“What kind of monster could possibly hate chocolate?” said author Cassandra Clare—and boy, do we agree! This dark flavorful substance is indeed a well-loved treat around the world. In fact, in the United States alone, 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate is consumed each year. It is therefore common to be hankering for this confection every now and then. From sweet candy bars to luscious bonbons, many find chocolate hard to resist. However, can there be more causes behind wanting chocolate than just a liking for its taste?
Craving for Chocolate
Although inclination for chocolate is normal, consistent cravings can be an indicator of health issues. A craving is an extreme desire for a certain food that may not be triggered by hunger but is more heavily linked to a need for pleasure. Cravings for chocolate are especially less likely to be caused by actual hunger considering that chocolate is a treat, not a staple food item for regular meals.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center reports that three regions of the brain, namely the hippocampus, insula, and caudate are active during episodes of craving food. These regions are responsible for the factors involved in developing cravings: memory, pleasure, and reward. Our memory is linked to our taste and smell receptors. This connection leads people to crave for food they associate with an enjoyable experience in the past. Many also consider eating as a way to feel gratified and rewarded.
Cravings vary for every person. Most commonly, people crave highly processed foods that are generally bad for the health. Majority of chocolate products are loaded with fats, sugar, and carbs. This makes the temptation to indulge appear to be a more serious threat to those who aim to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Before diving into details of why one craves cocoa-filled goodies, let’s first discuss the general causes of food cravings.
Causes of Food Cravings
Medical News Today reports that there are two types of food cravings: non-selective and selective. A non-selective craving is an urge to eat anything while a selective craving is a desire for a particular food. The latter type is what will be explored in this article.
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2014, food cravings can be attributed to an imbalance of hormones such as leptin and serotonin. Both leptin and serotonin are chemicals which are believed to aid in regulating mood and appetite—two vital factors associated with food cravings. Another important hormone to consider is endorphin, which is often called the “happy hormone”. The secretion of endorphins triggers a positive feeling in the body. Therefore, the release of endorphins after eating can cause a type of addiction to the food consumed.
Emotions can also be responsible for causing food cravings. This is often the case for people who seek comfort in eating to cope with stressful situations. In fact, according to experts, approximately 75% of overeating is stimulated by emotions.
Certain conditions in women such as pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are also likely causes. For instance, hormonal changes in pregnant women affect their appetite and odorant receptors, which in turn produce extreme cravings. Having a food craving is also a common premenstrual symptom.
Why Do I Crave Chocolate?
Like other foods, a craving for chocolate can be attributed to the causes discussed above. Hormonal imbalances and changes may be a prompt to crave chocolate. In fact, desiring chocolate can be one’s response to stress because it is believed to bring invigoration to the body. Dr. Robin Miller, a medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine states that chocolate contains various chemicals which heighten endorphin and serotonin levels. This increase in hormonal levels trigger a calming effect and boosts energy. The composition of chocolate, therefore, makes it ideal comfort food.
Aside from causes linked to hormones and emotions, some studies affirm that there is also a possible connection between cravings and nutrient deficiency. Simply put, when a person lacks certain nutrients, the body responds by producing cravings for specific foods. In particular, constantly craving for chocolate can be an indicator of magnesium deficiency.
Despite being prevalent, magnesium deficiency is commonly disregarded by many. A study conducted by the laboratory Mineral Check affirmed that in a population of 8,000, 70% had low magnesium levels. Magnesium is a significant mineral that is associated with calcium absorption, bone health, and heart health. It is also vital for healthy skin and hair and is needed for stimulating hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include mood swings, irregular heartbeat, migraine, insomnia, and chronic fatigue. When one craves chocolate while experiencing these symptoms, he/she may be suffering from magnesium deficiency. Levels of some minerals also decrease during the second half of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This sudden drop can explain why women with PMS crave chocolate.
How to Deal with Cravings
How can a craving for chocolate be resisted? Here’s one good news: There’s no need to do so! It’s okay to indulge.
Interestingly, it’s not necessary to lessen chocolate consumption. Total deprivation can only worsen food cravings. The key to enjoying a well-balanced diet is selecting healthier food products.
Dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium, with 64 milligrams in every serving of 28 grams. This amount is already 16% of the recommended daily intake of 400 milligrams. Chocolate is also filled with antioxidants that help neutralize harmful free radicals. In addition, a study published by PubMed Central reports that it is rich in compounds called flavonols which are beneficial for overall heart health.
It’s suggested to opt for a less processed chocolate product which contains at least 75% cocoa solids. This will contain more magnesium and less sugar and fats. However, for individuals who don’t like dark chocolate, various options of magnesium supplements are also available.
The best recommendation, however, is to consume magnesium-rich alternatives to chocolate such as bananas, fatty fish, leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, legumes, avocados, and tofu. Boosting intake of magnesium can lessen chocolate-craving episodes. Maintaining a consistent diet of whole foods will also allow one to enjoy sweet chocolate treats every once in a while without feeling guilty.