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Why Stress Makes You Crave Chocolate According to Research

Red lips eating chocolate

Have you ever wondered why you crave chocolate when you get stressed out? It turns out there are scientific reasons behind why we crave chocolate at hectic points in our lives. Research justifies our cravings and provides healthier ways to get our chocolate fix.


Chocolate Makes Us Happy

It’s not all in your head. Well, actually it is, but in a literal sense. Physically, the consumption of chocolate does make you happy by stimulating the release of dopamine in your brain. This neurotransmitter has been called “the happy hormone”. Chocolate also stimulates the release of serotonin, a hormone that has a calming effect on the mind and body. The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotion. The phenylethylamine compound in chocolate combines with the dopamine to trigger feelings of bliss in the limbic system. However, while phenylethylamine does have an anti-depressive effect, in large quantities it can contribute to negative emotions.

Chocolate Lowers Our Stress

Chocolate actually does have the ability to lower the stress hormone called cortisol in our bodies. A Nestle clinical trial was conducted on 30 participants to evaluate the metabolic responses to chocolate. The participants were classified in low and high anxiety traits utilizing psychological questionnaires. Both urine and blood plasma were collected over a three day period. At the conclusion of two weeks, the participants with the highest anxiety levels were shown to have distinct metabolic profiles indicative of a different energy homeostasis. Dark chocolate lowered the urinary excretion of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines. It also partially normalized the differences in energy metabolism related to stress. The study’s findings provide strong evidence that the daily consumption of 40 grams of dark chocolate over a two week period is sufficient to restore normal energy metabolism as per variation of both host and microbial metabolism.

Chocolate Comforts Us

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Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food, and we have a psychological relationship with chocolate. Our mind associates comfort with chocolate so it is no wonder why we crave it in a stressful situation. As adults, perhaps we have relegated chocolate to the place our childhood binkies and blankies once occupied. After all, women’s number one craving just happens to be chocolate. Maybe this is because women are more easily stressed then men. According to a study conducted by Cambridge Unversity, women are nearly two times more likely to be stressed than men.

There was another interesting study done on chocolate in 1994. Participants were divided into three groups that were given: a Hershey’s chocolate bar, Hershey’s cocoa powder capsules, and a white chocolate bar with cocoa powder capsules. Participants reported a 61% decrease in their chocolate craving after consuming the chocolate bar compared to 42% in the white chocolate group and only 16% in the cocoa capsules group. Clearly, a chocolate craving is driven by the desire for all the components of chocolate including both the palate experience and ingredients!

Calling All Chocoholics!

Here is the million dollar question for chocoholics: what if you could have 100% chocolate and 0% guilt? I would call that a win-win, and it is not too good to be true! There is a variety of chocolate available now that is sweetened with healthier alternatives to processed sugar. Some of these alternatives include the brands: Lily’s (sweetened with stevia), Pure7 (sweetened with honey), and ChocZero (sweetened with monk fruit extract). I’ve tried maltitol sweetened chocolate, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you are prone to sugar-alcohol related digestive upsets!

There are many excellent brands of dark chocolate available if you can indulge your chocolate cravings in moderation. I would personally consider dark chocolate to be 70% or greater depending on personal preference. Just keep in mind that you'll receive the most health benefits from the darkest chocolate!

Check out these other great articles by EMaxHealth: Mystery of Dark Chocolate Health Benefits Solved, Why Monk Fruit May Be the Secret to Enjoying a Guilt-Free Holiday Season, and Why Eating Fat Doesn't Make You Fat According to Research.