While carbohydrates may have a bad reputation thanks to diets like Atkins, they are typically your body’s chief energy source. If you find yourself craving carbohydrates frequently, this can be a reflection of your body’s need for balance. Understanding when and why you crave carbohydrates can help you address cravings before they start.
The Serotonin Connection
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain associated with pleasant feelings and happiness. Your body requires carbohydrates in order to produce this neurotransmitter. Without carbohydrates as a food source, your body may not manufacture serotonin. The lack of serotonin can affect your moods, causing you to feel cranky or fatigued. This is one of the complex reasons you may crave carbohydrates -- your body may be sending you signals to improve your mood, which could be one of the reasons why women with premenstrual syndrome tend to want carbohydrates.
Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose, which is your cells' chief energy source. The measurement of how much glucose is in your blood is called blood sugar. If your blood sugar levels dip too low because you have not eaten enough, you may begin to crave carbohydrates. When you are extremely hungry, your body will tend to crave something very sugary or starchy. These food sources are more quickly broken down, giving you a more immediate energy source. If you are not taking in enough calories via your daily diet or eating regularly enough to keep your blood sugar levels at a steady pace, you will likely experience a blood sugar dip that causes fatigue and mental confusion.
Stress is not only a feeling, it also causes a set of chemical reactions in the body. One such chemical produced is cortisol, a hormone that triggers the fight-or-flight response that makes your heart beat faster and your body feel tense. Cortisol triggers the production of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y. This neurotransmitter is connected with causing increased cravings for carbohydrates to fuel your body’s energy levels during a stress response.
Not Enough Carbohydrates
Even if you are eating a low-carbohydrate diet, your body does require at least some amount of carbohydrates to function. This is particularly true if you are a person who exercises regularly. While your body does not store proteins for an energy source, it does store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. When you start exercising, your body burns through these glycogen sources to fuel your muscles. If you do not have enough carbohydrates, your body will go into a “carb-seeking mode,” where you crave carbohydrates to satisfy your body’s need to refill its carbohydrate stores.