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WSJ: "How to Fend Off a Food Craving"

From the WSJ: "New Research Challenges the 'Body Knows What It Needs' Theory; Where Men Differ From Women"

Money quote from the article:

For decades, researchers surmised that food cravings were the body's subconscious effort to correct nutritional deficiencies. Longing for steak could indicate a need for protein or iron, according to this theory. Chocoholics might be low on magnesium or other mood-altering chemicals that chocolate contains, including phenylethylamine, a compound humans produce when they're in love.

But a growing body of research casts doubt on the nutritional-deficiency notion. After all, few people crave vitamin-rich green leafy vegetables and many other foods contain more phenylalanine than chocolate—including salami and cheddar cheese.

Instead, studies show that food cravings involve a complex mix of social, cultural and psychological factors, heavily influenced by environmental cues. While chocolate is consistently the most-craved food in North America, Japanese women are more likely to crave sushi, a recent study found. And only 1% of young Egyptian men and 6% of young Egyptian women reported craving chocolate, according to a 2003 survey. "Many other languages don't have a word for 'craving.' The concept seems to be uniquely important in American culture," says psychologist Julia Hormes at the University at Albany.

Graphic below of survey results (albeit a dated one and one from our Northern neighbors).

Read it all here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000...

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  1. I never bought into that theory or we'd have have cravings. I've never heard anyone say they have cravings for healthful foods, as the article says. It was all an excuse to eat what you wanted...I crave Cheetos so there must be some nutrient in it that I need?

    5 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      I believe I have Filet-O-Fish Vitamin deficiency. Also, known as "FOFV".

      1. re: ipsedixit

        They're provide plenty of, um... tartar sauce which contains a lot of saturated fats. Americans have a serious deficiency of saturated fats, IIRC, which would also account for my Cheetos craving.

        1. re: chowser

          I think the Cheetos craving is a deficiency in bright orange food coloring. It's quite common from what I understand.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            It could indicate a deficiency in "fluorescence," particularly of the orange variety.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          ...it has been a very long time since i had a McDonald's FOF; however, at one time, they were my go-to therapy...i crave them now...unhealthy tartar sauce & all...but, alas, my diet has been vegetarian + cold-water fish [salmon, sardines, tuna, etc] for quite a few years...

      2. I have cravings for really nice romaine lettuce, especially a wonderful Caesar salad, but i love escarole, butter lettuce, frisee, arugula, spinach, et cetera. I have cravings for a lot of crappy stuff, too, but i'm trying to be righteous here. :-)

        1 Reply
        1. re: EWSflash

          ...i have developed a craving for the Caesar Salad @ Homegrown on Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville, NC [$5 for large size]...i often get "lentafal' on top for $3 extra...

        2. I crave brussel sprouts. No joke. Craving some right now. Roasted with salt and pepper and some lemon juice...

          1. Sugar, and specifically the fructose component, is a big part of the problem of craving more than the body needs. See Dr. Lustig's lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth.

            1. Weird. I frequently crave vegetables (spinach, crunchy lettuce, carrots; this past week it's been eggplant) and fruit (watermelon seems to be most common, but also have craved other melons like honeydew, as well as pears or apples). I also crave the crappy stuff, but I'd say it's actually 50-50 for me. Just as likely to crave the "good" stuff.

              ETA: So by "weird" I mean the article's assumption that few people crave vegetables.

              9 Replies
              1. re: charmedgirl

                They say that few do, not that none do. I've read supermodels talk about how much they crave lettuce and hate cake. But, that's the exception, not the rule. ;-) And, seeing some models, I'd think they might have a bigger need for the cake.

                1. re: chowser

                  Right. I even quoted in my post that the article said "few." Still think it's weird. Rather than being the minority, I think it is more likely that more people do than the authors realize.

                  1. re: charmedgirl

                    This thread is the first I've heard people say they crave vegetables, honestly. I don't think it's common or we wouldn't have as much of an obesity problem as we do.

                    1. re: chowser

                      I regularly have broccoli cravings (no joke). It's weird, too, because I also eat broccoli regularly.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Steamed? Or is it a special prep? I will have odd cravings, like right now I have a craving for white pepperidge farm bread w/ butter and grape jelly but can't think of a healthy craving I've ever had. Oh, maybe carbonated water.

                        1. re: chowser

                          I tend to crave what I eat a lot of. Back in my college days I had daily cravings for chocolate. Since then I've learned if I stay away from it, the cravings cease. These days my diet's generally healthful and I do tend to crave stuff like vegs, salmon & salads.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Steamed. With Deli Style Mustard. Weird, eh?

                            And I often get a hankering for kimchi (actually all sorts of panchan), pickled daikon, and kosher pickles.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Pickled daikon--me, too. Maybe I do have a thing for bright food dye.

                        2. re: chowser

                          I have definitely read other threads on this very site where posters have admitted to craving vegetables. Hence one of the reasons it never struck me that I was odd. Oh well. Since I have no empirical data, and neither do you, I am content to leave it at that. :-)

                  2. " "Many other languages don't have a word for 'craving.' The concept seems to be uniquely important in American culture," says psychologist Julia Hormes at the University at Albany. "

                    I find that that last part interesting! I am in South Korea now and am always stumped when I want say, "I was craving [ ]" in Korean. There is no word as far as I know. The words i do see in a Kor/Eng dictionary mean more like "desire" and I've been told it sounds awkward in a food craving context. I'll have to rephrase my sentence to "all of a sudden, i really wanted to eat such and such." So much behind the scenes work to say, i was craving pizza.

                    1. Hmm. I remember having major cravings for milk and ice cream after having surgery for a broken hip when I was 13 - over forty years ago. Only time I've ever felt that way, and it went away after a few weeks. Had pneumonia on top of the injury and lost about 12 pounds before my appetite came back, but I'm sure I needed the calcium.

                      1. 1. about twice/year i crave high-end frozen yoghurt [Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia is amazing; but, i haven't been able to find it since i moved from NJ to the Bible Belt] or sorbet...preferably an unusual fruit...or some related not-too-fattening choice...e.g. Gelato...my all-time favorites are coconut or green tea ice cream, but too fattening...if you live near a Spanish mercado look for coconut popsicles...to die for...
                        2. on a more regular basis [ at night] i crave tofu hot dogs [2 of them] drowned in great dijon + bread & butter pickles...i really like this combination with chopped white onions...but not at night...

                        1. As cravings go, I just read an article on hyperpalatables in a personal training magazine. It talks about our cravings for salt, sugar and fat. Which explains why most cravings are junk food and not vegetables. In the article I read, it compared the responses of rats who crave hyperpalatables to those that craved drugs. I can't find the article online yet (it will appear in a few weeks) but this is along the lines.