When my boyfriend returns from any overseas trip, he always knows exactly what kind of souvenir I want. Forget matryoshka dolls or designer shoes?I want chocolate. To be more specific, I want real English Cadbury chocolate. The idea of women’s loving sweets has become a cultural cliché reminiscent of an old Cathy comic strip, but I’ll confess to not being able to get enough of them. In my kitchen right now, you’ll find three boxes of Girl Scout cookies, brownies, caramel popcorn, and chocolate-covered almonds. (The two-pound bar of chocolate is on my desk at work.) I’ve also been known to eat ice cream for dinner on occasion.
Most men, on the other hand, claim that they’d rather snack on a bag of potato chips than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. We might think of it as a worn-out trope, but it turns out that the stereotype of women’s loving candy has some basis in real life, because studies have begun to show that having a sweet tooth really is a girl thing.
An Estrogen Connection?
In 2004, a pair of psychologists at Florida State University studied rats that were fed either a standard diet or a sweetened version of the same food. The rats eating the sweetened food ate more calories than those eating the standard diet did, with the female rats eating the most. They consumed 35 percent more calories than the male rats, which ate only 10 to 15 percent more than usual. The researchers allowed some of the rats to exercise, and those rats did cut back on their calorie consumption, but the female rats cut back far less than the male rats did. This led the researchers to theorize that although both sexes have an innate preference for high-calorie, high-sugar foods, females’ preference is more pronounced.
Rats aside, human females report having cravings for sweets more often than men do. If those cravings have a biological basis, there are a few reasons why women would benefit from calorie-rich food. They need to maintain a certain percentage of body weight (about 17 percent) in order to sustain a pregnancy, so an innate preference for sweets would be an efficient way to pack on the pounds that keep the menstrual cycle in action. It’s also possible that women’s elevated estrogen levels during the cycle are what cause the cravings. A few studies have shown a correlation between higher levels of estrogen in the body and people’s increased cravings for sweets, but the evidence is not always clear. Some women claim to desire sweets more during their monthly periods, while others report doing so in conjunction with premenstrual syndrome or at other times during the month. Since hormones fluctuate constantly, many researchers feel that there’s more at play than just estrogen.