When you have a particular craving for a specific food, do you tend to go for something salty like nuts? Or sweet and creamy like my daughter Larissa’s favourite mint chocolate chip ice cream?
Or crunchy and raw like broccoli?
Well, it’s too bad none of you raised your hand for broccoli, dear Heart Sisters, because researchers at Imperial College London in the U.K. tell us that a chemical in broccoli called sulforaphane can actually boost the body’s natural defense mechanism that protects our coronary arteries from clogging. Please tell me why gooey Tim Hortons maple dips can’t contain sulforaphane, too.
Chances are that you might be one of many who head for starchy carbohydrate-rich foods like breads, pasta, or pastries when a craving strikes.
You can hardly escape from carbs. Who can walk past a fine Italian bakery like Ottavio’s in our nearby village and not be lured in by that seductive smell of gorgeous crusty bread? If it’s late afternoon, it may well be irresistible, and here’s why.
Researchers now suggest that those of us who crave carbohydrates may actually be self-medicating when we’re feeling low.
Dr. Judith Wurtman has been studying this link since her landmark report about carbs and depression was published in Scientific American in 1989.
She suggests that carbohydrate craving is related to decreases in the feel-good hormone serotonin, which is marked by a decline in mood and concentration.
“We discovered years ago that many people experience the ‘universal carbohydrate craving time’ between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day. I suspect the tradition of English tea with its carb offering is a ritual developed to fill this need. It’s a neurochemical phenomenon.”
But other experts aren’t so sure. Some wonder if depressed mood and reaching for carbs are related to an external event – such as the stock market decline – or simply to daily habit.
But even when the stock market declines, we don’t crave that low-carb broccoli, do we?
Here’s how to tell what kind of a craving it is:
- Do you crave carbs only when you see someone eating something you like? You may simply be succumbing to the power of suggestion.
- Do you crave carbs when you face an unpleasant task (even just paying household bills) and feel better after you’ve had some carbs? You may be ‘self-medicating’. Your serotonin level is up, and you are doing what you are supposed to, according to Dr. Wurtman.
- Do you crave carbs in the late afternoon? Quite normal apparently, and not necessarily a signal of depression. Dr. Wurtman adds: “The reason we want to self-medicate with carbs late in the afternoon is not just that life is difficult and filled with frustration, but that it is a normal day-night cycle.
But when is a carb craving over the top? If you continually go to great lengths for a carb-rich food, you may want to seek professional help, says Dr. Wurtman.
Q: Do you crave carbs, too?