What is it about chocolate that so many of us find irresistible?
For a start, the rich, chocolaty smell and the yummy, creamy taste are most likely a large part of chocolate’s attraction. However, if you dig down a little deeper in to the science of it all, chocolate does contain a number of interesting chemicals that could have an effect on our brain.
These include anandamide, a neurotransmitter (whose name comes from the Sanskrit – “ananda”, meaning “joy, bliss, delight”). Anandamides stimulate the brain in much the same way that cannabis does. It also contains tyramine and phenylethylamine, both of which have similar effects to amphetamines. There are also small traces of theobromine and caffeine, both of which are well-known stimulants. Now the science of these chemicals is all well and good, but really in the amount of chocolate you can eat ….which for some of us can be quite a lot……there are really only tiny amounts which are not likely to send us on some crazy high
So why does it comfort us so much?
As with all foods, first it can be pleasing to the eye, depending on how it is presented. Then our sense of smell detects that unmistakable rich aroma and, if you can resist eating too quickly, chocolate feels creamy and smooth in the mouth. The sense reactors on our tongues detect this texture change, which leads to feelings of pleasure. Let us not forget here too, that for many the feeling of indulging in something “naughty” is a definite draw. However, what really transforms the raw cocoa beans into the irresistible food we crave is the addition of sugar and fat. The addition of just the right amount of each is crucial to our enjoyment of chocolate. Look at the ingredient list on a bar of milk chocolate and you will see that it is normally contains around 20-25% fat and 40-50% sugar.
It would be difficult to find any natural foods that contain this high level of sugar and fats together. There are natural sugars in fruits and healthy fats in nuts and other foods, but milk is one of the rare foods where they can be found in the same place. Not just cow’s milk, but human breast milk is particularly rich in natural sugars. Human breast milk is roughly 4% fat, and about 8% is made up of sugars. Amazingly, milk chocolate is the same ratio of 1g of fat to 2g of sugars! Do you see where I’m going with this?
Can we resist? Should we resist? Honestly, pretty much no on both counts. If you demonize a food, it seems to grow larger in your cravings and often the result is that you have way more than you would have had in the first place. Not only that but you make yourself miserable and possibly lead to berating yourself on all kinds of levels for giving in. Not productive at all! Experts recommend that eating a small amount of dark chocolate (70% and over of cocoa) is preferable and many even tout health benefits. So you can be naughty and kind to your body at the same time 🙂