"Health is a large word. It embraces not the body only, but the mind and spirit as well;...
and not today's pain or pleasure alone, but the whole being and outlook of a man."
~James H. West

Lisa's Blog

Are You Addicted to Chocolate?

Lisa Cutforth - Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why does chocolate make us feel SOOO good and seem to have so much power over us?

 

If you are the type of person who thinks about chocolate all the time and can’t live without it, and if you just can’t even think about saying no or resisting it, then you are probably addicted to it!

You can be both physiologically and psychologically or emotionally addicted to a substance or behaviour and that is what makes it harder to control or give up. 

What is it in chocolate that makes it so “addictive”?

The taste, the texture and the way it makes you feel! 

The main ingredients in chocolate are: cocoa, milk and sugar.

If we break each of these down, we can start to understand the effect each of these has on the body. 

 

Cocoa:

  • Contains compounds that act as stimulants for the central nervous system, so we feel more alert (for example caffeine and theobromine). Theobromine triggers the release of endorphins in the brain and works as a natural antidepressant.   
  • Contains phenylethylamine, which is know for causing emotional highs and lows associated with mood swings, love, pleasure and indulgence.  
  • It also contains important minerals like iron which is needed for blood formation and magnesium which the body needs for muscle movement (contraction and relaxation) and also for the nervous system, so it can help us feel a little relaxed.
  • The heavenly texture can be attributed to the fat.  This pleasurable “mouth feel” associated with fat is probably an evolutionary consequence of the high energy fat could provide in times of famine.
  • Cocoa is also a rich source of antioxidants (protective in the body)

Milk:

  • Contains tryptophan which is converted to serotonin (one of our “happy hormones”) in the brain
  • Interestingly a sensitivity to milk can give rise to cravings for milk.  (You may not be lactose intolerant but you could still be sensitive to milk!  Some partially-digested proteins for example casein in milk or gluten in wheat will form opium like peptides (chains of amino acids) which can bind to special receptors in the brain and are capable of producing a drug-like effect, leaving us wanting more of the very thing that is causing us harm!) (I will cover more on the topic of allergies in future newsletters).

Sugar:

  • (Carbohydrate) aids the transport and absorption of tryptophan into the brain
  • Will provide an increase in blood sugar, which will periodically alleviate the symptoms of low blood sugar (low energy and low mood).

Therefore you can see there is a host of explanations for why chocolate has such an effect on us and it would be so hard to give up.

 

The downside of chocolate:

  • Processed, mainstream chocolate is high in sugar and contains all sorts of other additives to keep it “fresh”.  Anything that causes a rapid increase in blood sugar will inevitably result in a rapid drop in blood sugar, which will affect your energy and your mood short term but has more serious long-term consequences (e.g. diabetes)
  • Caffeine is a stimulant so acts increases stress in the body
  • There are better ways to achieve higher levels of these important nutrients:  e.g. iron (meat, chicken thighs).  Milk hinders iron absorption.  Tryptophan is found in protein rich food like chicken, pumpkin seeds, turkey, tuna, rolled oats is a particularly good option, because of the combined carbohydrate content.
  • Some people are sensitive to certain foods, continuing to eat these foods can have undesirable consequences for the body, for example it causes inflammation which can appear with the following symptoms:  bloating, mucous production, diarrhea, cramping, leaky gut. 

The million-dollar question: So is chocolate bad for me?

  • It’s a treat!  It is definitely acceptable and possibly even beneficial to enjoy good quality chocolate in moderation.  “Good” options are 1-2 pieces 75-90% Cocoa, and preferably Organic Chocolate.  If you can’t stand dark chocolate, choose a good quality milk chocolate with nuts in it, (hazelnuts or almonds). 
  • Always make sure you are enjoying it while you eat and never eat it mindlessly (while you are doing something else!), it just isn’t worth it!

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