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  • For decades,

  • researchers have tried to get to the bottom of our love affair with chocolate.

  • Biologically active compounds are encased in each chocolatey morsel,

  • leaving scientists to wonder if there’s a physiological basis for our cravings.

  • We know that chocolate includes stimulants like caffeine and theobromine.

  • Also, there’s tryptophan and phenylethylame,

  • neurotransmitters associated with pleasure.

  • And don’t forget anandamide,

  • a compound in the same family as THC,

  • the active ingredient in marijuana.

  • It has fueled speculation that chocolate is addictive.

  • With so many feel-good chemicals in every bite,

  • it could seem likely our hankering is purely physiological.

  • But scientists say probably not.

  • In a study from the 1990s,

  • volunteers were given chocolate-- or a pill with almost all the active compounds.

  • The pill alone did not satisfy.

  • White chocolate, however, did satisfy.

  • It’s made from the fat of chocolate and has the same calorie load and sweetness,

  • but lacks most of the most pharmacological ingredients better than milk or dark chocolate.

  • But we can’t say that white and milk chocolate both satisfied because of the sugar alone,

  • because in general, other sweets don’t satiate those cravings.

  • Then there’s anandamide,

  • which was NOT studied in the pill experiment.

  • But it's fat soluble.

  • So it could have been present in both the white and milk chocolate,

  • explaining some of our cravings.

  • But there’s not enough in chocolate to achieve a noticeablehigh.”

  • Current calculations suggest a 70-kg person

  • would need to eat almost a third of his weight, 25kg, in order to feel much of anything.

  • And what about the fact that women reach for chocolate more often than men,

  • especially around monthly menstruation?

  • That could be culturally mediated.

  • Scientists say that our cocoa desires are more about coping with stress

  • in a culturally accepted--and delicious way-- than anything else.

  • For now, the scientific consensus

  • is that chocolate craving is more about the riot of pleasure for our senses.

  • From its melt-in-your mouth taste to its sweet aroma and perfect fragrantness.

  • For Scientific American’s Instant Egghead.

  • I’m Dina Fine Maron.

For decades,

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Why Do We Love Chocolate? - Instant Egghead #61

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    Furong Lai posted on 2014/03/18
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