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Is Chocolate Really Addictive?

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With the Monster Candy Season upon us (otherwise known as Halloween) I thought it might be good to address some questions regarding some of our favorite treats.

UnDieterI read somewhere that chocolate has been found to have an “addictive” affect, similar to alcohol. Is this chocolate “addiction” concept accurate? Lots of weird information out there. I want to verify with the experts.UnDiet: I’m going to let “the experts” handle this one by passing your question on to Gay Riley, MS, RD, LD who is a Medical Nutrition Expert.

Chocolate contains chemicals that are known to affect the brain. Theobromine and caffeine are both stimulants and their affects depend on the amount consumed. It turns out that the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is about one-third the amount in a cup of coffee. Consequently, it might be thought of as a mild stimulant.

The phenylethylamine in chocolate combines with dopamine in the brain to produce a mild antidepressant affect. There is little reason to believe that there is any “secret” ingredient in chocolate to blame for chocolate cravings. Researchers have calculated that you would have to eat 27 pounds of chocolate at one sitting to get a psychoactive effect from them. You can read research on the subject here.

The anandamide in chocolate also affects brain chemistry to produce feelings of calm and well being. The effect is quite small, but noticeable.

The combination of sugars and saturated fat in chocolate also produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin that acts as an opiate or sedative in the brain. Kind of like antidepressants. Small amounts of chocolate will produce serotonin, however bingeing on chocolate can cause the serotonin to rise to almost a sedative affect and then crash. This type of affect might cause an addictive response for more chocolate in an attempt to keep the serotonin elevated.

It would make sense to say that if you eat large, frequent amounts of chocolate that it could possibly become addictive. The effects of the addiction would be obesity and weight gain for many people due to the dense caloric content of chocolate confections.

There is still controversy about the extent to which chocolate is addictive or harmful. It would be reasonable to say that more women are attached to chocolate than men are. Chocolate has been touted as the perfect food for women suffering from PMS. Women eat chocolate to elevate blood sugar, and increase serotonin 7-14 days before a period when hormonal changes cause blood glucose and serotonin to be lower than normal.

“Chocoholism” is different than alcoholism because the addiction does not directly kill. I do not know anything about different types of chocoholics.

We all, however, have similar but different blood chemistry. For example, if some of us are more sensitive to sugar, have hypoglycemia, or are allergic or sensitive to milk products or other foods, and some of us are not, then you could ask yourself the question “could it be possible that some of us are more addicted to chocolate?”

I hope I addressed all your questions. If I can be of further assistance, please just let me know.


Gay Riley, MS, RD, LD

You can tap into more of Gay Riley’s wisdom through her web site The Net Nutritionist. While you’re at her sit check out her new book The Pocket Personal Trainer.