Is Chocolate Addictive? People have enjoyed chocolate and similar treats made from cacao fruit for thousands of years. Today it’s eaten in many different ways and is arguably among the most popular foods — so you may even wonder if it’s addictive.
This article compares healthy and unhealthy relationships with chocolate and addresses whether chocolate and its ingredients may be addictive.
Can you be addicted to chocolate?
Though this is still a controversial topic, a growing amount of research supports treating food addictions like other types of substance addictions.
Addictive foods impact many of the same brain and nervous system pathways typically affected by drug addictions. They might also elicit behaviors similar to those caused by other addictions.
Thus, food addiction may occur when specific foods or nutrients repeatedly trigger your brain’s reward system.
Some foods are believed to be more addictive than others.
Highly processed foods that are high in sugar and fat — like many types of chocolate — are often considered more addictive than less processed foods like fruits and vegetables.
One serving of chocolate may contain up to half the DV for sugar and one-fifth of the DV for fat. High carbohydrate foods — including chocolate and other sugary sweets — may cause addiction-like cravings. They also alter your blood sugar and hormone levels in ways similar to other addictive substances.
Plus, these changes in blood levels affect dopamine in your body. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that plays an important role in your brain’s motivation and reward pathways.
Is Chocolate Addictive?
To answer the question of is chocolate addictive, the researchers used The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a tool developed at Yale University to measure food addiction and assess how addictive certain foods may be. It’s been one of the most commonly used tools by food addiction researchers to date.
• One study including more than 500 adults who used this tool found that chocolate was consistently ranked as one of the most problematic foods for addictive-like eating behaviors.
• Similarly, another study including 100 children with overweight identified chocolate as the single most addictive food when using the scale.
Scientists have been investigating chocolate addictions for over 25 years now.
Still, some scientists believe that it’s not enough to rely on subjective self-reported data from tools like the YFAS and that a deeper understanding of food addiction is still needed in order to fully diagnose and treat the condition.
Which ingredients are most addictive?
Different types of chocolate contain different ingredients, though most have a few key ingredients in common. Some of these could be related to chocolate’s potentially addictive properties.
The main ingredients used to make chocolate are:
• Cocoa mass. Fermented, roasted, de-shelled, and ground cocoa beans create this mass, also called chocolate liquor. It’s solid at room temperature but melts when heated. It’s often further processed but can also be eaten as-is as raw chocolate.
• Cocoa butter. This is pure, natural cocoa bean fats that have been separated from the rest of the beans and concentrated.
• Sugar. The amount and types used vary, and sometimes other natural or artificial sweeteners are used instead.
• Milk. Dehydrated milk powder is often added to milk chocolate varieties, while condensed milk is used in fudge and truffles.
• Vanilla. This is used as a flavor enhancer or to cut the bitterness of some roasted cocoa beans.
• Other ingredients. Vegetable oils, natural and artificial flavors, emulsifiers like lecithin, and other additives help preserve chocolate and maintain a smooth texture.
You may have heard that certain types of chocolate have some health benefits. These are mainly attributed to antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals found in the pure cacao ingredients, which are the cocoa mass and cocoa butter.
Though cocoa butter has its perks, it’s also high in fat. This contributes to chocolate’s potential to be an addictive food — especially when combined with the large amount of sugar in some varieties.
Some scientists also question the role that food additives play in addictive eating. Food additives like flavoring and artificial sweeteners are often added to highly processed and hyper-palatable foods like chocolate.
So, one way to avoid the most potentially addictive types of chocolate is to eat varieties of chocolate that are less processed and lower in sugar and fat, especially in trans fat.
Many dark chocolate varieties are lower in sugar. Plus, dark varieties tend to have the greatest concentration of antioxidants and other healthy nutrients.
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