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Good Question: What Causes Cravings?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – You can almost taste that hamburger, or that bowl-full of potato chips. Maybe it’s that gooey, chocolate chip cookie. Food cravings are a normal part of life. But why do we have cravings?

It’s not just psychological, it’s physiological. Our brains are wired in a way that encourages us to seek out pleasure.

According to the Wall Street Journal” “Food cravings activate the same reward circuits in the brain as cravings for drugs or alcohol.”

A survey put chocolate, pizza, salty snacks and ice cream as the top cravings in North America.

Women’s Health magazine reported on the theory that various types of food cravings are the body’s warning that we’re lacking in something. For example, if you crave salty foods, you might have a problem with your adrenal glands. If you crave steak, you need iron. You crave chocolate because you’re deficient in magnesium.

But now researchers think that theory has several flaws: people in other countries don’t crave the same foods, which indicates a cultural aspect to cravings inconsistent with a simple body nutrient deficiency explanation.

Also, it would be much easier to get iron and magnesium from vegetables and fruits, yet most people don’t report craving those things.

Brain scans do show that people in the midst of a craving are activating their brain’s pleasure center. Dopamine is released. And the body wants to keep it coming. Of course, the more you eat, the more your body wants, and it’s a cycle that’s hard to stop.

Some nutritionists think you shouldn’t deprive yourself. Taking a small square of chocolate is better than just waiting and letting your craving explode.

If you want to skip the snack, try drinking water or taking a whiff of a spice like jasmine. That stimulates the same parts of the brain.

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