Analyzing the Sweet Tooth

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Q. Even after a large meal I often get a craving for something sweet. Is there a biological basis for this, or is it a learned behavior?

A. "The craving for sweets is primarily biological," said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "However, the sweet that is preferred seems to be primarily a learned behavior, a function of one's upbringing."

Researchers have theorized that cravings for specific nutrients, like carbohydrates, result from a physiological need to alter neurotransmitters in conditions like eating disorders and obesity.

Dr. Aronne said that women report more craving for sweets than men, who favor "savory" products, like chips, that are salty, fatty and starchy.

Cravings also appear to vary by the content of the preceding meal, with a protein-rich one possibly inducing a desire for sweets.

"Sweet craving is more common in families where alcoholism occurs," Dr. Aronne said. That could be more evidence of its physiological and genetic basis.

Narcotic blockers have been shown to reduce sweet cravings in bingers as well as non-bingers.

"Women in Western countries prefer chocolate," he said. "However, women in countries where they don't have chocolate prefer other types of sweets." 

question@nytimes.com

science

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 15, 2013 2:00 PM


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