Why We Crave Chocolate

by Greer Grenley

Why We Crave Chocolate

Why do we love chocolate? The answer seems pretty obvious - “because it tastes good!” But what does that actually mean? Why does it taste good? Turns out, there’s science behind why we enjoy it so much.

When we eat chocolate, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters often called “the feel good hormones.” Dopamine in particular helps us remember positive experiences, and once we have learned what makes us happy, it creates a slight anticipation anytime we see or do it. Our memories create a conditioned response, which is why if we smell or see chocolate, or even if we just imagine having it, we start to crave it. Dopamine also lowers our levels of stress, which is why we often crave chocolate in stressful situations because we associate it as a comfort food.

The ingredients in chocolate that cause our brain to release dopamine and serotonin are caffeine, tyramine, and tryptophan. One of the other chemicals in chocolate is anandamide, which stimulates the brain to the same effect as marijuana. There are just trace amounts, so even though our brains are not going to get a chemical rush from chocolate, anandamide still plays a part in seducing our senses.

Research has found that we don’t just love chocolate -  we love the experience of eating it. According to a recent study, letting chocolate slowly dissolve in your mouth produces just as big of an increase in brain activity as kissing does, but the effects last four times longer. Special touch receptors on our tongue sense the textural change when chocolate dissolves, which in turn stimulates our feelings of pleasure.

However, this is really just generalizing chocolate, as each kind (milk, dark, and white) effect your brain and body differently. For example, dark chocolate has higher levels of cocoa, so it produces more of the chemical epicatechin, which studies have found increases muscles and helps the heart. In 2016, the New York Times reported that cyclists gained a slight performance benefit by eating small amounts of dark chocolate. It also contains small amounts of magnesium, which is a nutrient that many people, especially women, are deficient in.

Chocolate cravings don’t just come from our brains; some research suggests that chocolate lovers have a different type of bacteria in their stomach than non-chocolate lovers. The amino acid glycine is higher in those who like chocolate, while taurine (an active ingredient in energy drinks) is higher in people who don’t eat it. People who like chocolate also have lower levels of the bad cholesterol LDL.

I had never thought about why I love chocolate - I just knew I did. After reading why it affects us the way it does, I started getting some chocolate cravings. Now excuse me while I look for my secret stash of sweets...

Greer Grenley
Greer Grenley


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