We all have those irresistible cravings for chocolate now and again. There is no denying that a good chocolate-eating session can make us feel really good, but what does it really mean?
Chocolate is a remarkable food with amazing properties. The problem with it arises when we munch tirelessly on blocks or bars of milk chocolate, loaded with caramel or some other sweet and gooey goodness. This kind of chocolate is usually VERY high in sugar and trans-fats, and artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. It really messes with our blood sugar (glucose), and can create an environment in the body where we cannot stop having these sweet treats (sugar addiction).
Now, for something positive about chocolate.
A small helping of dark or very dark chocolate once in a while is ok. Consider when you usually crave chocolate. Most likely around times of stress or, for women, PMS. Chocolate stimulates the ‘reward’ parts of the brain, leaving us feeling good, satisfied, and congratulated ‘for a job well done’. It can also be a form of reward when we suffer low self-esteem (this is for another post).
Chocolate from cacao beans, is rich in nutrients and ‘feel-good’ components.
- Theobromine. This component has a similar structure to caffeine, except it’s effects are much more gentle. It is found primarily in dark chocolate. It acts as a stimulant, diuretic and relaxant all at the same time. Theobromine doesn’t affect the central nervous system in the same way caffeine does, and can help in the relaxation of the muscles in the lungs. Theobromine can also be found in coffee, tea, yerba mate, guarana and the kola nut.
- Phenylethylamine (PEA). This substance has similar effects on the body as amphetamines. It helps in the production and release of noradrenaline and dopamine. It may help to increase mental acuity and focus, with increased feelings of well-being and ‘happy’ mood. Patients with ADHD often present with lowered endogenous PEA.
- Anandamide. This acts on the central nervous system and immune system. It also displays effects in the peripheries (arms and legs) and the brain. Anandamide helps to increase feelings of bliss and can aid in pain reduction, improved mood and memory, regulate the appetite and assist in fertility.
While I don’t suggest we all go out and buy masses of chocolate, a small piece of organic, dark chocolate or raw cacao nibs can certainly be beneficial in improving mood, cognition and well-being.
It is important to recognize your triggers for chocolate cravings and, for women especially, be aware of your menstrual cycle. Any changes to blood glucose regulation that see you reaching for excessive and unconscious amounts of sweets may be a sign of other health problems.