Feature Articles Food, Fitness and Eating
Chocolate: Is It a Food or Drug?
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.,
Chocolate is the most commonly craved food in North America, especially among women, and especially during certain phases of the menstrual cycle.
Chocolate craving, as defined as an intense, periodic motivation aimed at gaining the craved substance, appears to exist in 40% of females and 15% of males; 75% of all self-titled chocolate cravers, say that there is no substitute when they crave chocolate.
Food historians report that we are not unique in our love
affair with chocolate. Chocolate has been revered over the
centuries. For example, 500 years ago, the Indians of Central
America held cocoa sacred; it was considered an aphrodisiac and
reserved for special occasions and for those with wealth and
power. The Aztecs considered the cocoa tree a gift from the god
of wisdom and knowledge. Cocoa beans were even used as currency.
In 1753, the fruit of the cacao tree was given the Latin name
Theobroma Cacao, or the "food of the gods."
When we try to pinpoint what exactly makes chocolate so
irresistible, we come up with any number of explanations. For
the most part, however, chocolate's unique flavor, texture, and
aroma account for the majority of accepted explanations for
chocolate cravings. For example, the fat in chocolate--cocoa
butter--melts at body temperature, which explains the
mouth-watering experience of eating chocolate; plus, a
preference for sweet, high-fat foods appears to be an inborn
However, white chocolate, which has the texture, sweetness
and similar amounts of cocoa butter, does not completely satisfy
a chocolate craving. So there must be something else driving our
That something else may be any number of pleasure-inducing
compounds found in chocolate which affect our brain chemistry
and induce a feeling of "well-being."
More research is needed to determine the exact mechanism of
chocolate cravings; in the meantime, rest assured that chocolate
cravings are real, and that chocolate can be a part of a
JADA, October, 1999; pages 1249-1256.
Hippocrates, September/October 1988.
FDA Consumer, July 1994.
"The Great Food Almanac," Irena Chalmers; Collins Publishers, 1994.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009