Craving for sweet carbohydrate and fat-rich foods – possible triggers and impact on nutritional intake


Professor Larry Christensen, Chairperson, Department of Psychology, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA. E-mail:


Summary  This paper presents a review of the literature pertaining to the measurement and prevalence of, and triggers for, cravings for sweet carbohydrate and fat-rich foods, and considers the impact of such cravings on nutrient intake. Difficulties in defining the construct and measurement of food cravings are discussed, and recent progress highlighted in the measurement arena by the development of two psychometric instruments that appear to have good validity and reliability. With regards to triggers for cravings for sweet carbohydrate and fat-rich foods, most studies have focused on negative mood state. While it is likely that a variety of food-related cues may influence cravings (e.g. the smell, sight, taste, and mouth-feel or texture of food, as well as thoughts of and images of food), this is an area that has received relatively little attention in the scientific literature. Similarly, there is a lack of information about the impact of cravings on nutrient intake. Preliminary data indicate that, at least for older people, cravers’ nutrient intake meets or exceeds the recommended daily amounts for most nutrients. However, energy intake is higher among cravers compared with non-cravers, and a greater proportion of their energy comes from carbohydrates, especially sugars. This may have an adverse effect on subsequent weight gain. Indeed, these preliminary data found cravers to have a higher body mass index than non-cravers.