Why do we crave chocolate? Studies show that it's chalked up to our emotions! While this may be the case, there is some interesting science behind it. Keep reading and we will answer all of your questions about chocolate cravings, including the following:
- Why Do We Crave Chocolate?
- Nutritional Deficiency
- Hunger or Cravings
- Craving Chocolate During or Before Your Period?
- How to Fight Chocolate Cravings
- Substitutes For Chocolate
You may have heard that when you are craving something it is usually your body's way of telling you that you are deficient in a specific nutrient, and it's true.
When it comes to chocolate, it is common knowledge that the craving signifies a deficiency in magnesium. Since cacao is considered the food with the highest amount of magnesium per gram, it comes as no surprise that chocolate is the first thing we reach for when we encounter such a deficiency.
Yet, based on this science, you should be reaching for a bar of dark chocolate, considering that the higher the cacao content of chocolate the more magnesium it has. Your standard bar of Hershey's milk chocolate contains only 59 milligrams of magnesium for every 100 grams. However, a Lindt chocolate bar with 85% cacao has almost quadruple the magnesium content. White chocolate boasts a measly 12 milligrams of magnesium per 100 grams.
Interestingly enough, cashew nuts rank second on the list for the food with the highest magnesium content, but when was the last time you had an intense craving for a handful of cashew nuts?
As we discuss further below, the reason for your chocolate craving is, in all likelihood, due to factors other than a magnesium deficiency. That said, we’re not saying that you’re not magnesium deficient, because you just might be. Especially since magnesium deficiency is one of the most common types of deficiencies, it's worth looking into.
If you’re a woman, studies show that you’re more susceptible than men to magnesium deficiency. Even moreso in postmenopausal women, with more than 80% showing signs of magnesium deficiency. With numbers that high, it’s no wonder that women are typically more inclined than men to crave chocolate.
A good way to decipher if your chocolate craving is deficiency-related is to consider taking the recommended daily dose of magnesium in supplement form. If your chocolate cravings are relieved then it's safe to say that a magnesium deficiency was probably the reason behind your cravings.
If not, we recommend taking your daily dosage anyway as magnesium is a key mineral in over 300 body processes. Don't want to deny yourself that!
So, if you’ve fulfilled your mineral needs, why are you still craving chocolate?
Oh, the sugar! When that craving hits you and you go in search of a bar of chocolate, it’s more than likely a response to a reaction in your brain. The brain craves sugar for more than one reason.
Let's look at the most straightforward cause first: your body needs sugar. The body requires glucose (sugar) for a myriad of functions. While your body breaks down all carbs into the simple sugars it needs, chances are you have been satisfying these cravings by reaching for the first sugary-sweet, readily available and most advertised snack there is. Chocolate.
Hunger or Cravings?
This leads us to another reason for those chocolate cravings. Somewhere along the line, you had your first bite of chocolate and it was nothing short of confectionery heaven. The part of your brain (nucleus accumbens) that is responsible for feelings of reward has clocked chocolate as a treat that instantly spikes those feel-good dopamine levels. And that reward-seeking behavior fuels you to go back for more every time.
It’s in human nature to seek the triggers that release dopamine into our brains. It’s ingrained in us as part of our survival instinct, but processed sugars are a sort of super stimuli for the part of the brain responsible for dopamine transmissions.
And what do we do when we love something? We crave more and more and this is how addictions are developed.
Actually, for this reason, sugar addiction has been considered to have similar effects on the brain as illicit drug addictions. So, there’s a bit of an explanation as to why we often find ourselves overindulging in foods laden with sugar.
Now, let’s be clear. Craving does not equal hunger. The two are quite different. Huger is a physiological need for energy to perform all the body’s functions. Usually, hunger comes in the form of a growling stomach, headaches or a general hollow feeling that gets worse the longer you wait it out.
Cravings are a psychological need and usually develop from habit or emotional urgency. Essentially, it’s the brain’s way of telling you it wants a release of serotonin/dopamine.
Hunger dissipates once you’ve eaten to satisfaction (not fullness - it’s important to learn the difference), but cravings can persist even after you’ve had a nourishing meal.
The nutrient content of your meal can be a clear indicator as to why you crave chocolate and other sugary foods after eating. Foods that are high in simple carbs digest quickly and cause a surge in sugar levels that do not last. The body will have trouble adjusting to the sudden fluctuation and crave foods that produce instant sugar.
Also worth noting is that digestion is a process that requires energy and for this reason alone, the body will covet sugars that offer a quick energy increase to carry out the course of digestion.
The saltiness of your meals may also make your brain demand a kind of ‘equilibrium’. Accordingly, after salty meals the body will naturally desire sugary foods to create this balance. Once we continually give in to this ‘need’ for a balance it could develop into a habit.
In many cultures, it is expected to end off a meal with a round of desserts. Because of this, many of us have developed a habit of anticipating sugar even after eating a hearty meal regardless of reaching a state of fullness.
If you are accustomed to consuming foods high in sugars and fats after a meal it causes a neurochemical rewiring of your brain to automatically demand these types of food after eating.
You may have convinced yourself that this is just a constant craving, but cravings are occasional. Habit is steady.
Now, a habit of eating chocolate every day doesn't have to be a bad thing. We're not suggesting you quit eating chocolate cold turkey. We're not monsters!
There's nothing wrong with having a couple of squares of dark chocolate to treat yourself throughout the day. With all the health benefits of raw cacao, you may even be doing yourself a favor by implementing it into your daily diet by way of chocolate with a high percentage of cacao. Moderation is key.
It may help to understand where your habit stems from. Typically, it is cultural. In many cultures, meals are served in three stages: the appetizer, the main course, and, lastly, dessert. This is commonly considered a well-rounded meal, but following this pattern can form a socially-created habit.
Another cause we're all familiar with is a habit formed from stress relief or emotional fulfillment.
Chocolate is considered comfort food. Like other processed and refined sugars, it instantly releases feelings of happiness.
Emotional hunger is entirely different from physical hunger. As discussed above, physical hunger manifests itself in signs such as a growling stomach and hunger pangs. When you are physically hungry, any food sounds good and, after eating, the signs of hunger dissipate.
Emotional hunger targets specific foods and, unless you satisfy your feelings with those foods, it doesn't go away. It's all you can think about because emotional hunger is all in the mind.
Since this hunger isn't physical, but physiological, calculating the point of fulfillment is more of a test.
As with eating for stress relief, or reasons of boredom, we eat to feel better, and when this is the goal, it's easy to fall into the clutches of mindless eating.
This is when the habit turns into a problem. The habit is merely a symptom of a problem that goes much deeper. The best way to fix this is to target the reason for your emotional cravings and work on that.
Craving Chocolate During or Before Your Period?
During the days before your period, your body experiences a hormonal imbalance. The concentration of chemicals that are responsible for feeling good, like serotonin, plummet, while cortisol, the one responsible for your stress levels, rise.
This leads to changes in behavior and mood swings. When you're feeling down your brain urges you to seek the foods that can offset these feelings.
Your levels of estrogen and progesterone can also experience a drop around the days of your period and this drop can cause an increased appetite.
Because PMS refers to physical, mental and emotional symptoms in the days leading up to a woman's period, chocolate cravings can be chalked up to just another PMS symptom.
However, studies have shown that chocolate cravings during your period may be culturally influenced as opposed to being a direct link to an imbalance in hormones.
The study asked Spanish and American women open-ended and direct questions about the usual times they experienced chocolate cravings. When asked directly, 60% of American women were more likely to crave chocolate peri-menstrually, while only 24% of Spanish women reported experiencing the same.
When the question was extended to both men and women, the most frequent times for chocolate cravings were after a meal, while studying, and in the evening.
Also, the way chocolate is advertised in American culture has a strong influence on the way in which we associate with it. Multiple brands have a knack for showcasing almost exclusively women indulging in chocolate as a way to relieve stress or to reach emotional nirvana.
Across the board, chocolate is commercialized as being synonymous with love, comfort and happiness and, more often than not, these feelings are targeted towards the fairer sex.
So, it seems fair to say that women have been culturally conditioned to crave chocolate more so than men, especially in American-centric cultures.
How to Fight Chocolate Cravings
Now that we have covered the various reasons for chocolate cravings, it's easier to answer the question of how to fight these cravings.
Since one reason could be a deficiency in magnesium, you can start taking magnesium supplements. For the recommended daily dose, look here.
Aside from supplements, you can also increase your recommended levels by implementing magnesium-rich foods into your daily diet. Spinach, almonds, cashews, and avocados are all a great source of magnesium. So, if you're trying to stay away from chocolate altogether, why not give these foods a try?
If you're hungry, filling up on other foods should do the trick.
If it's a habit you're trying to kill, focus on eating mindfully. Ask yourself why you want chocolate and get to the root of the problem. Is it stress? Feeling down? Or just trying to satisfy your palate with something sweet after dinner?
To avoid mindless overeating, try not to eat while you are engaged in other activities like working, studying or watching TV.
If you insist on indulging in chocolate and giving in to those cravings, there are healthy ways to do it without sacrificing health.
If you must, find chocolate with a high cacao percentage like a bar of dark chocolate. For one, the sugar content is considerably lower than that of milk chocolate and the health benefits to be found in natural cacao is a win-win.
In addition, you could consider drinking away those chocolate cravings without worrying about all the sugar and calories. How? With cacao husk tea!
Cacao husk tea is a loose-leaf chocolate tea made from the outer shells of the cacao bean. This 100% natural alternative is it a fantastic guilt-free way to enjoy the essence of chocolate without any negative health impacts.
It has a subtle taste with chocolate and caramel essences and offers excellent health benefits. It's a mood booster, packed with magnesium and antioxidants. And best of all, it’s the perfect alternative to satisfying your chocolate cravings.
Substitutes For Chocolate
Now, if you're trying to cut chocolate out of your diet completely and you’re looking for healthy substitutes and alternatives, here are a few options.
Sometimes we just want something sweet without any of the guilt. Fresh fruits like grapes, bananas, berries, and oranges can be an excellent substitute. They are rich in vitamins and low in fat and calories.
High protein yogurt can also do the trick. With so many flavors to choose from, you can satisfy that sweet tooth without sacrificing taste. Make sure to look for yogurt with at least 20 grams of protein per serving.
Peanut butter, anyone? Any nut butter like cashew, walnut or hazelnut can be a delicious substitute which helps fulfill those chocolate cravings. The high protein content will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Indulging in a couple of spoonfuls of one of these nut-butters can be exactly what you need to satisfy your craving for something sweet, rich and creamy.
Protein bars can also be a good alternative. Some of them even mimic the look and taste of a chocolate bar. But watch out for those with high sugar content, as indulging in these could be just as counterproductive as eating a whole candy bar.
For many of us chocolate lovers, the bottom line is this: chocolate is in a league all of its own and trying to replace or completely remove it from our diet seems like an insurmountable challenge.
Just know there are always healthier options and ways to enjoy chocolate.
Our tip: Always choose chocolate treats that are high in cacao. Dark chocolate doesn't always have to be bitter. With such a huge variety of dark chocolate to choose from, it's only a matter of finding the best one for you.