Most women crave chocolate at some point. Certain types of chocolate can be health-promoting in moderation (like this homemade version) but we typically don’t crave it because of a chocolate deficiency… so why do want it so bad at times?
There are several reasons people crave chocolate. Statistically, women tend to desire chocolate much more than men, but men tend to favor cravings for foods like red meat (B12, protein) and beer (b-vitamins and yeasts).
While the craving may not come from a chocolate deficiency, per se, there are several components in chocolate that the body may become deficient in, especially magnesium and antioxidants. Chocolate can also affect the brain, leading to an increase in neurotransmitters and dopamine and a feeling of happiness.
In studies, chocolate cravings seems especially tied to hormone changes (menstruation, pregnancy, etc) and the magnesium in chocolate, as well as its ability to affect neurotransmitters may be a large part of the reason.
Interestingly, women having chocolate cravings may also be culturally conditioned. The trend of craving chocolate is most pronounced in the US and men reported the craving much less than women. This might stem from the fact that chocolate is largely marketed to women as a way to deal with negative emotions or to “get away from it all.”
In fact, a 2004 study found that premenstrual cravings varied by culture and that chocolate was most craved in the US, while Japanese women favored cravings for rice and sushi (totally switching my cravings to this!).
Magnesium in Chocolate
Chocolate is not the highest magnesium food available, though it does make the top ten list. It is the only top-ten magnesium food that also is known for its ability to promote neurotransmitter activity and dopamine production, so this combination makes it especially desirable during hormone imbalance.
Other foods, like leafy greens, figs, avocados, and nuts are higher in magnesium per gram, but dark chocolate has 327 milligrams of magnesium per 100 grams.
Since experts estimate that 80% of us (or more) are deficient in magnesium, it is important to find ways to increase magnesium levels in the body, but unfortunately, chocolate may not be a great way to do this.
Depletion of soil magnesium has led to a reduction of dietary magnesium and due to gut issues, many people may struggle to absorb magnesium through the digestive system. Personally, I use topical transdermal magnesium, which is much easier for the body to assimilate and use effectively.
I’ve also noticed that when I am consuming enough magnesium-rich foods (especially greens) and using topical magnesium, I don’t have PMS or other hormone struggles (and even had less morning sickness and an easier labor last pregnancy when using magnesium).
Bottom Line: Magnesium deficiency is a major problem. While dark chocolate may be the tastiest way to increase magnesium levels, it probably isn’t the most effective. If anything, chocolate should be used moderately in addition to other whole-food sources of magnesium and a topical magnesium. Tip: Try this magnesium body butter for a skin-softening magnesium boost.
Chocolate and the Brain
Perhaps the most likely reason that we crave chocolate and enjoy eating it so much is the way chocolate affects the brain.
The basic fact that chocolate tastes good and we enjoy eating it means that the body releases dopamine during chocolate consumption. Chocolate also increases serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for better mood, sleep, and reduction of anxiety.
Women have a natural decrease in serotonin in the brain in the week before menstruation, so this may partially explain the specific craving for chocolate during this time.
Chocolate also contains theobromine, a chemical known to increase heart rate and energy, as well as arousal.
Antioxidants in Chocolate
One chocolate claim that has been largely over-emphasized (especially by certain chocolate companies and network marketing companies) is the antioxidant potential of chocolate.
Chocolate does contain decent amounts of flavonols, antioxidants that are said to be anti-aging and promote healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Flavonols may also help keep blood vessels elastic.
The problem? We would need to consume huge amounts of chocolate to get enough antioxidants to see the benefit, and there are few true studies on the antioxidant potential of chocolate (most are observational).
Additionally, while dark chocolate has relatively high amounts of antioxidants like flavonols, milk chocolate has very little and white chocolate doesn’t have any. Most manufacturers actually remove the flavonols, since they make chocolate taste bitter.
Milk chocolate is statistically the chocolate of choice, at least in the US, and it has negligible antioxidant content, especially for the amount of sugar it contains. Most processed chocolate also contains high fructose corn syrup and other additives.
Bottom Line: If you’re in it for the antioxidants, the only option worth consuming regularly is really high quality dark chocolate from a trusted source with minimal sugar. If the antioxidants are your priority, consider other foods like phytoplankton, spirulina, astaxanthin or organic berries.
The Problem with Chocolate
Now for the bad news….
There are several downsides to chocolate that can negate the health benefits.
Chocolate is a big source of sugar. Commercially produced chocolate often contains very large amounts of sugar or corn syrup solids and should absolutely be avoided. Even some high-end chocolate sold at a tremendous markup and touted for its health promoting properties contain fructose and other sweeteners that have negative health effects.
Proportionately, chocolate is high in sugar, calories and (often) unhealthy fats while providing relatively little nutritional value.
and the really, really, bad news…
The one thing that made me personally extremely picky about the chocolate I consume is the sourcing issues with chocolate.
Most of us don’t realize while we are boosting our PMSing serotonin levels with chocolate that we are also contributing to child slave labor.
It is ironic and sad that the treats that are loved and consumed by women and children in the United States are produced with forced child labor and child slavery:
According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.(source)
All health pros and cons aside, I refused to buy or consume any product that came from the work of children forced into slavery and inhumane conditions. An estimated 1.8 million children work in the cocoa fields in Ghana and the Ivory Coast and while the chocolate industry is a 70 Billion dollar industry, this problem hasn’t been corrected.
Thankfully, there are companies that have chosen to be fair-trade and not use child labor for the production of their chocolate. See a full list of these companies here and please consider supporting only these companies that use ethical labor for their production.
Bottom Line: High quality chocolate is fine for most people to consume in moderation, but most chocolate does contain some sugar and there are ethical issues with child slave labor for some chocolate brands. Choosing high-quality slave-free and fair-trade chocolate and consuming it in moderation solves both problems.
What I Do About Chocolate Cravings
High quality dark chocolate does have some health benefits, but also some downsides. That said, chocolate is on the healthy end of the treat spectrum and I do enjoy it in moderation. I usually stick to homemade chocolate or Equal Exchange (a verified child labor free brand).
I’ve found that when I’m specifically craving chocolate I need to look at my magnesium levels and my sleep and stress levels before turning to chocolate as a quick fix.
I’d love to know- do you ever crave chocolate? What kind do you like?
Discussion (30 Comments)
I love chocolate in whatever ways (except for white, which, let’s face it, it’s not even chocolate). Until recent times, I was able to devour half a 5 oz bar in an afternoon, specially milk chocolate with nuts (which I kept saying to myself it was healthier because of the nuts). I used to open the bar and say: ok, just 3 squares. But then, instead of satiating my craving, I needed more and more.
Recently tried to get things healthier and bought a dark chocolate bar, since I heard it is actually beneficial and all (that would ease my mind from the guilt, I thought). But I wasn’t prepared to what occurred: 2 squares were actually enough! I didn’t crave anymore for the whole day (not the dark, nor any other chocolate). The bar lasted for 10 whole days!
Then I realized that what was making me eat the whole thing before wasn’t the chocolate, but the sugar.
From now on, I will keep a bar of good quality, dark chocolate in my desk drawer, because I love it and because just one or two squares are now enough for me, so the bar (which is a bit more expensive) lasts much longer, hence I can afford a product higher in quality.
As for the ethical issue… I promise I’ll take a closer look.
Thank you once again for the great info!
This is why I keep Bark Thins in my cupboard. Quality chocolate and Fair Trade. I read about these on a top ten must have for homeschooling mama’s list. Just a dab will do!!
Katie, is there any particular reason you did not include my 2 comments from yesterday morning?
I’ve been swamped this week and probably haven’t gotten to them in the moderation queue yet. Working on comments now, so will probably get to them in a few minutes. As a mom of five, sometimes I don’t have the time to tackle comments every single day.
Amino acid deficiencies can also be the root of sugar, carb and chocolate cravings. Sometimes by just taking a supplement of the amino acids Glutamine or D-phenylalanine or Tryptophan will stop the cravings. Google Julia Ross or Trudy Scott and amino acid therapy for more information.
Since you asked, Katie, usually the chocolate I crave, when I crave it at all, or reach for when I see it, is chocolate with almonds or other nuts. When I was growing up, sometimes my mother would put Hershey’s Kisses with almonds in a dish on top of the piano and I would occasionally treat myself. I still like M&Ms with peanuts though I try to not buy or eat them very often.
The drink you make sounds delicious, Christie – thanks for sharing the recipe!
Thanks for the link to ethically sourced chocolate, Katie. I will take a look at tell my husband about it – he buys most of the candy in our family.
Great read, it’s interesting because I have always wanted and love chocolate. I will sometimes make my own shake usually with frozen bananas and raw honey and then coco powder because it’s the only thing I can find that is not a bar the is %100 cocoa. For me if it taste bitter then I know there is no sugar, but sure how strong the bitterness needs to be. So I like that I learned I can now just take more magnesium if I feel or show signs that I need to. But how will I know it’s working because sometimes I will forget to take that vitamin or a supplement for a day but may not show signs for a week or days later?
I do love chocolate. Like you I won’t buy it if it’s not fair trade, but in any case my favourite brand is Living Earth – fair trade dark chocolate made with raw cocao & sweetened either with agave or (my preference) coconut sugar. They have a whole range, but I prefer the darker ones.
They’re an Australian company though, you probably can’t get them over there.
Thank you for the post. I just looked at Hershey’s website and they have pledged to source 50% of their chocolate ethically by 2016 and 100% by 2020. I wrote a quick comment to them to thank them for moving to ethically sourced chocolate and said that I would no longer buy any Hershey products until they reach that 100% mark. They are a big company that could make huge difference in those children’s lives if they sourced all chocolate made without child slavery. Perhaps if each of us wrote them an email and put it on our facebook we could make a difference in the lives of those children.
Thank you so much for sharing the information about Hershey. Since I eat no sugar, I use their sugar-free chocolate chips. They are the only sugar-free ones I can find. I don’t remember what they use: it is not the best, but not the worst sweetener. I wish I could find products sweetened with pure Stevia.
My friend uses Lily’s sugar free chocolate for her daughter. I don’t if is if it’s fair trade though.
While I was breast feeding my last child I craved Cadbury’s Chocolate and Almond bars! I never had a craving before in my life. I ae at least a whole bar one very day – and they are big. Hershey’s or another brand would not do. I even got up in the middle of the night to eat it. After my baby was weaned; the craving was completely gone. A midwife later told me that the chocolate and almond combine to make a chemical that helps in the production of breast milk. My body knew!
Thanks for this post. I just recently started researching and learning more about hormone levels and Magnesium deficiencies.
I have always been a lover of all things chocolate but over the past few years I am more picky about the ingredients that go into it before I eat it. I look for organic and whole ingredients first.
And of course.. all in moderation.