People with food cravings want calories, not carbohydrates, says a news study from the US that may have implications for obesity.
The results could contribute to a deeper understanding of how people develop food and taste preferences and cravings. This may have important implications for the food industry, not just for food formulators and flavour scientists, but also with the growing epidemic of obesity.
With many critics keen to take the blame off a consumer's personal responsibility and heap it purely at the feet of the food industry this research highlights just how multi-faceted and complicated the obesity issue may actually be.
Over 300m adults are obese worldwide, according to latest statistics from the WHO and the International Obesity Task Force. About one-quarter of the US adult population is said to be obese, with rates in Western Europe on the rise although not yet at similar levels.
"The findings [of this study] suggest that cravings are for calories, not carbohydrate, as is widely assumed. What is commonly called carbohydrate addiction should probably be relabeled as calorie addiction," said corresponding author Susan Roberts from Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University.
"The craved foods do have carbohydrate, but they also have fat, and some protein, too. The most identifiable thing about the foods people crave is that they are highly dense in calories," she added.
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, states that food cravings are normal, with 91 per cent of study participants reporting having food cravings. Dieting also seemed to increase cravings.
"In fact, 94 per cent of the study participants reported cravings after six months of dieting," said Roberts. "However, participants who lost a greater percentage of body weight gave in to their cravings less frequently. Allowing yourself to have the foods you crave, but doing so less frequently may be one of the most important keys to successful weight control."
The study, which was part of the one-year Comprehensive Assessment of the Long-term Effects of Restricting Intake of Energy (CALERIE) trial, involved 32 overweight but otherwise healthy women, 20 to 42 years of age, who were randomly assigned to two diets that differed in glycemic load.
Participants completed food craving questionnaires assessing the type of foods craved, the frequency and strength of cravings, and how often cravings led to eating the desired food.
"This is the first study of long-term changes in food cravings in a calorie-restriction program," said Roberts. "If individuals understand that they can expect cravings and that those cravings will be for calorie-dense foods, it might help in their weight management. One thing to do is to substitute foods that taste similar but have fewer calories, since the craving can be satisfied by related tastes."
The work was financed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the National Institutes of Health and the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center.
Source: International Journal of Obesity
Published on-line ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803672
"Food cravings and energy regulation: the characteristics of craved foods and their relationship with eating behaviors and weight change during 6 months of dietary energy restriction."
Authors: C.H. Gilhooly, S.K. Das, J.K. Golden, M.A. McCrory, G.E. Dallal, E. Saltzman, F.M. Kramer, S.B. Roberts