Chocolate is the number one most craved food and women are the ones most likely to crave it. And rightfully so. Many of our cravings for foods are triggered by a stew of appetite-control chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Low and behold, chocolate tickles just about every brain chemical there is.
For example, the sugar in chocolate affects two neurotransmitters – serotonin and the endorphins. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, the very taste of sugar on the tongue – such as the sugar in chocolate – releases endorphins in the brain. These brain chemicals produce a euphoric feeling, making the chocolate experience immediately pleasurable. The sugar in chocolate also might raise brain levels of serotonin a neurotransmitter that also boosts mood. Even the aroma of chocolate may affect brain chemistry. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that when chocolate cravers were given chocolate, white chocolate or capsules of cocoa powder, only eating the real chocolate curbed cravings, which implies that smelling chocolate may play a big part in the pleasurableness of the chocolate experience.
When it comes to brain chemistry, there is a love connection, but it doesn’t hold water. Chocolate contains a compound called phenylethylamine or PEA. This compound is also found in relatively high amounts in the brain when we first fall in love. The theory is that perhaps people turn to chocolate to boost that giddy, warm-fuzzy feeling they lack in their lives. However, the amount of PEA in a candy bar is not enough to make you feel romantic. There is more PEA in a chunk of cheese or a hunk of salami and people don’t crave those foods like they do chocolate. In short, no one knows exactly why we love chocolate, but it’s likely that chocolate hits us on several, irresistible levels.
Chocolate is good for you. That is if it contains at least 70% cocoa powder, which is loaded with antioxidants that keep blood vessels squeaky clean. Milk chocolate, chocolate ice cream, or chocolate creams do not contain enough cocoa powder to quality. If you’re using cocoa powder, stay away from the Dutch Processed kinds, since the processing destroys much of the healthy antioxidants. Also, keep portions small. Dark chocolate might be good for you, but it still is high in calories. Keep portions to about an ounce a few times a week. Photo credit: Lotus Carroll via Compfight