8 Things You Definitely Never Knew About Your Food CravingsShare-worthy facts about that must-put-it-in-my-mouth-now-or-else feeling.
Some of us raid the drive-thru once a month, while others keep desk drawers stocked with candy 24/7. We all crave something, but what’s really in charge of those hankerings? Science reveals eight little-known truths about cravings—including how you can crush yours.
1. Nutritional Deficiencies Don't Cause Most Cravings
Experts used to suspect that if you craved a burger, you were low in iron, and if you craved chocolate, your body needed magnesium. But if the root of all cravings was nutritional needs, we'd all be jonesing for kale, says nutritionist Jaime Mass, R.D. Instead, recent research suggests that most cravings have more to do with your brain than your body.
As it turns out, sugar and fatty processed foods trigger the same areas of the brain as drugs do. And that causes a release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which means our brain wants us to keep going back for more, says Mass. That's why we crave the foods that got us high in the first place.
2. But an Iron Deficiency Can Make You Want to Eat Ice, Clay, and Paper
Pica, a disorder that causes people to crave non-food items, such as paper, clay, metal, chalk, soil, glass, laundry detergent, or sand, can be triggered by severe iron and mineral deficiencies, says Mass. This actually happens to some pregnant women, since their bodies need more iron while they're making a baby, she says.
Luckily, once a person's levels of iron and other minerals are restored, their cravings can subside, says Mass.
3. Needing Chocolate Isn't a Thing in Other Countries
Cultural and social factors, like those Dove chocolate commercials that leave you drooling, may also play a role in what you crave, says Mass. While chocolate is by and large the most craved food in North America, Japanese women crave sushi way more than they feel the need to get their chocolate fix, according to a 2008 American University study. And only six percent of young Egyptian women crave the good stuff, according to a survey published in the journal Appetite. It's official, we've been brainwashed.
4. Sugar Trumps Fat
While both of these light up the brain's pleasure centers, you're more likely to crave doughnuts than bacon, according to a 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For the study, researchers tracked brain activity in more than 100 high school students as they drank chocolate milkshakes that were either high in sugar or high in fat and contained the same number of calories. They found that the sugar-laden beverages were more effective at activating areas of the brain linked with compulsive eating than the fattier shakes.
5. Bad Sleep Can Make You Eat Your Crave-Worthy Foods
If you tossed and turned last night, you'll want to get your hands on all of the foods today. When you're tired, you're more likely to crave carbohydrates and sugar to pick yourself up, says Mass. Plus, you might feel hungrier in general because your levels of the hunger-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, she says. In fact, in one 2012 Mayo Clinic study, people who slept 80 minutes less than they usually did, wound up eating an extra 550 calories the next day.
6. A Crazy PMS Appetite Can Be a Sign of Trouble
Though you know your hormones are the reason you want to down salt and vinegar chips or Hershey bars in the days before your period strikes, a 2011 University of Pennsylvania study found that women who reported the most PMS-related hankerings were more likely to suffer from body-image issues, like eating disorders and guilt, after downing their need-to-eat-now foods. The study authors hypothesize that the women who seriously restrict their calories experience major cravings around the time of their periods because their bodies are trying to compensate for not eating enough. Consider this another reason why you shouldn't hold back from treating yourself.
7. Supermarkets Are Plotting Against You
To you, grabbing that candy bar in line at the checkout might seem like you're indulging in a spontaneous mood for chocolate, but it's not that simple. "Manufacturers pay what are called "slotting fees" to grocery stores so that their products are placed in areas where you're most likely to see them, like the checkout and any eye-level shelves," says Collin R. Payne, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing at New Mexico State University. The more you know.
8. No One Knows Why Pregnant Ladies Love Pickles and Ice Cream
Although there's definitely a connection between pregnancy and cravings, there doesn't seem to be a reason why pregnant women want to get their hands on specific foods, says Mass. Some studies suggest that preggo ladies want the same things they did before getting knocked up, the only difference is that those hankerings are amplified once they're with child, she says. Other studies show that hunger hormones may change when women have a baby on board, which can make you hungrier, but that still doesn't explain particular cravings.