Crazy Chocolate Cravings
Part One

I received this late night S.O.S. from a friend a few weeks ago: “Maybe it is the stress of building a new house, the kids getting sick and all the deadlines I have. But I have eaten a Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar everyday for the last week and I know it is bad for me. Please be my savior and spoon-feed me on what I should do. The last time I binged like this I gained ten pounds.”

Man cannot live on chocolate alone, but woman can.
Women are notorious for using food as an outlet for stress. Food has been called the good girl's drug. While some women may abuse alcohol and drugs to cope with stress or emotional issues, the majority of women turn to food.

But women rarely have cravings for meat or chicharon. The cravings are almost always for chocolate, cake, and cookies. This week, let’s explore some possible reasons for chocolate cravings. Next week, practical tips to keep choco cravings under control.

I eat anything as long as it is chocolate.
Biological psychologist Marcia Pelchat defines a food craving as “a very intense desire to eat a particular food, strong enough that you may go out of your way to get it”.

She says there is a difference between hunger and a craving. Eating any kind of food will quiet a growling stomach but a craving is usually only satisfied with a specific type of food. For example, a craving for pizza cannot be satisfied with spaghetti. Oftentimes, not just any pizza will do. People will go out of their way to buy a particular brand or type of pizza.

Research in Canada and the U.S. shows that chocolate is the number one craved for food with pizza coming in a close second. Pelchat notes that chocolate and pizza have three things in common: they are highly palatable, very aromatic and flavorful.

There is no Chocoholics Anonymous because no one wants to quit.
Many women swear that they are addicted to chocolate. But chocolate is not considered a real addiction because the “user” does not develop a tolerance (needing greater and greater amounts of chocolate to satisfy the craving) nor experiences physical withdrawal symptoms (unlike shabu or heroin).

And although eating chocolate and smoking marijuana can both induce feelings of euphoria, you would have to eat a couple of pounds of chocolate to get the same effect as smoking a joint of marijuana.

I'm going on a starvation diet. No chocolate for 24 hours!
Researchers have noticed that people who have just started a diet have more cravings than people who have been on a diet a long time. Pelchat explains that long-term dieters may be following a “sensible” diet that is rich in variety and thus are less prone to cravings. Meanwhile, short-term dieters may be following a more rigid monotonous diet that forbids eating many kinds of food. Boredom with the food could trigger cravings. Cravings could also be an “emotional response” to feelings of being deprived. And, just knowing you can’t have a certain food could make you crave for it.

God sends no stress that prayer and chocolate cannot handle!
Psychologist Isaac Greenberg of Harvard Medical School says that food may act as an “efficient relaxant” since digesting your food switches off part of the nervous system that is responsible for making you tense. When we are tense or anxious, we tend to crave for “comfort food” or food that our parents used to give us when we were feeling bad. This may explain why so many people crave for chocolate or sweet things like ice cream and cake.

Warning! I have PMS and I'm all out of chocolate!
Pelchat says it is a well-documented fact that certain phases of the menstrual cycle are associated with cravings. Scientists are not sure if hormones are to blame for these cravings but it has been observed that women have cravings for sweet (particularly chocolates) or salty food three days before and three days after menstruation. Meanwhile, as many pregnant women know, cravings can happen any time during pregnancy. No one knows if these cravings are psychological or physiological in nature.

There's nothing wrong with me that a little chocolate won't cure.
The “serotonin hypothesis” seeks to explain why women crave for chocolates before and after menstruation. Proponents of the theory say that women are depressed due to low levels of a brain chemical called serotonin. They claim that chocolate and other sugary carbohydrates are a natural anti-depressant because foods high in carbohydrates contain a substance called tryptophan, which make serotonin levels rise.

However, Pelchat says that the serotonin hypothesis doesn’t explain why women would prefer chocolate to other carbohydrate foods like bread or pasta. She says that maybe women just like chocolate for its sweet taste, aroma and texture.

Forget love! I'd rather fall in chocolate!
Aside from tryptophan, there are other chemicals in chocolate that make you feel better. Theobromine and methylxanthine, cousins to caffeine, give you a mild perking effect.

Chocolate also contains a brain chemical called phenylethyamine, which can quicken the pulse and raise blood sugar levels producing a giddy excited state of wellbeing that some people have compared to the feeling of falling in love.

Some things in life are better rich - coffee, chocolate, and men.
Aside from “feel good” chemicals, chocolate also contains things that are good for your health (though this is no excuse to eat a whole box of chocolates).

Just like red wine, apples, and black tea, chocolate contains flavonols, which increase good cholesterol, prevent bad cholesterol from clogging up arteries, and make the blood less likely to clot. It also contains nitric oxide, a compound associated with a healthy blood flow and normal blood pressure.

Rich dark chocolate is the healthiest type of chocolate because it contains the greatest amounts of flavonols. Pure cocoa powder and cocoa “tableas” are examples.

Milk chocolate, chocolate syrups, and instant chocolate powder have far less flavonols because the manufacturing process destroys most of them.

White chocolate does not have any of the healthy flavonols since it only contains cocoa butter and milk solids.

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