Food Cravings: Starting to Unveil the Mystery
Food cravings have always fascinated me. Maybe that’s because I’ve spent several decades trying to sort out my own food cravings. Why do some people find the temptation of chocolate impossible to resist, while others crave salty food like chips and popcorn? Why do some people seem to fall easy prey to a food craving while others state they don’t think they’ve every experienced one? Do food cravings change over time? Although there are still more questions than answers, recent research sheds some light on the subject.
Marcia Levin Pelchat from the Monell Chemical Senses Center recently highlighted findings from her research on food cravings at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conference in Orlando, Florida. Pechat believes the science of food cravings must be investigated to solve at least one piece of the obesity puzzle.
Pelchat believes the failure of many diet plans designed to help people permanently lose weight can be linked to food cravings. She has talked to many dieters who say something like, “I was doing great, but then I went to the office party, saw the chocolates, and just fell apart.”
There is an important distinction between a food craving and hunger. A craving is defined as an intense desire to eat a particular food. The specificity to a food is important because that is what distinguishes a craving from hunger.
Research on food cravings has revealed that gender plays a role in determining what types of food are craved. For young women, 60 percent of the foods are sweet and 40 percent are savory. For older men, the numbers are reversed.
Studies completed by Pelchat and her colleagues found that food deprivation was not necessary for cravings to occur. Study participants experienced cravings by simply imagining a food they liked. She believes the structure of the brain tied to food cravings is linked to memory (a particular food brought me pleasure in the past and will likely bring me pleasure again).
The research found a similar pattern in the brain between drug addiction and food cravings. Other research has found similar findings, but all note a much weaker form of “addiction” to food when compared with drugs. However, food is necessary for life and cannot simply be avoided, which is often the treatment of choice for alcohol and drug addictions.
The findings of this
research give merit to a new direction for obesity research. Many studies on
controlling obesity focus on controlling hunger. In contrast, research on
treating drug addiction focuses more on controlling impulses and cravings.
Given the parallel findings between drug addiction and food cravings,
Pelchat believes future obesity research could pursue the concept of
Source: IFT: Food Cravings Could be Key to Obesity, Food Navigator, June 29, 2006, accessed on June 29, 2006 at www.foodnavigator.com
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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