencies and restriction of certain types of foods appears to decrease cravings rather than increase them.
If the nutritional deficiency theory were to be true, this does not explain why some foods that are richer in nutrients lead to generally less cravings than other foods.
Instead food cravings are believed to come from a mix of social, cultural and psychological factors.
In North America, chocolate is the most-craved food, Japanese women are more likely to crave rice and sushi, reflecting the influence of traditional food products and culture.
There is also emerging evidence suggesting the bacteria in our guts influence our food cravings.
So how to change?
Cognitive techniques such as mindfulness can help, as can keeping away from your favourite craving.
Defusion interventions work to resist food cravings by creating a sense of distance from them rather than trying to eradicate and replace them.