Resistance is futile. The more we try to fight off a craving for chocolate, the more our desire for it grows, a British researcher said on Tuesday.
But chocoholics can take heart that such sweets are not addictive despite the fact many people consider themselves as having no control over their urges to eat the sweets, said Peter Rogers, a psychologist at the University of Bristol.
“Food behavior can look like addictive behavior in extreme situations but chocolate does not fit these criteria,” Rogers told a meeting sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Many people point to certain compounds found in chocolate — such as phenylethylamine — that produce a buzz when they reach the brain as evidence chocolate is addictive, Rogers said.
But many of these compounds also exist in higher concentrations in other foods with less appeal, such as avocados or cheese, and do not cause addiction despite what many chocoholics believe, he said.
'Naughty but nice'
Instead, a social attitude that chocolate is “naughty but nice” may actually drive people to see chocolate as a forbidden pleasure and desire it even more, Rogers said.
“In other words, chocolate is a highly desirable food, but which according to social norms should be eaten with restraint,” he said. “However, attempting to resist the desire to eat chocolate only causes thoughts about chocolate to become more prominent, consequently heightening the desire.”
Other studies have suggested that dark chocolate contains more of the beneficial compounds linked with heart health, though experts note that the high sugar and fat content of most chocolate candy might cancel out some of the benefits.
But even health benefits do not make dark chocolate as popular as milk chocolate and chocolate covered confectionary, Rogers said further research has shown.
And the fact these favored choices contain lower amounts of the so-called psychoactive compounds found in dark chocolate provides more evidence chocolate is not addictive, he said.
“It is therefore far more plausible to suggest that a liking for chocolate, and its effects on mood, are due mainly to its principal constituents, sugar and fat, and their related orosensory and nutritional effects,” he said in a statement.