Do You Crave Chocolate?

Do you crave chocolate and your friends call you a chocoholic? Research shows that women are more apt to crave certain foods than men -- particularly sweet foods such as chocolate, and especially at certain times.

Mindy Kurzer, Ph.D., a nutrition scientist at the University of Minnesota, has studied for several years how food affects people. Men and women have some definite differences.

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Women have much more of a relationship with food and that is why they are studied much more than men when it comes to foods’ psychological aspects,” notes Dr. Kurzer. “Men approach food from a much more biological perspective – ‘I’m hungry, it’s time to eat, what’s in the refrigerator?’”

Many people describe their desire to eat chocolate as a "craving." In fact, studies have shown that chocolate is the single most craved food in the country. Experts are actively conducting research to determine causes of cravings. Much of this research has focused on chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that might affect one's mood and desire for different types of foods.

Serotonin and endorphins are two of the better-understood neurotransmitters. Serotonin is thought to help people feel calm and relaxed. It is believed that low levels of serotonin lead to craving for starches and for sweet foods like chocolate. This is because foods high in carbohydrates may help boost the amount of serotonin in the brain. A feeling of well-being is said to return with a rise in serotonin levels. Additionally, some researchers believe that fluctuations in serotonin are related to premenstrual syndrome and may explain premenstrual cravings for foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches).

Endorphins are believed to be "feel good" neurotransmitters. In contrast to serotonin, endorphin levels appear to be affected by dietary fat - thus, it has been suggested that eating fat-containing foods like chocolate might increase endorphins and lift a person's mood.

Scientific research shows that people desire chocolate because of its aroma, creaminess and satisfying flavor. "Women who crave chocolate appear to do so because of its enjoyable sensory properties -- its smell, taste and mouth feel, and they also appear to have positive psychological associations with the food," says Dr. Kurzer. While many men certainly enjoy chocolate, few report craving it. Instead, pizza tops their list of foods craved.

Food cravings, particularly for sweet foods and chocolate, increase during the menstrual cycle. Women with PMS also report increased chocolate consumption. “The ‘whys’ behind this consumption pattern aren’t fully known yet,” Dr. Kurzer explains. “Many foods, including chocolate, contain bioactive compounds but few studies show that consumption of these foods actually can improve one’s mood.”

Craving chocolate is very different than being "addicted" to chocolate. Craving a food is desiring it for its sensory properties - its flavor, aroma and texture. By contrast, an addiction is a serious condition with significant physical and psychological symptoms.

Amy, pictured here, is a business associate who wrote, "I think I need to avoid your website after 3pm as it causes insane chocolate urges."

So, if you crave chocolate, especially if you are a woman, you’re just normal because “everyone-loves-chocolate.”




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