Thursday, October 28, 2010

For the love of Chocolate

Continuing with the Halloween theme, today I write about candy. And, not just any candy - chocolate. Almost everyone likes chocolate, and some of us love it. I know I am certainly guilty of raiding my kids’ trick or treat bags in search of the good stuff; which in my book is the solid chocolate without anything else getting in the way. No peanuts, no nuts, no crispies, no crunchies, no wafers, and not even caramel. Just chocolate.

What is it about chocolate that makes so many of us crave it. Turns out there is some solid science behind this apparent madness.

First of all, there is the chemistry. Scientists have discovered several properties of chocolate that literally lead us to crave it. One, it has opioids. Opioids are also found in opium. So, not surprisingly, chocolate, like opium, serves to dull pain and give a general feeling of calm and happiness. Of course, it is present in pretty small doses, so chocolate is a lot safer way to get these feelings! Two, chocolate has caffeine, which is an upper, which tends to make your heart beat just a little faster.

Second – the psychology. Because we tend to give gifts of chocolate to people we love, some theorize that eating chocolate can induce feelings of comfort and/or love for purely psychological reasons. Given the chemistry above, and the biological responses, it is no wonder people have associated chocolate with love. But our resulting cultural association of chocolate with love has trained our emotional responses as well. Even without the underlying chemistry, giving, receiving, or just eating chocolate tends to induce happiness.

Third – the biology. Chocolate really is good for you, at least in moderation. Chocolate contains antioxidants, and flavenoids, both of which are thought to increase your life span through their cardiovascular benefits. In simpler terms, chocolate is good for your heart, biologically-speaking. And, we know that our bodies tend to crave the things that are good for us. It is our bodies’ way of telling us we are short on particular nutrients.

Of course, we also routinely crave what is not so good for us, and too much chocolate definitely falls into that category as well. Chocolate has lots of fats, and sugars. The fact that it contains all those fats, which make it smooth, may also explain some of why we like it so much - the sensation of eating it.

So whatever the reason, enjoy!

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