Sanesco Blog

Wants & Needs: Carbohydrate Cravings


Craving Carbs

Do you ever find yourself needing a chocolate chip cookie? Or maybe when you’ve had a rough day, you long for a spaghetti dinner? If so, you may be experiencing carbohydrate cravings. Carbohydrate cravings describe a disordered appetite and need for carbohydrate-rich foods, often in response to poor mood.[1] People affected by these cravings may eat carbohydrate-rich foods in attempt to improve their mood.

Sure, a cupcake might taste good, but how does that really improve someone’s state of mind?

Scientists believe that ingesting carbohydrates actually does make us happier, and it all has to do with the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin promotes relaxation and good mood. However, tryptophan must cross the blood brain barrier before in can be used for serotonin synthesis in the brain.[2] Tryptophan is the least common of the large neutral amino acids and it must compete with other amino acids such as leucine or valine for transport into the brain.[3] When carbohydrates are eaten, insulin is released and this lowers the amount of competing amino acids in the blood stream.[4],[5] Thus, more tryptophan enters the brain, and more mood-uplifting serotonin is the result![6],[7]

Moods, Carbohydrates and Proteins

Researchers demonstrated this effect by giving people who had carb cravings either a protein-rich drink or carbohydrate-rich drink. However, the participants did not know which drink was which as the taste was controlled.[8] The researchers found that mood significantly improved after ingesting the carbohydrate drink as compared to the protein drink.[9]

The profound effect that serotonin levels have on both mood and carbohydrate cravings explains the success of some serotonin interventions in inducing satiety and weight management.[10]

Nutritional supplements that target serotonin can also be extremely effective. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin and can be taken in supplement form. A group of researchers found that when participants were given 5-HTP, they showed increased brain activity in regions of the brain that are associated with satiety, nutrient selection, and weight management.[11] Those who were administered 5-HTP also showed increased preference for protein rather than carbohydrates.[12]

Reduce Carbohydrate Craving with (Even a Little) Exercise

Getting a little bit of exercise may also help you put down those tempting carb treats. One study found that a short 15-minute walk reduced cravings for sugar snacks in a group of overweight people.[13] It was found that stressful situations and exposure to sugar snacks (seeing or handling them) increased cravings, but that exercise counter-acted these effects.[14]

So, if you’re feeling stressed or all your friends are snacking on sweet treats, a short walk will help you curb sugar cravings so you’re no longer tempted. Additionally, balancing serotonin levels can improve mood and reduce the urge to self-medicate with carb consumption. Sanesco’s Prolent is quite useful in increasing serotonin. Don’t let those cravings get the best of you!

Find or become a Sanesco provider to order Prolent.


[1] Corsica JA & Spring BJ. (2008). Carbohydrate craving: A double-blind, placebo controlled test of the self-medication hypothesis. Eat Behav, 9(4): 447–454. Obes Res, 3(Suppl4):477S-48OS.
[2] Wurtman RJ & Wurtman JJ. (1995). Brain Serotonin, Carbohydrate-Craving, Obesity and Depression.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Corsica & Spring op. cit.
[5] Wurtman & Wurtman op. cit.
[6] Corsica & Spring op. cit.
[7] Wurtman & Wurtman op. cit
[8] Corsica & Spring op. cit.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Wurtman & Wurtman op. cit
[11] Ioannou S & Williams AL. (2016). Preliminary fMRI findings concerning the influence of 5-HTP on food selection.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ledochowski L, Ruedl G, Taylor AH, et. al. Acute Effects of Brisk Walking on Sugary Snack Cravings in Overweight People, Affect and Responses to a Manipulated Stress Situation and to a Sugary Snack Cue: A Crossover Study.
[14] Ibid.

Clinical Contributor

Marina Braine

Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco International, Inc.

Marina Braine is a Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco. She graduated from UNC-Asheville with her Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in French. She likes to keep active by hiking, running, and contra dancing around Asheville.


Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard graduated with honors from the University of California with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Health and Nutrition Education. She also holds a Standard Designated Teaching Credential from the State of California, is a California state-certified Nutrition Consultant and a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Ramona has participated in nutrition education in both public and private venues, including high school and college presentations, radio and public speaking for the past 20 years. She is the owner of Radiance, a nutrition consulting company, the Director of Education for Sanesco International, and a medical technical writer.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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Inhibitory Neurotransmitter


One of our feel-good neurotransmitters; Low levels of serotonin may relate to occasional symptoms like moodiness, sleep issues, and carb cravings. 

Learn why and how to test serotonin levels