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Chocolate : The Allure of Pleasure Food-

Chocolate Craving is a psychopathological disorder.


Dr Sampurna Roy MD                                 June 2016   


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 "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." - Charles M. Schulz

 Writing about chocolate is as enjoyable as baking a chocolate cake during festive season.

A brief history of  chocolate:

When Christopher Columbus returned from his fourth voyage to the new world in 1502 he brought back to Spain some cocoa beans and also the secret of a drink made by the Aztecs and Mayas who lived in Central America.

The drink was made from crushed cocoa beans and water and was known as chocolatl.

The Aztecs drank it cold, flavoured with spices and seasoned with pepper.

The Spaniards prepared their drink in a similar way, but mixed it with sugar instead of pepper. They kept the secret of this drink for about 100 years.

Then, in the 17th century, knowledge of it spread to France and from there to other countries.

It reached England in about 1650. In 1657 a “Chocolate House” was opened in Bishopsgate, London. Around 1700 the English improved the drink by adding milk. Not until the middle of the 19th century was chocolate sold especially for eating or for coating sweets.

Interesting facts about Cocoa:

The cocoa tree is grown in the tropics and seems to thrive best in the coast lands.

The chief producing areas are West Africa, the West Indies and South America. More than half of the World’s cocoa comes from West Africa.

The trees are grown from seed and have to be raised carefully as they are very delicate.

When young they need protection from direct sun and wind, so shade is provided by other trees which also act as a wind-break.

Cocoa trees do not bear their full crop until they are about 12 to 15 years old.

A feature of the tree is that the flowers grow on the trunk and on the branches so that, when the fruit is ripe, large reddish-brown fleshy pods hang all over it.

The ripe pods are six to ten inches long, each pod containing 20 to 40 beans.

Addictive behaviour is usually associated with drugs, alcohol, obsessive attachment to social media like twitter, facebook and compulsive sexual activity.

Chocolate can evoke similar behavioral reactions in susceptible people.

Intense chocolate craving is linked to disordered eating behaviors and is a common clinical problem which doctors in both developed and developing world are facing everyday.

There is a mixed feeling ( nice and naughty) about "guilty pleasure food".

The attitude to desirable food like chocolate is that it is delicious but should be eaten with restraint.

Attempts to restrain intake, however, can cause the desire for chocolate to become more intense, an experience that is then labelled as a "craving".

This, together with a need to provide a reason to resist eating chocolate is difficult and often fails.  This is the basis of addiction (Example, "chocoholism" ).

Moreishness ("causing a desire for more") is usually experienced during an eating episode specially when an individual tries to restrain eating before she is fully satisfied.

It is the feeling of guilt that increases the pleasure and desire to have more chocolate.

Review of literature has shown that unhealthy obsession with chocolate (bitter or sweet) is associated with many health problems, such as obesity, depression and anxiety.

Disordered eating behaviors and chocolate craving may be unique to women. Nearly half of these women link their craving  to the menstrual cycle, with a significant proportion of cravings increasing around ovulation or the onset of menstruation.

The hedonic appeal of chocolate lies in its aroma, texture and content (fat and sugar).

The ingredients in chocolate are believed to have psycho-pharmacologic influence.

These factors are combined with hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.

Chocolate is used by some for dietary deficiencies (Example:  magnesium) or to balance low levels of neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of mood, food intake, and compulsive behaviors (Example: serotonin and dopamine).

Chocolate contains many biologically active constituents (methylxanthines, biogenic amines, and cannabinoid-like fatty acids).

These substances cause abnormal behaviors and psychological sensations which is similar to those of other addictive substances.

The sensory characteristics of chocolate, nutrient composition, and psychoactive ingredients together with monthly hormonal fluctuations and frequent mood swings among women ultimately lead to chocolate cravings.

The chocolate craving in women is growing in every country.

Not much is known about unhealthy desire to have " sweet chocolate" and disordered eating behaviors in men.

According to one study systematic assessment of men and women showed that the relationship between chocolate craving and disordered eating behaviors in men is the opposite to that observed in women.

When compared to male non-cravers, the chocolate cravers reported much more guilt related to food craving.

But most men are happy to eat as much chocolate as they want and don't bother about dieting. 

They do not worry about restraining their desire to eat pleasure food. The positive outcome of this behaviour is that there is less weight fluctuations, and fewer adverse symptoms of eating disorders compared to women.

Doctors should be aware that chocolate cravings are real.

The psychopharmacologic and chemosensory effects of chocolate should be considered when formulating recommendations for healthy eating and treatment of nutritionally related health issues.

Now it is time to bake a chocolate cake. Enjoy the festive season.


Further reading:

Chocolate: food or drug?

Archaeology. A chocolate habit in ancient North America

The history and science of chocolate.

Chocolate in history: food, medicine, medi-food.

The Attitudes to Chocolate Questionnaire. Psychometric properties and relationship with consumption, dieting, disinhibition and thought suppression.

Chocolate craving and disordered eating. Beyond the gender divide?

The effects of three mindfulness skills on chocolate cravings.

Attention bias for chocolate increases chocolate consumption--an attention bias modification study.


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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)








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