Women crave it, men hoard it, and Aztec kings might have been the first to eat it. Why do we love chocolate so much?
It’s chemistry – Chocolate contains chemicals called opioids (yes, also found in opium) which serve to dull pain and create a feeling of well-being when ingested. According to studies, people who eat chocolate produce natural opiates in their brains that soothe their nerves and make them feel good.
Chocolate also contains “uppers” like caffeine, sugars, and phenylthalymine, which make your heart pound a little harder, your breathing come a bit more quickly, and give you a feeling of alertness. The effect is not dramatic enough to be uncomfortable in most people, but rather produces a pleasant “high,” often equated to the feeling of being in love.
Speaking of love, the association might not be completely physiological. Women crave chocolate more often than men do. Women are also habitually given chocolate as birthday and Valentine’s Day presents. In our culture, chocolate is considered a romantic gift, outside the realm of mundane, day-to-day food, reserved for special occasions—and, for women especially, it’s associated with love and romance. That could be another reason why women particularly love chocolate: deep down, it makes them feel loved, cared for, and pampered.
It really is good for you. Studies suggest that chocolate – especially dark chocolate – contains flavonoids and antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease, improving cardiovascular health. Until recently, tea was considered the main source for these chemicals. Now, scientists recommend that you have a chocolate cookie or biscuit with your tea to get more of those life-lengthening chemicals. Avoid milk with your dark chocolate, however—the same studies show that milk can cancel out the healthful effects of eating chocolate by preventing those helpful chemicals from being fully absorbed in the body.
Yes, chocolate contains fats and sugars, but as long as you enjoy in moderation, the science suggests you can add as much as a year to your life.