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Chocolate: Is It a Food or Drug?

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.,
Former Nutritional Sciences Specialist,
College of Human Environmental Sciences,
University of Missouri-Columbia


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. 

Woman eating big chocolate bar


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 human trait. 

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 desire. 

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 healthful diet. 

JADA, October, 1999; pages 1249-1256. 
Hippocrates, September/October 1988. 
Chocolate Alliance
FDA Consumer, July 1994. 
"The Great Food Almanac," Irena Chalmers; Collins Publishers, 1994.




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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