Food Science: Why Do We Experience Cravings?
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With time, our bodies have evolved to seek out certain foods that provide essential nutrients and energy. For example, the craving for sweet or fatty foods may have helped our ancestors find calorie-dense foods, which were crucial for survival in times of scarcity. However, in contemporary times, maintaining a diet that consists of low-calorie, high-fibre foods has proven to be a healthier way of living. Although it is important to incorporate age-old culinary traditions into our lifestyles, adapting to the changing ways of how we live is crucial. Hence, swerving or giving into cravings depends mostly on identifying the cause behind them and developing a sense of understanding of what works for our bodies.

Hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, that play a role in regulating appetite and hunger, can lead to cravings. Ghrelin, also known as the ‘hunger hormone’, increases appetite, while leptin, known as the ‘satiety hormone’, decreases appetite. Any type of imbalance that occurs in these hormones, along with the brain's reward system – particularly the release of dopamine, is involved in the experience of cravings. Certain foods or activities can trigger the release of dopamine, leading to pleasurable feelings and reinforcing the desire to repeat the behaviour.

Additionally, factors like stress, anxiety, boredom, and other emotions can lead to cravings as people may use food as a way to cope with or soothe their feelings. Emotional eating or eating simply because one has easier access to specific types of foods also play a role in increasing these urges. Moreover, over-exposing oneself to advertisements, social situations, and consuming media can influence our cravings.

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Sometimes, our bodies may crave certain foods because they are lacking in specific nutrients. A craving for red meat might most likely indicate a need for iron. Regular consumption of certain foods or engaging in certain activities can create habitual cravings. To put it shortly, the more we consume or engage in something, the more our bodies and minds may come to expect it. This is especially true when it comes to satiating cravings for sugar or refined food products. Psychologically speaking, pairing certain foods or activities with positive experiences can lead to conditioned responses, where we associate those things with pleasure, leading to cravings.

Hence, it's important to note that while occasional cravings are normal, excessive or uncontrollable cravings may be a sign of an underlying issue, such as an eating disorder or a hormonal imbalance.