Why does chocolate taste so good?
Chocolate is largely composed of fat and sugar, which taste delicious on their own, but together create often irresistible flavor. Scientifically, fat and sugar in chocolate and other foods trigger a response in the brain termed a “food reward,” where the release of a brain chemical, dopamine, connects the taste of chocolate with a positive feeling in the brain. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, occupying a unique link between something you do and the resulting emotional response.
“This connection between the taste of chocolate and dopamine release from the brain reinforces the idea that eating chocolate will make you feel better in situations where you’re feeling sad or stressed,” Amos-Kroohs explained. “So you are more likely to eat chocolate to feel better later.” Amos-Kroohs will be explaining this more thoroughly during her interactive Appetite for Life talk on Thursday February 16, 2017 at Restaurant 46 in Kannapolis, NC.
What’s the deal with cravings?
Amos-Kroohs wants people know that chocolate, potato chips, or cravings that you wish you could resist are not always a sign that you are truly hungry. Instead, cravings are often an indication of something else missing from your diet. “Cravings do not always match the needs of your body,” Amos-Kroohs said. “You can be craving sugar, but in reality you are probably dehydrated and need to drink water.”
Cravings can be a result of the brain’s need for nourishment, but there are certainly better choices to provide your brain with “food” other than chocolate. “Picking one of these items instead of indulging in unhealthy eating will help nip cravings in the bud, creating FEWer issues around Valentine’s Day and any other time you might be tempted to eat unhealthy foods,” she explained. FEW is her personal abbreviation for avoiding unhealthy cravings in her own life. Following FEW means replacing unhealthy sugar in chocolate with sugar in fruit via an apple, banana, or something else healthy that is personally appealing.
She acknowledges that this is easier said than done, but having these tools to use in times of stress eating is a way to begin making dietary changes that are important for good health. “At the NRI, we study personalized nutrition, and it is the same with avoiding unhealthy sugary foods,” Amos-Kroohs said. “There is no secret that will work for everyone, and often it is an experiment to find out which idea works best for you!”
As for Valentine’s Day, Amos-Kroohs urges people to think about what happens right before cravings occur, whether for chocolate or other sugary and fattening foods. “Valentine’s Day can be a stressful holiday due to its emphasis on love and romantic relationships, but it’s just as important to love yourself and ignore desires for things that are unhealthy for you.” So grab a red apple instead of that chocolate heart, and come find out why we are “Craving Tasty Treats: Appetite and Food Reward in the Modern Environment. Registration for this free event is required.