When you have had one of those days, is chocolate your old faithful friend you turn to make it all better?
Did you know the average person consumes about 5.2kg of chocolate every year? Why do we love chocolate so much? Is it because of the flavour, the taste, the texture when it melts in your mouth or all three?
We are exposed to chocolate everywhere, on billboard advertisements, on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, on television, social media and in magazines. This has contributed to the increase in chocolate consumption year on year.
There are three main components of addiction:
Intense desire and craving
Lack of control over the desire and craving
Excessive consumption regardless of the consequences.
“Chocolate, which contains both sugar and fat, is often used in studies of food addiction. In a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers at Yale University asked volunteers to fill out questionnaires to assess addictive behaviour. The volunteers then had their brains imaged while being able to see and smell, and then finally drink, a chocolate milkshake.
Participants who scored higher on the food addiction scale experienced a surge of activity in the part of the brain that regulates cravings and rewards when presented with the chocolate milkshake.
Once they started drinking it, they showed markedly reduced activity in areas of the brain that control impulses to seek rewards. A similar pattern of brain activity is found in people addicted to drugs.” (Source: Harvard Medical Publication)
Although it might be hard to believe, scientists have shown that chocolate has addictive effects in our brains. Generally, we associate addictive behaviour with alcohol, drug abuse or compulsive sexual activity.
However, chocolate evokes similar chemical and behavioural reactions. The hedonic appeal of chocolate (the combined mixture of cocoa, fat and sugar) is a predominant factor of such cravings.
Chocolate contains substances that are known to stimulate the production of the “feel good” hormones. These substances include tryptophan, an essential amino acid and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of excitement.
Another substance found in chocolate is phenylehtylamine, which stimulate the brain cells to release dopamine and promote positive ‘feel good’ emotions.
On the down side, too much chocolate consumption might lead to excess dopamine in the limbic system and produce negative emotions such as paranoia or social withdraw.
Why do most women crave chocolate that time of the month? Chocolate cravings are often periodic and fluctuate according to the changes in hormone levels before and during menses, this suggests that there is a hormonal link and confirms the assumed gender-specific nature of chocolate cravings.
Chocolate increases pleasure stimuli and women feel happier after eating chocolate. Some scientist found that a lack of magnesium might be one of the reasons why women crave chocolate during those days of menstruation and there is a large amount of magnesium found in chocolate products.
Chocolate also has stress-relieving characteristics, and therefore, people under a lot of stress may be more drawn to chocolate than others.
Do you experience feelings of discomfort and sadness when you avoid eating chocolate?
This could indicate that you are a chocoholic.
The word chocoholic (a portmanteau of “chocolate” and “alcoholic”), according to Merriam-Webster, refers to a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate.
If you restrict yourself from never ever having chocolate again it can trigger you to lose control and binge on chocolate. Having small amounts of chocolate on occasion and as part of a healthy lifestyle is not likely to cause any harm.
On the other hand, having large amounts of chocolate regularly may cause an addiction, tooth decay and most likely weight gain, which can increase the risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension and heart conditions.
You don’t have to run away from chocolate or make chocolate you enemy. If you are struggling with chocolate cravings or chocolate addiction, contact you dietician for guidelines and assistance to help you curb the cravings and overcome your chocolate addiction.
Compiled by Joani Britz RD(SA)