Craving Chocolate? Here's Why
Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but that doesn't mean your craving for chocolate melted away. It seems we don't really need a seasonal holiday or any other excuse to unwrap nature’s most-craved antidepressant? According to a study done in 2003 chocolate is the most frequently craved food, with 40% of women and 15% of men claiming chocolate yearnings. So, are chocolate cravings based in science or psychology“ or both?
Chocolate comprises a complex medley of chemicals that give rise to its unique taste, texture and aroma. Chocolate has orosensory properties that enhance our urge for sensory gratification: Simply seeing or smelling it can trigger cravings. Like drug addictions, food cravings alter potent neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Cocoa butter changes from solid to liquid at mouth temperature, providing the characteristic melt-in-your-mouth quality. This sensation causes the brain to release a flood of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, producing temporary feelings of warmth and euphoria. The sugar in chocolate stimulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and provides a sense of calm and well-being. Within minutes of consumption, the chocolate eater may feel a balmy glow. Chocolate may help chase the blues by raising serotonin levels, though the science behind the “serotonin hypothesis” has been mixed (Parker, Parker & Brochie 2006). Chocolate contains psychoactive agents that can change mood. Theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine, is absorbed quickly, mildly stimulating the nervous system to increase the heart rate. Chocolate nibblers may enjoy a mild energy surge. Some professed “chocolate lovers” may actually be in love. Chocolate is rich in phenylethylamine (PEA) another stimulant. PEA levels are enhanced in people in love, so eating chocolate may temporarily mimic the love vibe. Chocolate can be rich in calories, but there are health benefits associated with eating moderate amounts. Dark chocolate:
- Is packed with protective antioxidants like flavonoids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease (Corti et al 2009).
- Reduces blood pressure, inflammation, platelet clotting and stroke risk in women as shown in reports done in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
- Is an excellent source of magnesium and copper, both essential to bone health, cell function and neurotransmitters.
An ounce of dark-chocolate indulgence may be just what your body needs! The key word here is...ounce. Even though chocolate may be good and even good for you, it still has a fairly high caloric count. So, please use common sense when the craving arises.