Why Do We Crave Chocolate?
Let’s face it. The idea that the sweetness of fruit is going to satisfy a chocolate craving is just silly. When the urge hits, there is very little that can be done to stop it until the only thing left of that Mars bar is the package. So why do we need it so bad?
There appear to be many reasons why chocolate seems to be so addictive. For example, the sugar in chocolate can increase the levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitters: serotonin and endorphins. Chocolate also contains an amphetamine-like compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), which is generated in relatively high amounts in the brain when happy events occur (i.e., falling in love). Chocolate also contains caffeine (although not very much), which provides an energy boost and small amounts of a substance called anandamide that mimics the pleasurable effects of marijuana by binding to the same receptor sites on brain cells as the active ingredient in the happy plant. Even the aroma of chocolate may affect brain chemistry.
What’s Good About Chocolate?
Cocoa and chocolate products have been delicacies for centuries, but only recently have they been recognized as significant sources of phytochemicals with healthful effects. Chocolate and cocoa powders are derived from beans that contain hefty amounts of phytochemicals called flavonoids that are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. Flavonoid compounds are found almost exclusively in the plant kingdom, and it’s estimated that there are more than 4,000 of them. Various epidemiological studies have shown that populations consuming a diet rich in flavonoids (including foods such as wine, tea and certain fruits and vegetables) have lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
What’s Bad About Chocolate?
The well publicized healthy properties of chocolate have lead many to believe they can enjoy chocolate in all its many forms. Not so fast! While the exact amount of cocoa or chocolate needed daily to exert health benefits is still yet to be determined, some studies have needed up to four ounces of antioxidant rich chocolate per day to elicit positive outcomes. Considering that an ounce of chocolate has roughly 145 calories and eight to 10 grams of fat, if most people simply added this much chocolate to their existing diets, it would be a sure fire ticket to the fat farm. Clients should be encouraged to substitute good-quality chocolate for other less healthy treats such as donuts, muffins and candy.
Also, all the studies showing promising health benefits from chocolate have used dark (“bittersweet”) chocolate and not the overly processed milk chocolates full of sugar that most people are consuming. Many find the taste of dark chocolate to be too overpowering and thus opt for the higher sugar forms with a lot less flavonoids.