On the eve of Valentine’s Day, sales of chocolates, and also of flowers, soar more than in the rest of the year.
However, for many this delicious treat is an everyday companion. If this is your case, have you ever wondered if that passion could turn into addiction? Here we are going to review what science says.
Chocolate is a food that is obtained after mixing sugar with dough and cocoa butter, products that are derived from the seeds of the cocoa tree or cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L.).
Different types of chocolate can be made depending on the ingredients that are added to this basic mixture, such as colorants, fruits, nuts or milk, among others.
Due to its enormous popularity throughout the world, many experts began to wonder if this candy can be addictive, and thus it entered the controversial field of food addictions.
- Do you have a carbohydrate addiction?
Supporters of this idea claim that certain foods, including chocolate, can alter the same pathways in the brain and nervous system that are affected by excessive drug use.
This means that food addiction can occur when certain foods, or specifically nutrients, repeatedly activate the brain’s reward system.
The available evidence is still scarce and more studies are needed to corroborate this hypothesis, but many researchers agree that chocolate, like other refined, processed or sugary products, provides a significant amount of carbohydrates and fats, which can alter levels blood sugar and hormonal balance.
This affects the body’s production of dopamine, a chemical messenger that plays an important role in the brain’s reward and motivation pathways.
How do I know if I am addicted to chocolate?
Scientists have been studying chocolate addiction and evaluating its alleged health benefits for almost half a century.
Different studies in children and adults concluded that chocolate is among the most problematic foods when it comes to addictive eating behaviors.
To arrive at these results, it is common to use the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a tool developed at Yale University to measure and evaluate how addictive foods can be.
This scale is based on classifying by numbers, from 1 (non-addictive) to 7 (highly addictive). Chocolate usually receives scores ranging from 3.7. Other foods that are considered addictive according to this tool are pizzas, sodas, French fries, hamburgers, ice creams, cakes or cheeses.
This score on chocolate is likely due to the fact that many of its ingredients, such as cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla, flavorings or preservatives, are high in carbohydrates and fats.
But it is still necessary to know in depth the links behind this relationship and the chemical processes it triggers to effectively diagnose it as an addiction.
- The good side of eating chocolate
Certain symptoms may indicate that you have little or no healthy relationship with chocolate:
- Classify it as a “prohibited” food.
- Eat it in excess and quickly.
- Set strict rules about how and when you can eat it.
- Be aware of having chocolate available, even if you are not going to eat it.
- Hide your consumption from family and friends.
- Restrict him abruptly and completely from the diet.
- Binge eating or stomachaches from overeating.
- Have constant cravings.
- Have stress or anxiety when you eat it.
Does chocolate have benefits?
Chocolate has a significant concentration of antioxidants and nutrients that have been linked to different benefits:
- Fight free radicals, unstable molecules that affect healthy cell structures, as it is rich in antioxidants.
- Decrease inflammation of cardiovascular tissue.
- Improve the mood and counteract mental disorders.
- Get more energy.
- Protect nerve cells.
Most of these benefits come from in vitro or animal studies, and they focus on studying specific compounds in chocolate, so their results cannot be transferred to humans with complete certainty until clinical trials are conducted.
Despite its fame, chocolate is not necessarily a harmful food, but when we do not consume it in moderation it can cause many health problems, such as being overweight, cardiovascular problems or diabetes.
These conditions can be aggravated if we tend to opt for refined or excessively sugary versions of chocolate. Try to opt for the less processed chocolate and maintain control when adding it to the diet.
If you think you could have an addiction or problems with chocolate or another food, you should consult with a health professional as soon as possible, to determine the best way to deal with this situation.
Until significant scientific evidence from human trials is available, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should exercise extreme caution.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: American Heart Association, Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, US Department of Agriculture, National Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Yale University.