Why does chocolate taste so good, and especially to women? Popcorn and pizza are also delicious, so why haven’t the words popaholic and pizzaholic forced their way into the Portuguese and English lexicon the way chocaholic has? Probably because chocolate is not just instant gratification, it also makes one feel good in some fundamental, undefined way. Do you feel any mood change when you indulge in chocolate?
If you do, it should not be a surprise to you that recent reports have found that chocolate goes after the same brain receptor system targeted by marijuana. In theory, you could get high on chocolate – although not easily. Unlike THC, the active ingredient in pot, chocolate’s chemistry can turn on only a few distinct regions of the brain. So a 60-kilo person would have to eat about 11 kilos of chocolate, all in one sitting, to get a noticeable buzz. Scientists know that chocolate is loaded with phenylethylamine, the substance that brings a rosy high similar to a person on amphetamines. This is also the substance that our brains produce when we are newly in love. So it is undoubtedly not a coincidence that two famous lovers in history, Casanova (Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Italian adventurer, author, diplomat and spy, b. 1725, d. 1798) and Madame du Barry, (Marie Jeanne Bécu, French courtier and influential mistress of Louis XV, b. 1743 guillotined 1793) were chocolaholics.
Chocolate craving is evidently a real, physiological phenomenon but no one yet knows exactly how the process works. Some neuroscience researchers believe that when a person craves chocolate, his sensory properties are intensified when he or she indulges this craving. Most researchers agree that eating chocolate elevates one’s mood directly, which explains why some people medicate themselves with chocolate in times of psychological stress.
Scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have done a lot of research about a link between food and mood. They found that various foods high in sugar and starch boosted a potent brain chemical called serotonin that brought about feelings of calmness and general mood stability. Later, they found that the link between food and mood is specifically related to women. Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York found that women frequently crave sugar because of estrogen’s effect on brain chemicals and blood sugar levels. And this effect explains why female food cravings emerge at puberty, intensify premenstrually and during pregnancy, and diminish (but don’t disappear) after menopause.
The University of Michigan researchers took the female food/mood link one step further: Women didn’t just crave sugar for its calming effects; they also craved fat for its mood-elevating effects. Fat was found to release other brain chemicals, the endorphins, (those hormones found mainly in the brain that reduce the sensation of pain and affect emotions) which energize the mind and lift the spirit. Actually, the most powerful female food cravings are for sugar and fat combinations – and the most powerful craving of all is for chocolate, which has the perfect combination of 50% sugar and 50% fat. So if you are a woman and you crave chocolate, you know you are in touch with your biological self and your body’s needs.
Knowledge and understanding are empowering. If you understand the way your body functions and what it is sensitive to, you’ll know what makes sense and what’s right for you – and you’ll be empowered to continue treating your body with health, kindness and respect. There is a proverb that goes: “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.” We could also say that an ounce of chocolate equals a pound of happiness.
I was born near the end of WWII and raised in a small town in New Jersey, just a little more than a 30-minute drive from NYC. It was a wonderful place to be brought up, feeding ducks and canoeing on the river that meandered through the town in the summer, and ice-skating on that same river in the winter.
My two brothers and I were privileged to be raised in a lovely town that was safe to explore on foot, but close enough to NYC to be taken there on day trips to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Baily B & B circus, museums, Chinatown, street fairs in the spring and Broadway shows as we grew older. But we thought nothing of it.
Later as teens, we would go into NYC to buy a couple of beers (the drinking age in New York State was 18, and 21 in New Jersey) and hang out in Greenwich Village where we saw singers such as Bob Dylan who were on the first rung of the ladder on their way to fame.
The sixties were a time of speaking out and creating change. I decided to do my part by joining the Peace Corps, an innovative cold war program established by John F. Kennedy in 1961. I arrived in Brazil at the end of 1966, and after an adaptation period, was sent to serve in Porto Nacional, in what was Goias at that time. I can’t say I changed the course of the country, especially as I was immediately called upon to teach English in the local high school.
I have been teaching ever since; high schools, college literature, college language pedagogy, financial English and everything in-between. I married a wonderful Brazilian from Rio and we had 3 boys and moved around some, as he was an engineer who worked on hydro dams. Nowadays I am a widow and live in BH with 3 cats, one of which has extraordinary powers, and I have 4 wonderful and uniquely different grandchildren nearby. Thus far, I have had an interesting life, and this new endeavor called a blog should make it even more interesting.