February 1, 2012

Why Do We Crave Chocolate?

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.

On Valentine’s Day is there any link between chocolate and love? When it comes to brain chemistry, there is one 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.


Just Do This Today

You can give your lover chocolate on Valentine’s Day and still stick with a healthy diet. Just do one or more of these low-fat tricks.

1. Use cocoa powder, it only has 30 percent fat calories compared to 50 percent fat calories in whole-milk hot chocolate, 60 percent fat calories in some chocolates, and 76 percent fat calories in unsweetened chocolate. Use it in muffins, cookies, or blender drinks for a rich chocolate flavor with less fat.

2. Portion out 1/4 cup of fat-free chocolate syrup and dunk 2 cups of cut up fresh fruit, such as orange slices, strawberries, kiwi, bananas, or grapefruit slices.

3. Extra-rich chocolate angel food cake can be made with one package of angel food cake mix prepared according to directions combined with 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for a dessert that is only 7 percent fat calories and less than 160 calories per serving.

4. Eat chocolate with meals. At the end of a meal, you are less likely to overindulge and more likely to choose small portions.

5. Buy chocolate in small quantities. Avoid the five-pound box of chocolates, the oversized candy bar, or the half-gallon of ice cream. Instead, one or two Hershey Kisses, a Tootsie Roll, or a small candy bar may satisfy the craving without going overboard. Even chocolate-dipped strawberries or mini-pretzels have only about 25 calories each.

6. If the smell of chocolate is your downfall, try a little perfume or aftershave applied under your nose.


Hot Off the Diet Press

1. Cup of Joe: Three compounds in coffee might explain why people who drink a morning cup of Joe are at lower risk for developing diabetes, according to a study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in the People’s Republic of China. http://1.usa.gov/zDwark

2. The old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” may have scientific merit. Researchers at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta report flavonoid-rich foods, such as apples, berries, and citrus, significantly lower a person’s risk for dying from cardiovascular disease. http://1.usa.gov/xcy7fE

3. Chocolate Kisses: Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that women with the highest consumption of chocolate (averaging 2.3 ounces/week) had a 20% lower risk of stroke compared to women who never or rarely consumed chocolate. J Am Col Cardiology 2011;58:1828-1829.


Food & Mood Tip

Sugar really is addicting. At Princeton University, animals fed high-sugar diets exhibit all the symptoms of withdrawal, including agitation and nervousness, when sugar is taken away. Reintroduce sugar to their diets and the animals binge, all of which are classic symptoms of substance abuse. Changes in the animals’ brains also resembled changes seen in morphine and heroin addiction. The researchers theorize that the sweet taste releases endorphins in the brain, neurotransmitters that act much like morphine in providing a pleasurable response. Another neurotransmitter called dopamine permanently stamps the experience into our memory banks to entice us to seek this yummy taste again. We literally become addicted to an inborn “high” when we eat sugar. The response is so powerful that even the sight of the food, let alone the smell, at a later date will release dopamine and a craving for another taste and mood fix. Eliminating sugar from the diet for even two weeks could be enough to break the addiction.


Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week

The #1 sex organ is your brain, where imagination and desire are fueled. To think clearly and passionately you need to reduce inflammation in your circuitry and circulation and then fuel your brain with the building blocks it needs to function at top speed. The #1 building block for brain cells is the omega-3 fats and of those, DHA is the most important. People who get what I call “Wet and Wild at least 2X a week” by including fatty fish, such as salmon, to the menu also are the ones who are up to 70% less likely to develop dementia and are at much lower risk for depression. Make this easy on yourself. Broil a salmon fillet, steam some broccoli, and serve with instant brown rice for a dinner that took less than 15 minutes to prepare.

Learn More about Eat Your Way to Sexy.


Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Grilled Halibut with Ginger-Mango Chutney

This chutney is so good you’ll want to eat it plain! It also tastes good as a topping for grilled chicken breast or any other firm, white fish, such as bass or shark. Make extra and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week to use as topping on left-overs. (Also rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid, and iron!)


cooking spray
2 cups red onion, finely chopped or minced
2 firm mangos, peeled and cubed
1 cup tomato, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 limes, juiced
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup vermouth
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 6-ounce thick halibut fillets
olive oil cooking spray
coarse salt
fresh-ground black pepper

1) To make chutney: Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray, heat over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mango, tomato, ginger, and garlic and cook until heated through, about 7 minutes. Stir in lime juice, orange juice, vermouth, brown sugar, and vinegar. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside.

Heat grill. Spray fish with olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes a side, or until fish is flaky and no longer transparent throughout.

3) Top each serving of fish with 1 /2 cup of chutney. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 364 Calories; 11% fat (4.64 grams); <1 gram saturated fat; 43% protein; 46% carbohydrate; 4.4 grams fiber.


What Has More Sugar?

What has more sugar: an 8-ounce tub of fruited yogurt or a Snickers bar? They both could have the same amount, with some fruited or flavored yogurts containing up to 32 grams of sugar. There are 4 grams in a teaspoon, which means that yogurt could have up to 8 teaspoons of sugar! Solution? Buy, plain, nonfat yogurt and sweeten it with a little jam or fresh fruit. You never will add as much sugar as food companies do.

What is better for you: honey or table sugar? They are both about the same. Oh sure, honey has a few nutrients in it, but not enough to make any difference. For example, it takes 11 cups of honey to supply a woman’s daily need for iron; it would take 19 cups of honey to supply the calcium in one cup of nonfat milk.

Do You Know?
How much whole grain a slice of bread has that is made with “wheat flour?”
Which is better, Tang or 100% juice made with concentrated pear, apple, or white grape juice?

Check the next newsletter for the answers….


The Daily Menu

1 cup shredded wheat cereal topped with 1 cup light fortified soymilk
4 apricot halves, canned in light syrup and drained
Tea or coffee (sweetened with artificial sweetener, if desired)

2 kiwi fruit sliced
6 ounces fat-free vanilla yogurt
2 teaspoons granola
Sparkling water with a twist of lemon

A Pita Sandwich made with:
1 whole wheat pita bread filled with: 1/3 cup canned and drained black beans, 4 avocado slices, 2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tomato, sliced and topped with fresh basil leaves and 1 tablespoon oil and vinegar dressing
Ice water

1 cup four bean salad
1 /2 whole wheat bagel topped with 1 tablespoon fat-free cream cheese
Ice water

1 serving Grilled Halibut with Ginger-Mango Chutney
1 cup carrot slices, peeled and steamed
Green Mashed Potatoes made with 1 baked potato, peeled, boiled and mashed with 1/2 cup steamed chopped chard, 2 teaspoons butter, salt and pepper to taste, and enough nonfat milk to form a creamy consistency (approximately 1/3 cup)

1 cup sliced mangos, drizzled with lime juice and sprinkled with 2 teaspoons pistachio
1 cup 1 percent low-fat milk, warmed and flavored with almond extract

Nutritional Analysis for the day: 1998 Calories;23 percent fat (51 grams); 15 gram saturated fat; 1.5 grams omega-3 fats; 19 percent protein; 58 percent carbohydrate; 43 grams fiber.