Why do we have food cravings?

Our brains are complicated… but our needs are simple. We respond to fatty, sugary, salty foods with immediate, short-term feelings of pleasure, and this can present itself as cravings for unhealthy foods. Unfortunately this can have a serious impact on our health.
A food craving usually means a desire for food which is unrelated to any nutritional need or hunger. Food cravings are more tied in with habits, pleasure and emotions, than with nourishment. We don’t crave vitamin tablets… we crave donuts! 

Several studies in 2022 on mice have produced interesting results. A study from Columbia University discovered that craving fatty food is not just about taste; it appears that the gut can ‘tell’ the brain what the body wants or needs. Another study from the University of Pittsburgh found that microbes in the gut of animals may affect their food choices by making substances that create cravings. 

These findings suggest that although we can influence our thoughts about food, we have less control over how our gut guides cravings. It’s uncertain how this will help fight obesity, but gaining insights into the reasons behind cravings may lead to advances in weight management and disease prevention. The gut-brain connection is complex and further research is needed. 

Until we have those answers, there are some practical ways food cravings can be controlled:

  • Distraction – if you occupy your mind with another task or purpose, your desire to snack can reduce.
  • Find alternatives – there may be more healthy options that satisfy your cravings – a piece of fruit or yoghurt. Preparing and planning for healthy snacks in advance can help.
  • Stay hydrated – sometimes your food cravings might actually be masking thirst, so simply having a glass of water can reduce overeating.
  • Mindfulness – taking the time to consider whether you’re actually hungry, whether it’s a habit (like a cake with coffee), emotional, or other reasons for choosing unhealthy food.

To learn more about food cravings or to speak to someone about nutrition advice click on the links below.

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Why do we have food cravings?