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Chocolate

Food or Drug?
  • KRISTEN BRUINSMA
    Affiliations
    D. L. Taren (corresponding author) is an associate professor and K. Bruinsma is a research assistant with the Arizona Prevention Center, University of Arizona, College of Medicine, 1612 E Mabel St, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
    Search for articles by this author
  • DOUGLAS L. TAREN
    Affiliations
    D. L. Taren (corresponding author) is an associate professor and K. Bruinsma is a research assistant with the Arizona Prevention Center, University of Arizona, College of Medicine, 1612 E Mabel St, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
    Search for articles by this author

      Abstract

      Although addictive behavior is generally associated with drug and alcohol abuse or compulsive sexual activity, chocolate may evoke similar psychopharmacologic and behavioral reactions in susceptible persons. A review of the literature on chocolate cravings indicates that the hedonic appeal of chocolate (fat, sugar, texture, and aroma) is likely to be a predominant factor in such cravings. Other characteristics of chocolate, however, may be equally as important contributors to the phenomena of chocolate cravings. Chocolate may be used by some as a form of self-medication for dietary deficiencies (eg, magnesium) or to balance low levels of neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of mood, food intake, and compulsive behaviors (eg, serotonin and dopamine). Chocolate cravings are often episodic and fluctuate with hormonal changes just before and during the menses, which suggests a hormonal link and confirms the assumed gender-specific nature of chocolate cravings. Chocolate contains several biologically active constituents (methylxanthines, biogenic amines, and cannabinoid-like fatty acids), all of which potentially cause abnormal behaviors and psychological sensations that parallel those of other addictive substances. Most likely, a combination of chocolate's sensory characteristics, nutrient composition, and psychoactive ingredients, compounded with monthly hormonal fluctuations and mood swings among women, will ultimately form the model of chocolate cravings. Dietetics professionals must be aware that chocolate cravings are real. The psychopharmacologic and chemosensory effects of chocolate must be considered when formulating recommendations for overall healthful eating and for treatment of nutritionally related health issues. J Am Diet Assoc. 1999;99: 1249–1256.
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      1. The authors thank Gary Wenk and Iris Bell, who provided valuable consultation throughout the development of this review study, and Cyndi Thompson, PhD, RD, for reviewing and commenting on the manuscript.