What if chocolate cravings, experienced by 50% of women before their period were the result of culture, rather than a natural physical response?
Scientists at the the State University of New York seem to think so. In a paper published recently, they have shown that out of 275 women of diverse backgrounds, foreign-born women were half as less likely to experience menstrual chocolate craving, compared to women born to US born parents, and two-and-a-half times less likely than second generation immigrants.
In fact, the researchers have noted in their paper that only 6% of Egyptian women and only 28% of Spanish women experience craving chocolate in general (not just before their period), as opposed to 90% of American women.
And what makes things more interesting is the fact that the researchers have found that women with the most cravings are more ‘westernised’ than the ones without cravings, reporting ‘significantly greater US acculturation and lower identification with their native culture than non-menstrual cravers’.
So there you have it: the more TV you watch, magazine articles you read and the more you chat about premenstrual chocolate cravings, the more you will experience them yourself. But what about the weather, sedentary lifestyle, indoor living etc? Don’t these play a role in chocolate cravings before the period?
‘Not specifically’, explains nutritionist Georgios Tzenichristos, of the London-based LipoTherapeia clinic. ‘The researchers have found in this study that there were no significant differences between the three groups in the prevalence of non-chocolate food cravings or in the prevalence of regular, non-PMS related chocolate cravings’.
‘This means that boredom, stress, sedentary/indoor living and weather cannot be blamed for the differences in increased PMS cravings of first generation, second generation immigrant or ‘native’ women: they all experienced normal, day to day (non-PMS) chocolate cravings equally’, says Georgios.
The two scientists who have conducted this study believe that the constant struggle to remain slim in US popular culture pushes women to find socially and personally acceptable excuses to consume ‘taboo’ foods like chocolate, such as PMS and pregnancy.
On the other hand, nicotine craving seems to indeed be related to hormonal fluctuations before periods, while alcohol cravings (another taboo drink for constant dieters) are also increased before periods.
In summary, and despite some limitations, this study has shown that immigrants to Western countries have an initial health advantage, in comparison to local populations, with lower risk of obesity and related diseases. However, by adopting westernised food, that advantage dissipates.