In special guest blog post, nutrition expert Dr Carina Norris explains the science behind those, ‘God I need a curry’ moments…
Why do you crave pizza, but never broccoli? Why do you sometimes yearn for fish and chips, while at other times only a curry will do? Scientists can’t agree what’s behind cravings.
Is it psychological – our brains learn to associate certain foods with feeling good, so we crave them when we need a bit of a lift?
Or is it biochemical – our bodies cry out for certain nutrients it needs right now? Most likely, it’s both.
People are hardwired to crave foods packed with calories. In caveman times, this made sense – the guys and girls who guzzled the most fattening food were less likely to starve when times got hard. But now our pre-programming is a disadvantage. Surrounded by rich curries, chips and ice cream, we give in to our cravings far easier than we used to.
When the body needs takeaway
Research shows that low blood sugar levels make us crave calorie-packed, high-fat and sugary food. So, if you don’t want to pile on the pounds, keep your blood sugar nice and stable with slow release, so-called ‘low glycaemic index/low-GI’ foods. Think wholemeal bread and other wholemeal carbohydrates, lean protein (such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and low-fat dairy), beans and lentils. And plenty of fruit and veg.
Another reason why we crave the foods you’re likely to find on most British takeaway menus is simply because they taste nice! Many of the flavoursome compounds in foods are carried within the fats.
Now then, here’s the psychology: We also programme ourselves to want certain foods in certain situations. Say you feel low after a tough day, so you treat yourself to some chocolate or a tub of ice cream. You eat it. It’s nice. You feel better. Next time you have a hard time, you’re likely to grab for those indulgent treats to get the same release.
Nice food = nice memories
Environment and associations are important too. If an enjoyable evening in the pub is always followed by a curry, then every time you have a beer you’ll probably hanker for a tikka masala. And if family holidays always meant fish and chip suppers, the first place you’ll head whenever you’re at the seaside is the chippy.
So, it’s complicated, and cravings are hard to resist. But in the long run, it doesn’t hurt to indulge in moderation. Next time you find yourself ‘needing’ a pizza, remember there’s probably a very scientific reason for it.
Dr Carina Norris RNutr (Public Health)