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Food Cravings

Food cravings or the desire to eat a specific food have been studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the neurological basis of cravings. The imaging data suggests that areas of the amygdala, anterior cingulate, orbital frontal cortex, insula, hippocampus, caudate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are activated during periods when yearning for a food [8].

Clemens and Smit explain the desire for chocolate consumption because of its mood-altering endogenous compounds— phenylethylamine, tyramine, serotonin, tryptophan, and magnesium. Cravings may result from a sense of deprivation or reaction to stress [9].

Food cravings do not represent a nutrient deficiency but result in abnormal behaviors of psychosocial nature caused by socio-cultural factors, stressful environments, or hormonal fluctuations [10]. Thus, the food industry capitalizes on its benefit through food cues that influence the desire to eat even after finishing a meal. Food cues come in many forms from emotions in television advertising, images in print, or other media to aromas at the supermarket. As Americans watch more food shows on television, they eat more processed foods at restaurants and at home.

“American consumers have permanently changed their eating habits. The era of three square meals a day has gone the way of the typewriter and vacuum tube,” research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Maryland, notes in a recent report [11]. Nutrition bars and granola bars are replacing traditional meals to the tune of $5.5 billion reported in November 2014. Mintel, a Chicago-based research firm that studies food trends has attributed this increase in bar sales to the obesity epidemic and a desire for healthier choices. Dessert bars allow guilt-free indulgence and a small treat that is perceived healthier than a candy bar. “You deserve it all—health, happiness, and daily indulgences,” says Skinnygirl Daily on its website [11].

Most nutrition and granola bars are super sweet with high sugar content and little to no advantage over a traditional candy bar. To win more health conscious consumers, the food industry is beginning to use alternatives to refined sugar. Brown rice syrup, date syrup, and coconut sugar are still high glycemic and contain the same simple carbohydrates and calorie count.

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