Why do you crave chocolate?

28 Jul 2020

Food + Drink

Do you ever have those moments when cocoa is the only thing that can satisfy you? We dive into why you crave chocolate

Do you ever find yourself with a sudden rumble in your belly, which only chocolate can satisfy? A chocolate craving is a fairly normal thing – most of us have caught ourselves daydreaming about the rich and creamy taste of chocolate.

Although we partially crave chocolate because it simply tastes delicious, there is actually a science behind our yearning for the stuff. We take a look at why we crave chocolate so badly and explore how you can curb those delicious desires.

What does craving chocolate mean?

Before we dive into why we crave chocolate, let’s break down what a craving actually means. Craving is defined as a “consuming desire or yearning” – in other words, it’s more intense than just fancying a bite to eat, but it isn’t as intense as having a full-on addiction, as cravings can be controlled.

Food cravings are one of the most popular types of craving, with 97% of women and 68% of men reporting episodes. Carbohydrate cravings are some of the most common – not only does this cover pastas and breads, but carbs can also include sugary sweets, snacks and cereals.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but chocolate cravings are some of the most popular foods we yearn for, with 40% of women and 15% of men reporting that they commonly desire this sweet and indulgent treat.

Whilst other foods can often be satisfied with a substitute to curb cravings, chocolate is one of the hardest ones to control: out of those who admitted to craving chocolate, most reported that consuming other foods wouldn’t be enough to satisfy their hunger for cocoa.

Why am I craving chocolate all of a sudden?

You could be doing the washing, queuing for the supermarket, or sitting at your work desk – no matter where you are, a chocolate craving can pounce at any time. However, this isn’t simply because we’re in the mood for a sweet treat: your chocolate cravings could be triggered by many different things:

You’re restricting yourself too much

One of the most common reasons why diets don’t work is because people tend to restrict their diets too much, eventually give up, and binge on their favourite indulgences. After the binge that person feels guilty, restricts themself some more, and the whole cycle starts again.

There’s a reason why we reach for crisps and sugar snacks after a strict week of dieting: your body is physically hungry, and so you crave fast carbohydrates, which are found in chocolates high in refined sugars.

Whilst eating these sugary foods might make you feel good for a short time, most processed chocolates which are high in sugar rank highly on the glycemic index, meaning you experience only a quick and temporary sugar rush. Although sugary chocolates may fill that hole for a little while, this wears off after a short amount of time, leading to the sugar crash, when your energy levels dip and you become tired and lack energy.

You’re after some caffeine  

We all know someone who can easily knock back five cups of coffee a day – maybe that person is you! There’s a reason why so many people can’t get enough of the stuff: caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, acting as a sort of pick-me-up, making you feel more energised and awake.

The addictive nature of caffeine comes from its ability to affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain, including dopamine. However, if you compare the amount of caffeine in dark chocolate compared to a cup of coffee, chocolate contains only 30mg of caffeine, whilst coffee can contain anything from 85 to 200mg. This means that caffeine drinkers probably wouldn’t feel satisfied with a simple piece of chocolate.

However, for non-tea or coffee drinkers, eating a square of chocolate might be enough to get your caffeine fix. Dark chocolate contains the most caffeine out of all types of chocolate, and the higher the cocoa, the more caffeine you get. We suggest trying a piece or two of our 100% dark to help boost your energy levels and satisfy those cravings.

You’re stressed 

If you can bring yourself to cast your minds back to the day of tests and examinations, you’ll probably remember binging on your favourite snacks as you crammed in as much information as you possibly could.

Although we eat comfort foods at a time of high pressure because we want to feel – well – comforted, there is evidence that high-sugar and high-fat foods have a link to brain chemicals, such as serotonin, giving us the same feelings of pleasure. Researchers have shown that sweet foods are linked to reward pathways in the brain, which is why we turn to them in times of stress: it releases those positive neurochemicals and improves our sense of wellbeing and happiness.

On top of this, stress causes our body to produce more of the hormone cortisol, which increases our feelings of hunger. And, as mentioned above, when we’re hungry we tend to desire sweet foods, which is why we crave chocolate in periods of stress – one study revealed that women who suffer from stress are more susceptible to sweet and chocolate cravings compared to women who aren’t stressed.

You’re not getting enough magnesium 

We need magnesium to help turn the food we eat into energy. As dark chocolate is high in magnesium, some argue that chocolate cravings stem from a magnesium deficiency. However, the credibility surrounding this theory is questionable: other foods – such as nuts – are much higher in magnesium than cocoa, yet they are rarely the object of cravings.

Tests have also been carried out to disprove the argument that we crave chocolate when we’re low on magnesium: chocolate cravers were presented with sealed boxes containing capsules holding white, milk and dark chocolate. Those who consumed the milk and white chocolate capsules reported that they had a reduced chocolate craving.

This suggests that magnesium – which is highest in dark chocolate and non-existent in white – isn’t the main compound which triggers our chocolate cravings.

Sugar and fat cravings 

Cheaper chocolates tend to be high in sugar and fat, with white chocolate often containing the highest sugar content. At Hotel Chocolat, we limit the amount of sugar in our white chocolate to prevent it from overshadowing the more nuanced notes of the 36% cocoa butter we use. However, other chocolate makers often add in vegetable fats to the cocoa butter to lower the price and increase sugar amounts to make the product more palatable.

Cravings for sugary, fatty foods can stem from both chemical and psychological reactions. Crisp and chocolate cravings can be associated with certain fond childhood memories, which we turn to when we’re looking for a sense of comfort or reward.

We may also crave the feelings of pleasure that eating fatty and sugary foods provide, just as we do when we’re stressed. It’s the fat and the sugar in chocolate that causes us to have a rewarding experience when consumed: our taste buds send a signal to the lower part of our brain, stimulating neurons which fill us with pleasure.

How to stop craving chocolate

There’s nothing wrong with giving in to your cravings every now and then. However, if you find yourself continuously reaching for the sweet drawer, you may need to find ways to control your urges: repeatedly eating foods high in salt, sugar and fat can lead to a long list of health complications, including obesity, stroke, heart attack and sometimes death.

If you think your chocolate cravings are getting out of control, then don’t panic – there are many tasty and healthy alternatives to cocoa which you can incorporate into your daily diet. And, no, we’re not talking about munching on celery and rice cakes only.

As mentioned before, chocolate cravings can kick in when we’re hungry. One of the best ways to curb these cravings is to make sure you’re left feeling satisfied after each meal. Protein is a great way to satisfy your hunger: a study in the journal Obesity revealed that overweight men could reduce their cravings by up to 60% from simply getting 25% of their daily caloric intake from protein. Incorporating high protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses into each meal will leave you feeling satisfied, meaning you’re less likely to reach for the chocolate cupboard. If you do find yourself after something sweet, then try dipping a few dates or apple slices in nut butter – just don’t eat the whole jar.

Another good alternative to chocolate is yoghurt. A fantastic source of vitamins, minerals and live probiotics which aid digestion, yoghurt comes in a variety of different flavours – if you’re watching your weight, try selecting ones which are low in sugar and fat. Yoghurt is also high in protein, giving you roughly 20g per serving, keeping you full until your next meal.

However, what if these snacks don’t quite hit the spot? For some people, chocolate is the only thing that can truly leave you feeling content. Don’t worry – you can still enjoy your chocolate guilt-free, as long as you’re selective about the type and the amount you consume. Eating dark chocolate can actually be good for you, as cocoa contains a multitude of health benefits, which we discussed in an earlier blog. Eating a square or two of high-quality dark chocolate, which is high in cocoa, is a good way to satisfy cocoa cravings, meaning you’re not tempted to binge on the whole bar.

Cocoa powder can also help you to satisfy those chocolate cravings: why not stir a few spoonfuls into your porridge in the morning, or combine with honey and plant-based milk for a healthy hot chocolate?

If you’re trying to put an end to your bad habits for good, then switching up your daily routine can help snap you out of your chocolate cravings. For example, if you always go to the same off-license after work to get a certain chocolate bar, why not take a different route home to avoid that shop?

Waiting out your cravings can also work – although this might seem difficult, doing things to distract yourself can help those urges to grab a few bars of chocolate to subside. Take a stroll, call a friend, do some chores – if your cravings haven’t eased, then try eating a chocolate substitute instead.

Although it’s unhealthy to eat chocolate which is high in sugar every day, it’s also important to give yourself little treats now and then. If you completely cut out your favourite chocolate bar, then the chances are that you’ll eventually be unable to resist, and end up eating endless amounts of it. Treat yourself to a small bar of the stuff you like every now and then – that way, you’ll know you’ve beaten those chocolate cravings once and for all!