Most of us find it much easier to plunk down $3.99 for a bag of chips than a cup of fruit salad at the same price. People are routinely willing to dig deeper in their pockets to pay for certain snack foods if they have a craving for them, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found.
One reason for this behavior is that hunger and craving are distinct experiences. “Craving, which is pervasive in daily life, may nudge our choices in very specific ways that help us acquire those things that made us feel good in the past — even if those things may not be consistent with our current health goals,” explained Anna Konova, lead author.
In a series of experiments that showed a connection between cravings, portion size and price, people were asked how much they would pay for certain snack foods after developing a craving for them. People were willing to pay more for a snack item if they had just been exposed to it and even more if they had a specific memory associated with eating the item, whether they felt hungry or not.
People were more willing to pay for something they craved when the craved foods were high in calories, sugar and fat — like a chocolate bar or chips — compared to a healthier option.
People also showed a greater willingness to pay for something they craved when the craved foods were high in calories, sugar and fat — like a chocolate bar or chips — compared to a healthier option, such as an apple or vegetables and hummus.
People were also willing to pay disproportionately more to have even larger portion sizes of the food they craved. “Our results indicate that even if people strive to eat healthier, craving could overshadow the importance of health by boosting the value of tempting, unhealthy foods relative to healthier options,” said Konova.
If you crave certain foods, you are not alone, and it’s okay to give in occasionally. But if your food cravings are out of control, there are several steps you can take to conquer them and save money, too: