Chocolate! Friend or Foe?

Big surprise it here, but chocolate is one of America’s favorite flavors. It’s taste is irresistable, wicked, naughty, and divine. Some folks can not get through a single day without getting their chocolate fix. Some are quite open about their indulgence while others keep thier indulgence a secret from others. In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that chocolate seems to be liked by everyone, but more especially by women. One in every two women report having cravings for chocolate, , most crave it above other foods and are most likely to crave it when premenstrual. Researchers found that the more severe a woman’s PMS, the more her cravings intensified. Usually, chocolate cravings in men and women begin about mid day, with half of America;s chocolate consumed between noon and bedtime.

Our obsession with chocolate could be partially cultural. While men will recieve a bottle of whiskey as a gift, women usually receive chocolates to sweeten her heart. Valentines Day has become an annual tribute to chocolate and love. Chocolate is also associated with indulgence and pleasure. It is not a member of any food group and would rarely be a part of a main dinner course. Chocolate is not anything we physically require for anything in our lives, it does not have to be a part of our daily routines, responsibilities or commitments, yet many make it an integral part of their day anyhow. Consequently, chocolate has come to symbolize an escape from the day to day drudgery that is life. It brings a momentary joy, much like a drug, only the euphoria is shorter lived than that which comes from cocaine. Gourmet chocolates are considered “sinfully delicious” and “wickedly rich.” Like drug addicts, most people can not resist a little hit of chocolate now and then.

Chocolate’s pleasant taste might extend beyond indulgence to strike at the tip of your taste buds and the heart of your cravings. The cocoa butter gives it a rich texture, it is a solid at room temperature yet melts quickly in your mouth. Between the taste and the creamy texture, you are provided a brief moment of an endorphin rush which makes you feel good. Although unsweetened chocolate is bitter, when you add sugar to it, it becomes hard to resist.

With a perfect mix of sugar and fat, chocolate will turn on just about every hunger inducing neurotransmitter. The sugar brings on serotonin which contributes to a sense of well being. The sweetness releases endorphins which give an immediate rush. The fat enhances the flavor while the aroma satisfies galanin levels. The endorphin rush alone, with only a taste of chocolate, produces a pleasure which can become habit forming. How many folks do you know who can resist chocolate, especially after even a small taste? This would explain why many people consider themselves “chocoholics.”

To compound matters, chocolate has other pleasure producing chemicals such as theobromine and caffiene which provides a stimulating mental lift. A compound called phenylethylamine found in chocolate stimulates the nervous system, increases blood pressure and and heart rate, It produces feelings similar to those who are “in love.” Phenylethlamine is also linked to endorphins and pleasure. Also, a study by Neuroscience Institute of San Diego reported that chocolate contains anandamide which mimics the effects of marijuana and boosts the pleasures you get when you consume chocolates. While anandahide and phenylethlamine are of small quantities in chocolate, too low to have a significant effect, these compunds remind us that there is a lot more about chocolate than just a heart throb aroma and melt in your mouth texture.

Even the aroma of chocolate alone can affect our brain chemistry. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania found that when chocolate lovers were given chocolate, white chocolate, or capsules of cocoa powder, only eating real chocolate curbed cravings. This implies that even the aroma plays a role in the craving and pleasure derived from chocolate.

Some argue that a craving for chocolate is really the body’s way of telling us we need nutrients such as magnesium. But, if this is the case, why don’t people crave magnesium rich foods like soybeans, peanuts and beet greens? It is a fact that chocolate cravings can only be satisfied by chocolate alone. Cocoa contains more than four hundred distinct flavor compounds, more than twice of any other food, which makes it entirely reasonable there are unexplored elements in it that trigger cravings, passions and euphoria.

In short, no one knows for certain why we have such a love affair with chocolate, but few will deny the cravings are quite real. Beause chocolate cravings are not likely to just go away on their own, a good tactic is to maybe have a small piece of dark chocolate instead of a candy bar, cake or cookies.

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