One often hears the term chocoholic bandied about in society, particularly as the candy-riddled holiday season approaches. Turns out there may be some actual credence to the term. What’s really driving the chocolate craving bus? A one-two punch of brain chemicals and mineral deficiency, says science.
Chocolate contains over 380 known chemicals, and the sweet’s small amounts of tryptophan stimulate serotonin levels in the brain. Seratonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feel good moods, is the linchpin to overall feelings of well-being. Since eating chocolate naturally boosts your feel-good hormones, it’s all the more addictive for emotional eaters.
Chocolate also contains the neurotransmitter annandamine, which can produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain. The debate wages on as to whether or not chocolate actually contains enough pharmacologically active substance to produce a “high.” Emmanuelle diTomaso and Daniele Piomelli, researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, found annandamine could bind to receptors in the brain in the same way as tetrahyrocannabinol, aka THC, the active chemical in marijuana. While chocolate contains no THC, its unique combination of chemicals can stimulate a similar production of dopamine in the brain, giving you a little buzz.
Colleen Huber, a naturopathic medical doctor at Nature Works Best Cancer Clinic in Arizona and author of Choose Your Foods, argues chocolate cravings are, in actuality, a magnesium deficiency. It’s wildly common, especially in the U.S., to be low on magnesium. Magnesium-dense foods such as raw nuts, seeds, and legumes tend not to be overly prevalent in the American diet. Sugar, however, remains abundant.
When it comes to cacao, sugar remains the real problem. For every gram of sugar you ingest, your body needs 54 grams of magnesium to process it. Chocolate naturally contains trace minerals, including magnesium. So if you find yourself craving the sweet stuff and a handful of raw almonds simply isn’t going to cut it, then reach for dark chocolate—the darker the better. A low–glycemic index dark chocolate will stabilize low blood sugar between meals without spiking your insulin.
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