Neurobiologic basis of craving for carbohydrates

Nutrition. 2014 Mar;30(3):252-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.06.010. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


Objectives: There is a relationship between emotional disorders, obesity, and craving for carbohydrates. This relationship complicates the success of treatments aimed at combatting obesity, which is considered to be the epidemic of the twenty-first century. We conducted a review of the neurobiologic basis for carbohydrate craving, with the hope that this understanding will enable the design of more efficient therapeutic strategies.

Method: We conducted a non-systematic literature search in PubMed using MeSH.

Results: Research on the basis of carbohydrate craving is varied, but may be grouped into five main areas: the serotonergic system, palatability and hedonic response, the motivational system, stress response systems, and gene-environment interaction.

Conclusions: The models that integrate motivational systems with palatability and hedonic response studies are the ones that we believe can best explain both craving for carbohydrates and related addictive phenomena. Research has contributed to a greater understanding of the neurobiologic basis of carbohydrate craving. The latter, in turn, contributes to an understanding of the implications, challenges, and possible therapies that might be put in place to cope with this phenomenon.

Keywords: Addictive behavior; Anxiety; Biological evolution; Dietary carbohydrates; Eating behavior; Neurobiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Serotonergic Neurons / physiology
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Serotonin