How many of you gave up sweets or chocolate for Lent? Have you felt deprived and plan on going crazy in less than two weeks? Deprivation leads to wanting to over-indulge…. my suggestion is to take the opportunity to start moderately.

Where do our chocolate cravings come from?

Chocolate is the most frequently craved food, with 40% of women and 15% of men claiming chocolate yearnings (Yanovski 2003).

Chocolate comprises a complex medley of chemicals that give rise to its unique taste, texture and aroma. Over 400 distinct substances contribute to chocolate’s familiar melt-in-your-mouth smoothness and sweetly unique odor. Chocolate has orosensory properties that enhance our urge for sensory gratification: Simply seeing or smelling it can trigger cravings.

Like drug addictions, food cravings alter potent neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Cocoa butter changes from solid to liquid at mouth temperature, providing the characteristic melt-in-your-mouth quality. This sensation causes the brain to release a flood of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, producing temporary feelings of warmth and euphoria. The analgesic effect of chocolate may be a source of sensory addiction for some.

The sugar in chocolate stimulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and provides a sense of calm and well-being. Within minutes of consumption, the chocolate eater may feel a balmy glow. Chocolate may help chase the blues by raising serotonin levels, though the science behind the “serotonin hypothesis” has been mixed (Parker, Parker & Brochie 2006).

Chocolate contains psychoactive agents that can change mood. Theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine, is absorbed quickly, mildly stimulating the nervous system to increase the heart rate.

So truely cravings can come from foods. To help reduce cravings start with a well-nutrient-balanced intake including whole grains, lean proteins (animal and plant sources), vegetables, fruits and heart healthy fats. Also, be sure to eat consistently to prevent blood glucose crashes that increase food cravings.