Chocolate fact of the day no.2

Is chocolate addictive?

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Are you a true ‘chocoholic’?

I never used to eat much chocolate; I liked it but never felt the ‘need’ to have it and probably didn’t really allow myself to have it within my ‘healthy regime’. Then I fell pregnant and life has never been the same.  About 4 months of pretty much constant nausea,  I had to find foods that would help settle my stomach.  Oddly enough Bounty Bars seemed to do the trick! (Along with shortbread biscuits 😉 ) Since then I have never really lost my ‘sweet tooth’ and every now and again I do get that chocolate craving.  I don’t class myself as a chocoholic but I do appreciate why people develop such a strong desires for it. Sometimes  I feel quite guilty for the whole ‘you must practice what you preach‘ thing but then again, life is too short to worry about the small things all the time!

Studies have shown that people can exhibit 3 signs of addiction in relation to food:

  1. Intense craving
  2. Loss of control over the use of it
  3. Continued use despite negative consequences

I don’t often hear about people craving lettuce or cucumber, but this is because we most often crave food that contains sugar or fat and chocolate contains both; it’s no wonder we fall for that sweet, smooth velvety explosion in the mouth, although some purists would say chocolate addiction is not a true addiction. What do you think?

Some will scoff at this weakness for chocolate, passing it off as nothing more than an easily-overcome gluttony; something that could be avoided, if  only you had the willpower……… but I think its more complicated than this.

It is accepted that chocolate has a certain hedonistic appeal, that we gain pleasure from eating it, that it is better than sex but many people also claim it helps reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression too.

So what does it contain that can influence our feelings so strongly?  It’s to do with activation of ‘reward pathways’ in the brain; we experience pleasurable feelings so we seek them out again.  Chocolate works on the brain very much in the same way as drugs do.

In addition to sugar and fat, chocolate contains or causes the release of several substances that can make it feel “addictive”. None of these chemicals however are strong enough to explain this feeling acting on their own and research is not particularly convincing either.

  1.  Chocolate contains tryptophan; an essential amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin – a calming chemical messenger that is involved in regulating mood.  Chocolate increases the levels of serotonin, causing feelings of happiness and elation.
  2. Enkephalins; These are our own natural painkillers (that work with endorphins), that give us a sense of euphoria. Chocolate may increase the release of enkephalins in the brain which doesn’t necessarily make us want chocolate more, but   may increase our desire and impulse to eat it.
  3. Theobromine found in chocolate is a close relative of caffeine.  Like caffeine it has stimulant properties and is potentially addictive.  The level of theobromine in chocolate varies from bar to bar though; milk chocolate contains the lowest levels of theobromine so it  is quite unlikely this alone is responsible for chocolate cravings. 
  4. Anandamide also found in chocolate is produced naturally in the brain too.  This chemical activates the same cannabinoid receptors as marijuana that causes a person to feel “high”. Enzymes break down anandamide shortly after it is produced by the brain, thus limiting the duration of the pleasurable “high”. Chocolate does not contain enough anandamide to produce a global high like marijuana and it has also been suggested the anandamide found in chocolate is broken down by stomach acid before it even reaches the blood stream.
  5. Phenylethylamine is a chemical found in the body that is similar to amphetamine. It helps mediate feelings of giddiness, attraction, euphoria and excitement. Researchers believe phenylethylamine causes the brain to release dopamine in the pleasure centers of the brain, which peaks during sex. This may be why women report to prefer chocolate to sex. 

So chocolate contains and causes the release of ‘addictive’ chemicals and I think the power of these chemicals is variable; perhaps depending on personality type? and in more ‘susceptible’ individuals they find it harder to resist these effects.  As with many aspects of nutrition science, we need some more research…………..

Chocolate and migraines coming tomorrow……………

Chocolate facts of the day

I wrote this in April 2014 when Easter was approaching and the choccy eggs were in the shops (didn’t they appear on boxing day?) so I posted a fact(s) of the day. There are ‘National Chocolate Days’ in various countries across the World so this should stay pretty relevant beyond Easter!

So which is your guilty pleasure? Dark, milk or white chocolate?

What is chocolate?

First we need cocoa beans. Chocolate is a blend of fat (in the form of cocoa butter which is the fatty part of the cocoa bean), cocoa solids (the non fat part of the bean which is ground into a powder) and then some added sugar.  The amount of cocoa solids very much influences the sweetness of the chocolate as the more cocoa put into the chocolate, the less sugar is added, the more bitter the flavour.  The cocoa butter melts at body temperature and gives chocolate its unique mouth-feel mmmmmm.

Dark Chocolate

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European regulations state dark chocolate should have a minimum of 35% cocoa solid. This is the amount of cocoa you would find in a bar of Bournville chocolate for example.  These days though, the popularity of the more expensive, gourmet chocolate with 70-85% cocoa has become very popular. High quality dark chocolate should ‘snap’ cleanly when you break it or bite it – it takes longer to melt in the mouth compared to milk or white chocolate as it also contains less cocoa butter.  It is also better for you than milk or white chocolate (more on that later this week). Now this is not an excuse to go mad on the dark stuff, what I am saying is if you are going to eat chocolate, good quality dark chocolate is probably the way to go.  I found an interesting blog about dark IQ Chocolate so have a look!

Milk Chocolate

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Milk chocolate must have a minimum of 25% cocoa solids.  It contains more sugar and cocoa butter than dark chocolate and so is sweeter and smoother as it melts more easily in the mouth. This is still the most popular type of chocolate at the moment and is partly to blame for some of those expanding waist lines….

White Chocolate

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White chocolate is based on sugar, milk, and cocoa butter only; it contains no solids.  In fact it’s not really chocolate at all! It has a high cocoa butter and sugar content and will often have other ingredients and vanilla flavouring added so is super creamy and sweet – probably why kids love it so much.

Chocolate style, chocolate flavoured and chocolate alternative

These may contain some cocoa powder but they also contain vegetable fats to supplement or replace the cocoa butter. While often used to cover confectionery or ice cream products, they can be molded into solid bars or shapes. They cannot be called chocolate as they do not meet the minimum requirements that defines dark or milk chocolate in terms of the % of cocoa solids.

Carob is a chocolate alternative; made from the carob pod. It is noted for its similarity to cocoa powder; made by drying, roasting and grinding the carob pod after the beans have been removed. The colour and flavour of carob vary according to the roasting process—the longer carob is roasted, the darker its colour and the blander its flavour.

So whether its cocoa beans or carob pods, unfortunately these do not count towards your 5 (or 10) portions of fruit & veg a day! I am a big fan of eating things in moderation though and don’t believe in complete denial of certain ‘bad’ foods. I just don’t think you can beat real chocolate.  For me, I love it, but I want different types of chocolate at different times, depending on how I feel.  After a meal, or when I am full I prefer a little bit of extra dark chocolate; something not too sickly, that provides a sweet ending to a meal.  If I’m watching a film on the sofa, it will generally be milk chocolate (ideally combined with some form of nut………….thinking of M&M’s now……………where was I?………………but I also like white chocolate. It reminds me of my childhood I think; the milky bars are on me!  Those giant white buttons are rather nice…………so that’s it for today, anyone for chocolate?

Find out more with these posts I also wrote  chocolate is addictive, chocolate and migraines, chocolate and heart health, chocolate and diabetes