||This article needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (February 2015)|
A food craving (also called selective hunger) is an intense desire to consume a specific food, and is different from normal hunger. It may or may not be related to specific hunger, the drive to consume particular nutrients that is well-studied in animals. In studies of food cravings, chocolate and chocolate confectioneries almost always top the list of foods people say they crave; this craving is referred to as chocoholism. The craving of non-food items as food is called pica.
There is no single explanation for food cravings, and explanations range from low serotonin levels affecting the brain centers for appetite to production of endorphins as a result of consuming fats and carbohydrates. Foods with high levels of sugar glucose, such as chocolate, are more frequently craved than foods with lower sugar glucose, such as broccoli, because when glucose interacts with the opioid receptor system in the brain an addictive  triggering effect occurs. The consumer of the glucose feels the urge to consume more glucose, much like an alcoholic, because the brain has become conditioned to release "happy hormones" every time glucose is present. There is evidence that addiction and food craving activate some of the same brain areas. Specifically, when smokers look at pictures of people smoking it activates the same areas of the brain as when obese people look at pictures of food.
The cravings for certain types of food are linked to their ingredients. Chocolate for example, contains the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, which is important for the regulation of the body’s release of endorphins. Endorphins are released following a stressor and result in a sense of relaxation. Exercise and sleep are two alternative ways to help facilitate the release of endorphins.
Chocolate also contains large quantities of iron, which can be depleted during the menstrual cycle. Another common craving is salt. Craving salt may be partly due to being dehydrated. When dehydrated the body loses water, electrolytes, and salt, and by ingesting salt, water retention can be increased. Craving salt can also be a sign of diabetes, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia.
Carbohydrates, or particularly sugars, are yet another common craving. These cravings occur often in the middle of the afternoon when energy is at its lowest.
Theories claim that many of the cravings women sometimes have for strange foods during pregnancy can be attributed to important nutrients that are required during that specific period. One of the treatments for morning sickness consists of accommodating food cravings and aversions.
Depending from the historical period and the culture there are different traditions regarding pregnancy cravings. Some examples are:
- During pregnancy Hmong women would follow their food cravings to guarantee that their child would not be born with a deformity.
- In Malta pregnant women are encouraged to satisfy their cravings for specific foods, out of fear that their unborn child will bear a representational birthmark (Maltese: xewqa, literally "desire" or "craving").
- In the Babylonian Talmud, Chapter 82a of Tractate Yoma mentions pregnancy cravings for non-kosher food (the passage discusses a pregnant woman who craves pork on Yom Kippur) as the paradigmatic example of a presumed life-threatening situation where a person is allowed to eat non-kosher food (and is permitted to eat it on Yom Kippur).
- In the Philippines, it is believed that traits of a food that a pregnant woman craves and consumes is imparted to the child. This also extends to objects or people that a woman would find pleasurable to see during her pregnancy.
- In Thailand a woman who starts craving sour foods after her period has stopped is deemed to be pregnant.
- In the United States, pregnant women begin craving sweets and baked goods. This craving has spawned a popular subscription box with pregnant women for baked goods.
Chocolate is seen as a sweet that is desired more by woman than by men. Studies conducted in the UK, USA and Canada have concluded that women indeed crave chocolate more than men. Also this chocolate craving seems to occur more perimenstrual. However a biological explanation has not been scientifically proven. It seems to have a cultural cause instead of a biological cause. Spanish women experience perimenstrual chocolate craving far less than American women (24% versus 60%) although they should not differ much physiologically. Spanish females crave chocolate more after dinner. The times males crave chocolate also differs between both cultures but was the same as the craving for chocolate of females in their culture (except perimenstrual). Such a bias is well-represented in advertising; most chocolate adverts tend to be aimed towards women rather than men, with noticeably fewer chocolate adverts featuring men.
Recent scientific findings suggest that in obese individuals, addiction treatments could be useful in learning to fight severe food cravings.[medical citation needed] For treating small chocolate cravings, the smell of jasmine has been known to work.
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