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Why Women Crave Chocolate
Publish date: May 26, 2009
Summary: Why do women often crave chocolate if it's not good for their health?
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What is your first memory of eating chocolate? Often, children are introduced to chocolate at a child’s first Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas or birthday celebration. For many of us, remembering that first piece of chocolate is impossible: It’s always been a part of our lives.
A Cultured Habit
It’s these early associations with chocolate that are behind many women’s perimenstrual (a few days before through the first day or two of menses) chocolate cravings, says Amy Jo Stavnezer a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the College of Wooster.
In a Psychology Today interview Stavnezer said, “Throughout our lives … we … learn that chocolate is positive, paired with reward and to an extent, a culturally accepted high-fat, high-calorie indulgence.”
She suggests that women who crave chocolate before their periods associate chocolate with good feelings and reach for it to quell the discomfort they experience at “that time of month.”
Help for Hormones?
Many women grab for chocolate when they’re feeling hormonal because they feel chocolate must somehow meet a chemical need the body has due to hormone fluctuations - kind of like taking a vitamin pill. Eating chocolate certainly can have an influence on our brain’s chemistry, since dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released when we eat chocolate. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical that is produced whenever you participate in a pleasurable activity and is part of the reward circuit that helps you remember positive experiences like exercising, having sex and eating chocolate. Whenever you repeat a certain pleasurable experience, eating chocolate for example, you strengthen your mind’s association of positive feelings with that activity. The downside is that too much dopamine can cause addictive behaviours. If you think you’re addicted to chocolate, you might actually be addicted to the dopamine rush you experience when you eat it.
The bottom line is, eating chocolate doesn’t help balance your monthly hormone fluctuations. If it could, then post-menopausal women shouldn’t have chocolate cravings, should they? But they do. Researchers studying chocolate cravings on pre- and post-menopausal women concluded that “reproductive hormones are not the principal cause of perimenstrual chocolate craving.” Sorry for the bad news, but having your period is no longer an excuse for eating chocolate, ladies.
A Healthy Habit?
Others suggest that food cravings point to nutrient deficiencies. Chocolate supplies plenty of fat and sugar, but it also supplies magnesium and potassium. Could this be the chemical connection behind chocolate cravings? Not likely. If that were the case, women would crave rice bran which is very high in both magnesium and potassium. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m dying for a spoonful of rice bran!”
A study was done to determine which component of chocolate was likely to be behind chocolate cravings. When the different components of chocolate were put into capsules and taken by participants craving chocolate, only eating the actual chocolate bar itself eased the cravings considerably. Many women say that what they crave most is the way chocolate feels in their mouths as it melts. The mouth-feel is a significant part of its attraction and is due to the combination of fat and refined sugar.
So chocolate doesn’t balance your hormones or meet your body’s need for vital nutrients or brain chemicals after all. But dark chocolate is good for you, right? It has antioxidants that can help fight heart disease and diabetes. That may be true, but there are better, less expensive sources of antioxidants than chocolate.
Negative Health Effects
Unfortunately for chocoholics, the negative health effects of chocolate outweigh any possible benefits. These include increased problems with gastroesophageal reflux, diabetes, dental caries, weight and heart disease. Indulging in chocolate when you’re feeling down is like flirting with an addiction. Every time you have chocolate and experience that dopamine-induced mood improvement, however short-lived it may be, reinforces that behavior pattern which could lead to an addictive relationship with chocolate. And if you’re depressed, eating chocolate for that temporary mood improvement can actually prolong your depression.
More troubling still are the dark aspects of chocolate production that are seldom talked about. Pesticides, some so dangerous they’ve been banned in Canada, the US and other developed countries, are used in cocoa production. One of these is lindane, a neurotoxin that is sprayed on cocoa trees monthly from August to December, while the trees are producing cocoa pods. Unless you eat only organic chocolate, your chocolate likely contains pesticide residues from farm applications and fumigation required for import. And if you trust your own government agencies with ensuring the safety of the chocolate you eat, think of the farm workers that grow it. Many are illiterate and can’t read the warnings on the label. Few use safety measures while applying chemicals and many accept side-effects associated with cocoa production as a fact of life. These side-effects include sterility, headaches, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, burns, and itching.
If you want to do what’s best for your health, discard chocolate altogether. Otherwise, limit your consumption to only organic, fair-trade dark chocolate. The high price might even help you curb a chocolate habit. For die-hard chocoholics, malt-sweetened, vegan carob is a healthier alternative and worth giving a try.
Susan Albers, “Why Do I Crave Chocolate During My Period?” Psychology Today; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-i-crave-chocolate-during-my-period (Accessed March 2, 2014).
Susan Albers, “Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?” Psychology Today; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much (Accessed March 2, 2014).
Bryce Wylde, “The Dopamine Diet,” The Dr. Oz Show; http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/dopamine-diet (Accessed March 2, 2014).
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