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Eat Behav. 2008 Dec;9(4):447-54. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2008.07.004. Epub 2008 Aug 4.

Carbohydrate craving: a double-blind, placebo-controlled test of the self-medication hypothesis.

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Rosalind Franklin University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School, Rush University Medical Center, USA.


Carbohydrate craving, the overwhelming desire to consume carbohydrate-rich foods in an attempt to improve mood, remains a scientifically controversial construct. We tested whether carbohydrate preference and mood enhancement could be demonstrated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled self-administration trial. Overweight females who met strict operational criteria for carbohydrate craving participated in two 3-day discrete choice trials over a 2-week period. Participants reported their mood before and at several time points after undergoing a dysphoric mood induction and ingesting, either a carbohydrate beverage or a taste and calorie-matched protein-rich balanced nutrient beverage. Every third testing day, participants were asked to self-administer the beverage they preferred based on its previous mood effect. Results showed that, when rendered mildly dysphoric, carbohydrate cravers chose the carbohydrate beverage significantly more often than the protein-rich beverage and reported that carbohydrate produced greater mood improvement. The carbohydrate beverage was perceived as being more palatable by the carbohydrate cravers, although not by independent taste testers who performed the pre-trial taste matching. This study, performed under rigorous study conditions, supports the existence of a carbohydrate craving syndrome in which carbohydrate self-administration improves mildly dysphoric mood.

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