The Causes of Cravings

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Most of us tend to head towards salty, sugary or fatty foods when cravings hit us. Quite a bit of the time, these cravings hit us in pairs, i.e. we eat two or more of the above three – sugary and fried, and salty and fried. At times, considering carbs metabolise into sugars, salty, sugary and fried all at once.

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Evolutionary Perspective

Going back to human evolution, we were hunter-gatherers without many options for these three dietary elements.

  • Fat – The only commonly, though not easily or readily available source would have been fat from animals. This required time and energy to find and kill and butcher and cart back to home base. It also provided a great deal of energy (9 calories per gram) when compared to plant sources of nutrition. Our bodies, and according to some theories, our growing brains, needed energy, which fat provided.
  • Salt – Natural sources of salt were the sea, rock salt embedded within rocks and once again, the flesh of animals, who too sought out the same rocks, colloquially called ‘salt licks’. Our bodies needed sodium (a requirement that till today, is different among the different human races) and this led to the seeking out of salt-containing foods.
  • Sugar – Direct sugars were rare and most sweet foods were found in fruits, not too often, and considering fruits then were far less sweeter than those we eat today (having been selectively bred for sweetness), far less sugar. Given fruits still provided much more energy than other plant based foods, they were sought out.

Given the above and keeping in mind that food wasn’t as easily accessible then as now, we have evolved over aeons to crave salt, fat and sugar, though we don’t really need any of them as much now as then.

Childhood Conditioning

Given our evolutionary cravings, it also makes sense that the same foods would be used during periods of celebration, happiness and sadness among other emotions and times in our lives. You’ll find

  • dishes full of vegetables, also usually full of fat, or starchy vegetables
  • a surfeit of deep fried, high carbohydrate foods, either savoury or coated/stuffed with more sugar.
  • Dairy products reduced to their solids, which are high in both sugars and fats.
  • Fruits that are preserved or stewed with added sugar and then stuffed into breads.

I’m sure you have more examples. As children, when we achieve something, we’re rewarded with foods of this kind. When we’re sad or hurt, we’re mollified with the same foods. During periods of hope, such as when going for an examination or other important task, we’re fed more such foods, such as a spoonful of dahi-cheeni / yogurt with sugar. Traditional wedding boxes contain many kinds of sweet and savoury, fried, high carbohydrate foods. Many other examples exist that I know you’re already thinking of.

Over time, we begin to associate, through classic conditioning, some of our emotions with foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. This, we pass on to our children by conditioning them in the same manner as we were, and the cycle continues. Fast foods are likely popular for this very reason – a load of fat, salt and sugar in every bite. Some of the world’s most popular and well known foods also adhere to the very same pattern.

Healthier Snacking

How can we snack healthier when the need to eat hits us. First off, if you’re intermittently fasting when this happens, that’s a topic for another discussion – avoiding the need to eat due to conditioning and emotions.

If this happens during your eating window, or if you aren’t fasting at all, I suggest considering options like:

  • Cucumber and carrot sticks with a spiced and salted hung curd dip
  • Blanched spinach and other greens dressed with sesame oil and garlic
  • Sprouts, lentils and legumes in various formats
  • A handful of nuts and seeds like walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Snacks like these keep your overall calories, and especially your carb calories low.

When intermittently fasting, keep in mind these reasons, when cravings arise. Knowledge is one of the keys that will aid your quest to better health and wellness.


  1. https://wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2015/08/17/why-do-humans-crave-sugary-foods-shouldnt-evolution-lead-us-to-crave-healthy-foods/
  2. https://www.cleveland.com/fighting-fat/2010/04/humans_are_genetically_hard-wired_to_prefer_fat_and_sugar.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1986990
  4. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/salt-and-hypertension-an-evolutionary-perspective-2167-1095.1000e106.php?aid=9305

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