Would life be worth living without chocolate? Discussing this could be a complete book in itself.
Sitting through the movie Chocolate is enough to reveal that chocolate is what life is all about … well, almost. And then you have Willie Wonka (and Charlie) and the Chocolate Factory … need I say more? The lure of chocolate is powerful.
Chocolate is made from cacao beans, which have powerful nutrients and phytochemicals and have been used for thousands of years by indigenous tribes in Central and South America for snake bites, parasites and a general anesthetic. Chocolate has always been used as a stimulant. Recent research has shown that the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate, in particular, can reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
However, more than for disease prevention, we want chocolate because it makes us feel good! Debra Waterhouse, a registered dietitian and the author of “Why Women Need Chocolate,” thinks both culture and chemicals attract us to chocolate. Chemicals in chocolate affect levels of serotonin and endorphins in the body which relax and calm us, reducing stress and anxiety. Chocolate also raises the body’s levels of phenylethylamine, which the body releases in response to romance! No wonder it makes us euphoric. Chocolate has it all – if eaten in moderation, of course!
Effects of other food on mood have long been observed, too. Food can increase feelings of happiness, contentment, and alertness, as well as feelings of depression, anxiety, failure and guilt. The reasons for these effects are complex and include not only the nutritional and pharmacological substances in the foods themselves, but differences in the people who consume them.
Desserts, however, seem to put most people in a very jolly if not positively ecstatic mood. Reasons for this transition go farther than chocolate. We could include the ample amounts of carbohydrate (starch and sugar) included in most typical desserts. These ingredients cause your brain to release the chemicals that cause a natural high, euphoria, increased energy, and all those things related to happy, happy, happy! However, if we get too great of a dose at any one time, we eventually crash. Cakes, cookies, and fudge are known as pleasure foods not only because they delight your taste buds, but also because they can bring on a calm and happy feeling– at least temporarily.
This sugar-induced sense of euphoria comes from several chemical mechanisms in your brain. First of all, the sheer pleasure of tasting a chocolate treat or powdery doughnut stimulates your brain’s pleasure pathways and the release of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, the chemical causes of that good feeling. Also a quick surge of energy is experienced as the sugar hits your bloodstream. Unfortunately, that energized feeling lasts only as long as the sugar rush.
Once your blood sugar levels drop (about an hour or two later), a feeling of being drained and out of sorts is what is left. It is easy to become an addict looking for another hit. Excessive insulin from too much refined flour and sugar can also lead to higher triglycerides, higher cholesterol, poor HDL to LDL ratios, higher blood pressure, excess fat production and storage, obesity, insulin resistance, and dramatically increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
If you’d like to dig deeper into my journey of discovering God’s plan for health and wellness, check out my book, Made For Paradise: God’s Original Plan for Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Rest.